olive and oak

elize strydom's photo journal

Category: workinonit

land of the bloody unknown

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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.

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

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^^ 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 🙂

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modern art = i could do that + yeah, but you didn’t

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Last Wednesday evening Dan and I were picking up some film scans from my lab in Redfern when we bumped into Ange who was on her way to wall ball. She’s invited me to play so many times but it’s always on a Sunday afternoon when I go to church. But there ain’t no church on a Wednesday so we joined in and played a few rounds and man, was it fun. I hadn’t played handball against a wall for years and years. Next it was up to Kings Cross for a photography exhibition. We met Amelia and headed for an underground car park where Samuel Hodge was showing his work as part of Alaska Projects. I’ve followed Samuel for a while and often take his photo book Pretty Telling I Suppose off my shelf for a read but I had never been to one of his exhibitions. This one was called ‘The Imponderable Archive’ – four framed images that he’d made based on profile pictures from gay dating sites. The absurd, sex, reappropriation and fashion were obvious, general themes but I must admit, I struggle to ‘get’ what he’s doing. I want to, though…I want to understand.

I guess the criteria by which I judge a photography exhibition is based on an artist’s commitment to the project and/or body of work (which can be measured in terms of time spent researching and producing it, the lengths they went to to create it – scope of the shots, distance traveled, challenges overcome, envelopes pushed etc., the belief and confidence they have in it, efforts to prioritise art making in their life), its ability to tell a story or communicate a message, technical skill and aesthetic quality.

That said, I’m reminded of a really apt poster I saw a while back that said ‘Modern art = I could do that + yeah, but you didn’t.’ So a big chunk of what makes an artist valuable or legit in my book is that they ‘did it’. Samuel Hodge ‘did it’ and staged a solo exhibition, one of many he’s had in both Australia and Europe.

Now – a disclaimer – I don’t believe I have all of the skills to ‘properly’ assess or critique art. I’ve undertaken less than six months of formal photography study so I’m aware that I probably don’t view it within the ‘correct’ framework or have the appropriate tools to dissect it. I DO know that there’s a lot I DON’T know but I’ve written these words largely for myself, to make sense of my thoughts and record my progress as I seek a greater understanding of art and expression. Sure I could have written in my journal instead but by ‘putting it out there’ into this relatively safe space I’m forced to order my thoughts and coherently discuss my position. Which I think I did? Enough for now.

Anyway…these two – Amelia and Dan – love ’em. After the exhibition we had a stroll around the Cross then went back to Amelia’s for wine and reading recommendations. Amelia’s aiming to read 50 books this year while I’m going for 20 and Dan’s goal is four. I’m currently devouring John Safran’s true crime book Murder In Mississippi.

small town girls go west

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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.

red, white and blue

ImagePeople keep asking me what Australians think of (north) Americans. ‘How would you describe us?’ ‘Patriotic,’ I reply. ‘You seem so sure of where you’ve come from and who you are as a nation.’ I think Australians are uncomfortable with patriotism; I know I am. Isn’t it a bit arrogant? Should I be proud of my country’s history? What makes up our national identity anyway? When I see the Aussie flag I can’t help but think of bogans with Southern Cross tattoos and ‘we grew here, you flew here’ stickers on the back of their cars. Pretty sad, huh? That said, being away from home and immersing myself in another culture has given me much more clarity on the issue. And my little identity crisis certainly didn’t stop me celebrating the Fourth of July with Small Town Girl subject Jenn in Ohio.

35mm film developed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab in Hollywood. Thanks!

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huge hearted humans

ImageIn between stays with Oregon Small Town Girls Taylorann and Maddie, sweet Emily and her family took me in. It was a last minute arrangement and the Turners had hosted Emily’s high school graduation party the night before so I was expecting a low key evening. I most certainly wasn’t expecting an extensive tour of their spectacular surrounds, a campfire, s’mores (my first taste!) and a backyard movie under the stars. In a matter of hours I felt a genuine connection with the Turners and was touched by their honest interest in me and what I’m on about. I know I wrote about it a few posts ago but my goodness, the kindness of strangers just continues to hit me for six. Thank you so very much, dear Turners.

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a camera and an idea

ImageI’ve been in the US for almost three weeks and I’m absolutely blown away by the generosity and warmth shown by the families who have opened their homes and welcomed me in. They’ve given up their beds, shared their food, disclosed their wi-fi passwords and driven me all over. The Small Town Girls have shown nothing but support for the project and have gone above and beyond to accommodate me. Reflecting on this, I’ve realised that I would never have found myself in such a unique and privileged position were it not for a camera and an idea. Time and time again I’m reminded that the camera is like a key to door behind which are people I wouldn’t have otherwise met and experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had. Like a little girl’s fourth birthday party on her family’s farm just outside Medford, Oregon.ImageImageImageImage

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usa a-ok!

ImageIn exactly one month I will be flying to the US of A to do this. And you know what? I’m so excited I may just burst. I don’t know what it is that keeps me going back to this country but it has an undeniable pull. It’s not just the States I’m excited about, it’s that intoxicating and potent mix that makes up the travel experience; wonder, adventure, loneliness, invincibility, inspiration and perspective. I cannot wait to roam new streets for hours on end, taking photos of whatever catches my eye, striking up conversations with perfect strangers, and pausing on park benches for a spot of people watching or journalling. I’m looking forward to a fresh set of eyes, an alert and open mind and a big hit of courage and creativity. I can’t wait to meet my Small Town Girls and receive whatever it is they’re bound to teach me. One month, four and a bit weeks, 31 days…Godspeed!

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small town girl

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I grew up in a small 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.

In 2012 I set out on a photographic journey of remembering and discovery. What’s it like to grow big in a small town? I was asking that question of myself as well as my four subjects; Jannah in Broken Hill, Savannah in Parkes, Emily in Grafton and Merryn in Byron Bay. I wanted my memories of adolescence both validated and challenged.

In June this year a selection of the images will be exhibited as part of the Head On Photo Festival in Sydney. And after entering them in the Qantas Spirit of Youth Award for photography I was named runner up.

Now, Small Town Girl is leaving home. On June 13 I will fly to the US of A and spend two months there, photographing the lives of teenage girls in Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi and Texas. The thing is, I haven’t found my girls yet. Can you help?

I’m looking for a girl (aged between 13-19) who lives in a town with a population of 20, 000 or less in each of the states listed above. I’ll live with her and her family/flatmates for a week and follow her around, taking fly-on-the-wall style photos.

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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way out west

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Broken Hill, NSW

1. final resting place 2. rules were made to be broken 3. taken 4. help in the middle of nowhere 5. who dreams of mines? 6. two girls at the pool 7. hold on 8. just the essentials

you were there

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Travelin’ solo “…holding my camera out at arm’s length to self document these new locations” – Josh Pyke The Lighthouse Song.