So, for the past two years, Elize has been traveling between Australia, South Africa and the USA on this documentary photography project- taking photos of small town girls , exploring their daily lives and routines. Now, I’m no small-town girl, Lagos can not be tagged ‘small’ in any way; but I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of knowing everyone living in your town and I think this is such a brave venture Elize has embarked on.
Elize is based in Sydney, Australia.
It’s been more than a decade since I was a teenager growing up in regional Australia and yet I still feel such a strong connection to that stage of life. Now a fully-fledged city dweller with a demanding job and all of the responsibilities that come with being a ‘grown-up’, I realise how unique those years between childhood and adulthood actually were: a home surrounded by space and silence, a mind alive with possibilities and emotions so completely raw. Small Town Girl is a visual journey of remembering and discovery. As I walk alongside teenagers in Australia (where I grew up), South Africa (where I was supposed to grow up) and the USA (where I wanted to grow up) my own memories of adolescence are both validated and challenged. I’m fascinated by ordinary young women living in out of the way places. I want to know who they are and share in their experiences and I want to capture them in an intimate and poetic way.
I respect people who are honest and brave enough to befriend strangers and steep themselves in a different culture. It’s why we love Elize Strydom’s Small Town Girl project so much. Here are some photos ( I think they’re all gorgeous and capture beautiful moments) and their accompanying captions:
19 year old Happy washes up after cooking dinner for the girls in her cottage at iKethelo Children’s Village. Happy and her little sister have lived here for 11 years. She finished school a year ago and wants to study social work but she’s hesitant, the transition isn’t easy. “It’s safe here and I can’t imagine myself out there in the big world because I have nothing, you know?” Botha’s Hill, KwaZulu-Natal.
18 year old Mpho sits at her dining room table in Jouberton township in South Africa’s North West Province. She completed her matric (year 12 exams) last year at a boarding school a few hours away but has now moved home again. Mpho plans to go to college next year and wants to be a nurse. We spent the day 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.
26th Street hangs — Part 1: As soon as school finishes 18 year old 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’. Here Mpho and her best friend Lebogang visit 22 year old Nyameka and her 13 year old sister Boikhutso.
15 year old Maya and her family stop at one of the many roadside stalls selling fireworks for the 4th of July celebrations in Justin, Texas.
18 year old Mpho’s neighbours — 22 year old Nyameka and 13 year old Boikhutso with their mum, Charity. When I asked if I could take a photo in their back yard Charity suggested I shoot the girls climbing a peach tree but Nyameka wouldn’t have it. “She only wants us to do that because she thinks it fits your image of a primitive black African girl,” she explained to me. “But that’s not what we do and not who we are. So no, I won’t climb the tree for this photo.”
I met some young girls playing after school in Hope Vale. This is a remote Aboriginal community on Australia’s north east coast with a population of about 1200. There’s one primary school and the students are taught using a US method called Direct Instruction. It’s controversial but appears to be working. The teachers here tell me attendance has improved dramatically and literacy levels are up.
17 year old Johanna plays the guitar while her mum and little brother listen in New Waverly, Texas — USA.
17 year old Johanna cuts her brother’s hair in their backyard in New Waverly, Texas — USA.
16 year old Tara and the deer with a clipped ear that has been visiting her for the last seven years in Winthrop, Washington — USA. Tara identifies as African-American-German, lives with her grandma, reads Rumi and Neil Gaiman, is listening to Conor Oberst’s latest record, studies Mandarin and is going to a summer writing camp in Portland, Oregon — USA.
15 year old Maya lives in Justin, Texas — population 3200. She’s currently listening to: Hole, Bikini Kill and Sonic Youth. Currently making: a new patch for her denim vest. Currently being: rad. One of Maya’s favourite movies is ‘Whip It’. We watched it last night and this morning she went for a roller-skate in the park behind her elementary school.
(All photos are from SmallTownGirlProject’s Instagram Page. Follow it to get all updates.)