olive and oak

elize strydom's photo journal

Category: small town girl

this is south africa – part two

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In the heat of the day the dusty streets of Jouberton are deserted but once the sun starts to sink they fill with families, men on their way home from work, quarreling kids, grandmas in green and the occasional chicken. Cooking ingredients are exchanged and meal offers are made but no one goes home until well after dark. There’s nowhere else to be and it’s clear that nothing’s more important than sitting by the side of the road chatting with your neighbour while your children play nearby.

18 year old Mpho lives with her grandmother, mother, little brother, aunties and cousins plus two month old Lethabo in a three bedroom home. “Family and friends come to stay all the time,” she says. “It’s hard to get a bath around here – unless you’re Lethabo.”

She completed her matric (year 12 exams) last year at a boarding school a few hours away but has now moved home again. She plans to go to college next year and wants to be a nurse. We spend the days walking around her neighbourhood (“Everyone is staring at you,” she said. “But don’t worry, I’ll be your bodyguard.”) and hanging out with her best friend, Lebogang, singing along to songs on the music channel and sitting by the side of the road eating ice blocks to stay cool. Lebogang and Mpho grew up together in Jouberton. He’ll finish high school at the end of the year and then plans to move to Cape Town to study law. They both love music and have incredible singing voices. “Do you like Sia? What about Ellie Goulding? And London Grammar? Yes? Ahhh we’re the same!” said an excited Mpho.

As soon as school finishes, Mpho goes from house to house, visiting her friends. They sit outside listening to music on their phones, eating peaches and pomegranates from the trees or chips and ice blocks bought for less that 10 cents from one of the many ‘tuck shops’. One day I offered Mpho some of my dried fruit/nut/seed mix. She wasn’t keen. “Ew, no thanks!” Later she offered me some of her chicken feet (aka ‘runaways’). You can probably guess my response.

Mpho always wears a hat and long pants or sleeves – even on 40 degree c days like today – because she says she doesn’t want her skin to get any darker. “I’m black on the outside but white on the inside,” she told me.

Photographing Mpho was just one of those wonderful, unexpected encounters that ended up being better than anything I could have imagined or planned. Being the only white person in the community felt uncomfortable and strange but I think it was important to experience that.  At times it was confronting and challenging but for the most part it was just plain fun. Mpho and I really connected and she felt like a real friend.

All photos shot with a Leica M6 and Kodak Portra film. Developed and scanned at Richard Photo Lab.

this is south africa – part one

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I’d been to South Africa twice before but had only visited major cities and tourist-y spots. Shooting Small Town Girl there earlier this year meant I was able to get off the beaten track and meet real people and get a taste of their day to day lives. I feel like my assumptions of South Africa were constantly being challenged/smashed and for that I am extremely grateful. In Nieu-Bethesda I photographed Rebecca and stayed with her family and didn’t want to leave. The landscape reminded me of something in between Broken Hill, Australia and Palm Springs, USA and I had to keep reminding myself where I was. The village proper has a population of approximately 100 people (and no paved roads…but a charming network of water furrows). With the surrounding farms and black/coloured township that number is closer to 1500. It’s situated in the Great Karoo, a vast semi-desert region, and is scorching in summer and snowy in winter. Much like Broken Hill, there are little galleries and studios all over town and ever second person you meet is a painter or jeweler or ceramicist. While Rebecca was at school I cruised around Nieu-Bethesda on a bike, taking photos of this and that, and hung out at this place which was part beer brewery, part coffee roastery and part cheese factory. So, in other words, heaven (aka The Brewery). I met two US backpackers there and we went on a canyon hike then caught a ride back to town on the roof of a local’s old Landrover. I drank Rooibos tea with Rebecca’s beautiful mum Bronwen and we connected over similar life choices and upbringings and outlooks. On Friday night a South African musician named Guy Buttery performed and afterwards I found myself sitting around a campfire with a group of locals and a few other travelers , sharing stories and smokes. I rode my bike home through the black night aware of my place below the massive mountains. The next few days at Rebecca’s place consisted of rustic meals around the family table, a trip through the Owl House, swims and a picnic lunch in a gorge. I wanted to wrap myself up in the warmth of this little family forever. I felt so nourished after a week with them in such a spectacular, peculiar hidden gem of a small town.

These shots were taken on my Leica M6 and Canon 1V and developed/scanned at Richard Photo Lab.

 

 


					

here there and everywhere

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So I feel like a bit of an internet hog at the moment. I’ve done lots of interviews/Q&As re: Small Town Girl and while I’m thrilled that the project is attracting interest and that people are connecting, I’m uncomfortable with self-promotion. But I’m trying to look at it in the same way a band might when they release an album. They present something they’ve been working on in private to the public and then talk about it/answer questions then tour then disappear again and toil away on something new. I’m far more interested in the ‘toiling away’ part. And I know that will begin again soon: I’m making plans to go photograph Indigenous girls and young refugees in Western Australia. But if you have some time to kill between now and then, feel free to click on one or two of the articles below and listen to me waffle on!

Small Town Girl on…

Buzzfeed

Vice

Between 10 and 5

The Australian newspaper

Ngaio Parr’s blog

Jason de Plater’s blog

The Daily Examiner (my hometown newspaper!)

The drawing above is by the wonderful Ngaio and I’m flattered! I mean, how often does someone take the time to draw you? Such a cool thing.

durban days

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Deb and her husband Mike lived in Australia for two years but have now settled back home in South Africa. We became friends after meeting at church in Sydney and I was lucky enough to spend two weekends with them in Durban in between Small Town Girl shoots. It was cool to be in the city with a couple of locals who knew their way around and where to get the best coffee (v. important). We visited Deb’s friend Amy Venter who’s a fashion designer and owner of Jane Sews, an artisan clothing, footwear and leather label. She was in the middle of setting up a new space at The Commune I really wanted to buy all of the things – every gorgeous item is designed and made in Durban – but I was traveling with just a backpack and a duffle bag so it wasn’t practical. Thank goodness for online shopping, though, right? On this particular day, Deb was tossing up whether or not to rent a space at The Commune for Bouwer Flowers, her floral design studio. All over South Africa I met passionate artists/designers/musicians/photographers/florists and jewellers creating scenes, working hard and making things happen. A vibrant, cutting edge creative industry is probably not the first thing you think of when someone mentions SA but it soon will be, trust me.

so much to tell you

Elize Strydom web main page

…and so many pictures to show you. But they’re currently sailing through the sky somewhere between Los Angeles and Sydney and won’t arrive before I say goodbye to my laptop and hop on a plane bound for South Africa. Over the next two and a bit months I’ll visit towns with names like Nieu-Bethesda and Ngodwana and Eendekuil and photograph the teenage girls who live there. Maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of what my life could have been like? I’ll see my dad, aunties, cousins – family I met for the first time 12 years ago and haven’t seen since – and I’ll experience so much more of this wonderful ol’ world, stuff I can’t even imagine right now. I’m seriously amazed at the journey photography has taken me on and I’m feeling genuinely blessed to be off on another adventure. I’ll be holding onto all of the film and developing/scanning it when I get back in mid April but until then please do follow along at the Small Town Girl project Instagram x

small town girl – south africa

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I was conceived in South Africa but my mum and big brother moved to Australia a few months before my due date. And so I was born here and had a life like this. I’ve often wondered what it would have been like had we stayed in South Africa. My dad is still there but I’ve only met him once. I’m curious. I want to get a glimpse of the adolescence I could have had. I want to meet the people I could have known. I want to understand the things I could have learned. I want to know what life is like for teenage girls in small town South Africa, girls of diverse origins, cultures, languages and religions.  

Over the last two years I have photographed 12 girls for my Small Town Girl Project – four in Australia and eight in the United States – and in February and March 2015 my camera and I will head to South Africa to live with/photograph another six girls. I’m looking for 13-19 year olds with diverse cultural and racial backgrounds who live in towns with a population of 20,000 or less. I’ll live with you and your family/friends for a week and follow you around, taking photos of your everyday life. The photos will form a body of work that will be exhibited in art galleries around Australia, the US and South Africa. 

If you’re interested in finding out more or if you know someone who might be, please comment here or email me for details: elizestrydom@live.com.au You can see more photos from the project so far here and here and here. Feel free to share this post on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and any of your other social networks. Be sure to check out the Small Town Girl project Instagram, too!

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this looks like the place

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It was hot, so hot, dry and dusty. It was the kind of dust that gets caught in the back of your throat, becomes grit between your teeth. The streets were quiet, still, empty. But I didn’t care. I’d just arrived in the US. I caught a Greyhound Bus from LA, my nose glued to the window all the way out to Palm Springs. The sunrise pulled back the night and I was up, riding a bike around, exploring. I craned my neck to look up up up at the towering mountains hemming me in. It reminded me of when I was a little girl and went to the city for the first time: I couldn’t believe how tall the skyscrapers were. I pedalled through the streets in the heat of the day intent on finding a health food store to buy a juice and nuts and chocolate covered goji berries. A man working there asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Palm Springs. I told him and he called me an adventurous little thing. I was secretly pleased. I rode back to the hotel and said hello to no one; the searing streets abandoned. 

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There’s a person in one of these photos – can you spot him?

All photos developed and scanned at Richard Photo Lab in Hollywood, CA

 

 

the start again

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Today’s the day: I’m flying to the US to keep working on the Small Town Girl project. The adventure is about to start again. And while I love my Dan and my friends and family, there’s nothing quite like a solo adventure is there? This trip took a while to take shape and there were definitely some stressful weeks (no replies to the millions of emails I sent out! no girls to shoot! a girl to shoot…nooope, she cancelled!) but things have come together…sort of. My rough plan is Palm Springs, California to Seattle, Washington to Winthrop, Washington (hi Tara) to Cave Creek, Arizona (hi Rachel) to Ellenwood, Georgia (hi Hannah) to…I don’t know where. I’m leaving room to follow a spontaneous lead or two. I may even re-visit some of 2013’s Small Town Girls. It’s kinda scary to be plan-less but kinda exhilarating, too.

I’ve set up an Instagram account just for Small Town Girl. I know, I know, I’m back on Instagram (but I thought you said…?). Maddy, Rachel and Hannah-Rose were able to successfully convince me that by taking a different approach – making the account about this project rather than my life – I could avoid some of the pitfalls I faced last time. I’ll post a mix of the photos I’ve already taken (on 35mm film) as well as iPhone snaps that document the process as it’s happening. The aim is to connect with past, present and future Small Town Girls in Australia, the USA, South Africa and beyond as well as people who wanna see some photographic evidence of this thing I’m always going on about. Please do follow along! I’ll be developing film as I go and will post the images here as soon as I can. But for now…farewell Australia…hello USA!  

 

small town girl – usa

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UPDATE: I’m currently in the US and I’m still looking for one more girl to live with/photograph. If you were thinking of getting in touch – now’s the time. I’ll go anywhere in the US and I mean anywhere!

“I grew up in a small Australian town cut through the middle by a wide river, its two sides joined by a bendy bridge. I didn’t think the life I lived was anything special; I just did my thing and that was that. It’s only now with a bit of hindsight that I realise how unique those years on the cusp really were: Alive with possibility and yearning and so completely raw.

Almost exactly a year ago I posted this – a description of my Small Town Girl project and a call out to teenage girls in little US towns who were willing to have me come stay with them and photograph their average week. Friends and friends of friends shared the post and I had an amazing response from interested teenagers and their families. In June 2013 I flew to LA and set off, living with/photographing two girls in Oregon, one in Ohio, one in Maine and one in Texas. I landed back in Sydney in August and thought I was done. But I’m not done. I’m still curious. And so on June 9, I’ll touch down on US soil and set off again.

This time, I’d like to find out what it’s like to grow big in a small town if you’re African American, if you’re Native American or if you’re of Hispanic origin. I’m looking for 13-18 year old girls of diverse cultural backgrounds who live in towns with a population of 20,000 or less. I’ll live with you and your family/friends for a week and follow you around, taking fly-on-the-wall style photos that will form a body of work to be exhibited in galleries in Australia and the US.

If you’re interested or if you know someone who knows someone who knows a teenage girl who fits the bill, then please comment here or email me for more details: elizestrydom@live.com.au Feel free to share this post on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and any of your other networks. Many thanks!

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an inspiring thing

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I was stoked to discover that someone on the other side of the world wrote something lovely about this very blog. Thanks, Bijan! When I post my pictures and type my words, I must admit, I’m not thinking about how many people I’ll inspire or encourage. But it is quite heartening to know that my captures/ramblings are resonating. I’m trying my best to use this space to express my most authentic self and speak my heart as truthfully as possible – forget judgement, forget trends and what’s socially acceptable, forget trying to be what I think others think I should be. If that ends up being an inspiring thing then hooray!

Meanwhile, this week I’m getting serious about planning my next US trip and lining up some Small Town Girls to stay with/photograph. Tickets have been purchased – I fly out June 9 – and I may or may not have just booked four days at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs to kick off the adventure. After that it’s down to business though, I swear!

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