olive and oak

elize strydom's photo journal

Category: small town girl

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

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!



this looks like the place


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. 


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


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


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!


an inspiring thing


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!

land of the bloody unknown


Back in late November 2013, Dan and I got in the car and drove over 13 hours west to a town called Broken Hill. I spent a week there in December 2012 shooting the Small Town Girl project (some photos from that trip here and here) and this time I was there to hang the photos for my exhibition at the Regional Gallery. Rural Australia fascinates and frightens me: the breathtaking land of the bloody unknown where a quiet and complex melancholia pervades.


^^ Dan preparing our dinner on the bonnet of an old car.


^^ Setting up at the gallery. It was such a thrill! The staff were super professional and treated me like a real artist which felt a little funny. Lovely Dan kept reassuring me that my work deserved to be there just as much as the work of artists I consider to be ‘real’. Oh, Dan :)

small town girls go west


Tomorrow I’m going on a big adventure with my Australian Small Town Girls. Okay, so I won’t be with the girls in human form…but they will be sitting beside me in frames. Yes, the Small Town Girl photo exhibition is heading to Broken Hill in the far west of outback New South Wales. Dan and I will pack the car and drive for over 12 hours past towns like Dubbo, Cobar and Wilcannia as we wind our way through landscapes we’ve never laid eyes on. I have a feeling I’ll be pointing my camera lens out the window constantly and ordering Dan to pull over every few kilometers so I can snap a photo of a tree or a road sign or a dead kangaroo (thanks in advance!) I can’t wait to experience more of the country I live in but hardly know. Once in Broken Hill, I’ll hang the work at the Regional Gallery, ready for opening night on Saturday November 30th. Sadly, I won’t be able to attend the opening celebrations but I’ll record a little video message for those who do go along. Seeing images from this project hanging on the walls of a gallery will be pretty special, I reckon. At this point, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do with my life than travel around Australia/the world, shoot fulfilling projects, exhibit the work and publish a few books.

As well as taking a bunch of ‘real’ photos, I plan to do a bit of Instagram-ing along the way, too. Follow along here.

an ending (until next time)


A few days ago I received the last lot of Small Town Girl USA film scans from Richard Photo Lab. I felt a mixture of relief and accomplishment plus a little sadness, too. It’s complete – hooray! It’s over* – boo! As I was scrolling through the images this shot of Jenn from New Albany, Ohio, stopped me in my tracks. You see, Jenn is a competent and confident young woman. She’s whip smart, creative, gorgeous, talented and driven. She’s 12 years my junior yet it was like we were the exact same age – at times I even felt like the teenager! But in this photo I’m reminded that she is so very young with a lifetime of adventure, love, growth and learning ahead of her. I’m not implying that she’s innocent and naive, but that she was a child just a few short years ago and it’s easy to forget that. Dear little Jenn, beautiful inside and out.

* The STG USA project isn’t technically over. I plan to go back to the States again next year to photograph/live with four more girls. I’m hoping to find an ethnically diverse group of teenagers; perhaps an African American girl and a Native American girl. Meanwhile, I’m aiming to exhibit the STG USA story so far in Sydney next February or March. I’ll keep you posted…

hey LA, you’re okay


At the end of my US trip I had five days free and no plans. I wasn’t short of options, though. A new friend had invited me to San Francisco, another wanted to meet up in Austin. I was looking into a three day hike into the Grand Canyon while tossing up whether or not to find a sixth ‘Small Town Girl’ to shoot. I even considered going up to Alaska to watch bears catch salmon after the link to this live cam was shared all over my social networks. But when it came time to make a decision, the thought of getting on more buses/trains/planes, settling into new accommodation, finding my feet in a new place then getting on another bus/train/plane to Los Angeles, finding accom there and then getting myself to LAX for the 14 hour flight home was just too much. I had very little interest in exploring LA but in the end spending a few days there just seemed like the path of least resistance. So I jumped on Airbnb and found a room at Matt’s place in Silverlake and figured I’d have an okay week in a town I didn’t care for much.

And theeen I ate a huge slice of humble pie because I ended up LOVING the place. It was warm and friendly and so different to the over-the-top plastic LA I had imagined. Each day I went for a run around Silver Lake then spent a leisurely hour or two sipping coffee/journalling/people watching at Intelligentsia before walking (and walking…and walking) around the city, turning down streets with cool sounding names, dropping into stores, chatting to whoever wanted to talk, taking picture after picture of the amazing cactus plants, succulents and palm trees. Matt thought I was a little crazy when I told him the neighbourhoods I’d trekked to on foot but I really do think it’s the best way to see a place. I caught the bus out to Santa Monica and Venice Beach and did more of the same, basking in the sunshine and good vibes. Apart from the Getty Center, I didn’t really visit many tourist spots or landmarks. I did want to check out Huntington Gardens (as recommended by Maria) and Griffith Park but they were a little further than my legs could carry me. I ate multiple meals (and smoothies – coconut milk, almond butter, date and vanilla bean, anyone?) at Cafe Gratitude in Hollywood and Venice, Cortez + Cookbook in Echo Park, Tacos Delta and Intelli in Silverlake…plus a jar of almond maple butter (ahem). LA, you’re okay and I’ll be back.


^^ This is Megan McIsaac. I have so much respect for her as a photographer and as a woman. One afternoon I happened to walk into Myrtle and she was working there. I couldn’t believe it!


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