I am an Australian photographer working in the tradition of long-term documentary storytelling. My work explores the lived experience of several young women facing social disadvantage in Australia.
I grew up in Nimbin, Australia. A small town known for its open drug culture and alternative lifestyles. As young women, our choices were limited; violence and having children young seemed normal and the dream to ‘leave and start a new life’ meant leaving our family, friends and community behind.
Yet while there was hardship I also experienced a strong sense of belonging through a tight knit community and extended family. As a result, the challenges and choices faced by young women growing up in such environments have become my focus of work.
My earlier work started from the reaction I had when my teenage twin sister told me she was pregnant. I was angry; I called her a ‘slut’ and told her to get an abortion. I thought she could have a ‘better life’. But what is a better life? It was a path we were all expected to take. For many of my friends, becoming a parent young was not a ‘failure of planning’, but a tacit response to the choices and opportunities available to us.
As such, I have spent over 8 years documenting the women in my life; my twin, my stepsister, and new and old friends, as they grapple with the complexities of motherhood, violence, and turbulent relationships. Each experience has been rewarding, complex, and at times heartbreaking.
I am committed to telling these stories in the hope that audiences begin to consider the cyclical nature of social disadvantage, and acknowledge the resilience of these young women.
The kit I have pictured includes everything I would take with me if I were going away to work intensely on my project although a lot it stays in the car or where I’m staying. Now don’t judge, but most of the time I just grab a few things and chuck them in a small backpack or in my handbag.
Primarily I shoot film on my medium format Hasselblad 500 c/m. A few years ago I changed my digital 35mm SLR for a medium format camera (with a waist level finder), I found my presence to be less intrusive. It allowed me to maintain conversation and participation and it reduced the physical barrier that can be created by holding a camera in front of your face (directly between you and the other person). I found that this change better enabled my camera as an apparatus for looking and experiencing, and allowed for greater intimacy.
I tend to shoot in low light conditions or at the end of the day so I use Kodak Portra 120 colour negative film (400 ISO), which I order from B&H in America. I was given a Polaris light meter, however I rarely use it.
Before I purchased my Hasselblad I was awarded a scholarship through my university and got myself a Mamiya 7 II. It’s a beautiful camera however I find it hard to use since I am so used to the waist level finder on the Hasselblad. The rangefinder and format throws me off so I tend to only shoot landscapes with it.
I also have a Nikon D800 and two Nikon prime lenses. An AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 and an AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4. I don’t use this much for my personal work anymore unless it’s too dark for me to shoot on film. In addition to my personal project I work as a community artist and youth mentor for not-for-profit community arts and cultural development organisation Beyond Empathy. I document a lot of their community arts projects. These are usually quite fast paced so it’s necessary for me to shoot with my Nikon D800. When facilitating my own community arts projects with Beyond Empathy I tend to work much more intimately and opt for my Hasselblad.
I take two hard drives with me to ensure my work is backed up properly. I use Western Digital portable 1TB hard drives however I recently purchased a Samsung Portable SSD T3. I haven’t had it long enough to really comment about it however it is super small and lightweight.
Over the last few years I’ve started recording open-ended conversations and soundscapes with the women for my personal project. For this I use a Zoom H4n Recorder. It’s extremely sensitive and picks up absolutely every single sound, which isn’t always ideal. I’m pretty sure this could be prevented however it’s usually the last thing on my mind.
In my kit I also have a lens wipe from Michaels camera store in Sydney and a couple Sandisk memory cards. I recently converted from compact flash cards to SD cards due to cost. I’m yet to see if they can handle being chucked around in my bag.
And lastly I have nappies and wipes. I’m a mother to two boys under 3 and a lot of the time I have them with me when working. Beyond Empathy is extremely supportive of me as a mother and artist and the majority of the women I photograph have children of their own.
Inside Raphaela’s camera bag:
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