Badass Babes 3 / Elize Strydom

Introducing to you, the multi-talented badass babe Elize Strydom. Elize is a documentary photographer and ABC journalist based in Sydney, Australia. Her current project 'Small Town Girl'  documents the daily lives of teenage girls growing up in small towns across Australia, South Africa, and the USA. As you'll see in the photographs below, Elize has this magical ability to bathe all of her subjects in the an almost painterly light - capturing each personality so wonderfully that I often feel like I have perhaps already met them. Read on to learn a little more on Elize's daily rituals, creative community, and what next on the horizon. 

+ Tell us a little bit about your work and your creative process.

I’m a photographer and journalist. I’ve been working for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for almost seven years, writing and reading news for radio. Photography was always my ‘thing on the side’ but in the last three years it has become the top priority, my number one passion. Over the last seven years I’ve shot weddings, live music, events and fashion but it wasn’t until I studied photo journalism at the International Center of Photography in New York City that I decided to lean in the direction of documentary photography. After the course, I figured that giving myself a ‘photography assignment’ would help keep me focussed and motivated so I started Small Town Girl - an independent documentary photography project exploring the daily lives of teenage girls across Australia, the USA and South Africa. In the beginning it was just a fun thing to do during my holidays but it has since turned into a life changing adventure. Photography helps me connect with others, tell stories and make sense of the world. I take my camera almost everywhere and challenge myself to look for little everyday stories that I can capture and post on my blog.  

+ Do you have daily habits, rituals or schedules to keep you on track and productive?

Rigorous routines quickly bore me but I think there is something to be said for simple, tried and true daily habits and rituals. My workplace – as well as the trip there and back - is loud and busy and tense so I try to make sure time at home is quiet, calm and peaceful. I live in a tiny flat but do my best to make it as spacious and uncluttered as possible. I want it to be a haven, somewhere I can recharge, think and create. I’m more aware than ever that physical surroundings impact massively on my ability to feel centred, clear and productive. I don’t have a TV or any flat mates and my internet connection is patchy so distractions are kept at bay. A candle (or five) is constantly burning (I’m obsessed with these scented ones from Muji!) and if I play a record it’s always something pretty chill. A slow and mindful start to the day makes a world of difference and I relish early mornings spent in solitude. Having time and space and calm helps me process, focus and plan. I’m so easily distracted and being an introvert, it doesn’t take much to completely overstimulate me. That’s when I feel most frustrated, scattered and unproductive. But slowing down, removing distractions and being intentional promotes creativity and productivity. I know it won’t always be possible to live and work like this but I’m making the most of it while I can!

+ What are the greatest strengths and challenges in your career?

The greatest strength is that the camera acts as a key to doors that would otherwise remain locked. I’ve been presented with so many incredible opportunities and have met so many fascinating people thanks to my camera. I’m a collector of experiences, not things, so that’s worked out really well so far. The greatest challenge is figuring out how I can have a credible career travelling the world shooting stories I’m passionate about. At the moment I feel like I totally AM living that dream...but it’s being funded by my day job. I want it to BE my day job.

+ What are you working on now - and what is next?

For the last two and a half years I’ve been working on independent documentary photography project Small Town Girl. I’ve lived with and photographed four girls in New South Wales, Australia, eight girls across the USA in states like Oregon, Ohio, Maine, Georgia and Texas and six girls on farms, in townships and at an orphanage in South Africa. I found most of the girls via call outs on the internet and spent a week living with each one. I take photos, record interviews and try to capture the essence of each girl’s life in an intimate and poetic way. I’ve exhibited various works from the project three times with the largest exhibition being staged a few months ago at Gaffa gallery in Sydney as part of the Head On Photo Festival. I thought that after that exhibition I’d have a bit of a break but I ended up feeling more motivated than ever. For the next little while I want to concentrate on photographing Aboriginal girls in remote Indigenous communities as well as migrant girls who’ve come to Australia as refugees and been re-settled in small Aussie towns.

+ And how do you attract the type work you want? Or how did you attract it in the beginning?

I attract the work I want by just doing it! A while ago I realised that I had nothing to lose by pouring my time and energy into projects that I love, projects that I hope to one day be paid for. I figure that I won’t attract client work or assignments by just talking about what I can do, I’ve gotta show ‘em what I’ve got. I happen to have both a fulfilling and stimulating day job and the time/money for my own ‘passion projects’. I’m pretty lucky!

+ Who and/or what are you most inspired and influenced by? 

I’m really inspired by anyone who commits to a long term project and sees it through. I’m talking fashion designers, musicians, photographers as well scientists, farmers, even mums and dads! Working on one thing for an extended period can be a really hard slog and bring very few immediate rewards but I admire people who stay the course, face obstacles and give it their best. My favourite lady creative goes by the name of Rachel Kara. Our friendship started on Twitter and stayed online for a few years until we finally met up in real life. This girl is a natural. She does her thing and does it with conviction. I’ve never felt Rachel was trying to be anyone other than herself – her work, her style, her faith, even her Instagram account – so authentic. She seems quite at ease with her place in the world and radiates calm and contentment. I’m also inspired by light. If something – a stranger, a dog, a cup – is bathed in lovely light then you can bet I’ll be there, taking a snap or two. Certain words and phrases inspire me, too. I have a long, long list of them in the notes section on my phone. They capture my imagination and hint at something bigger, evoking images that I’m compelled to create.

+ What would be a dream project or collaboration?

My dream collaboration is with my next Small Town Girl...and the one after that...and the one after that. It occurred to me recently that this project encompasses so, so much more than just the images I make. It’s really about relationships and connection. The camera is the key that gives me access to the girls’ lives – it’s my reason for being there – but the experiences we share, the things we learn from each other and the reciprocal understanding we gain is the real reason and purpose. The photos are really just evidence of a really rad encounter.

+ What advice would you give to other established or aspiring creative bad ass boss gals?

Run your own race. There’s nothing wrong with seeking inspiration and checking out all the stuff that other people are creating but there has to be a line. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been scrolling through Instagram, Tumblr or blogs and felt myself fall into a dangerous spiral of jealousy, self-doubt and dissatisfaction. Often I’ll find myself flicking through, say, a high-end fashion magazine feeling glum because I’m not the one who shot the incredible images I’m looking at. It’s then that I have to give myself a talking to: “Elize, Elize, hold on, think about this. Do you even wanna shoot fashion? No, you most definitely do not. This is a cool thing but it’s not your thing. You have your own cool thing. Stop wasting your energy on negativity and focus on making your thing the best it can be!”

+ Have you found there is a strong creative community to engage with where you live?

There sure is, it’s wonderful. In the five years I’ve spent in Sydney I’ve met so many creative, intelligent and talented ladies. The internet has made it possible for us to connect and then eventually meet up in real life. I’m so thankful for this bunch of gorgeous gals (one of which is YOU!) (Edit: You are a gem!). They’re supportive, encouraging and positive. I feel like they’ve really got my back and I’ve got theirs, too. #Blessed.

+ What are you currently reading and/or listening to?

I just finished Kim Gordon’s memoir Girl in a Band and I got a whole lot out of it. I underlined so many paragraphs. I’m now reading Storyteller by ABC foreign correspondent Zoe Daniel and Spinster – Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick. I love reading stories written by strong, intelligent women. Music-wise, I’m still hooked on Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens and Short Movie by Laura Marling. The new Hermitude record Dark Night Sweet Light has been spinning a lot in my boyfriend’s car and I’m really digging that, too.

+ Where can we find you? 

Small Town Girl project is here - instagram.com/smalltowngirlproject
Photography Portfolio - elizestrydom.carbonmade.com
Blog - elizestrydom.wordpress.com

Thanks so much Elize for your infinite wisdom!  

Portrait photograph by Jason De Plater, and all other photography by Elize Strydom. All images courtesy of Elize Strydom.

Badass Babes is a series that features conversations with creative women, focussing in on the rituals and ideas that fuel them, their inspiration and influences, their strengths and weaknesses; and how these come together to define their creative career. If there is a badass women you'd like to hear from, or someone you know who would be a perfect fit - get in touch!