In the latest By The White Line Diaries, Rachel takes us to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the moment that defined her experience.
The final whistle blew, and the American players celebrated, as Dutch players dropped to the ground. After shooting the initial reactions, I made my way around the pitch for the World Cup trophy presentation. I sat off to the side— I wasn’t interested in wrestling for front and centre position. It wasn’t the shot I was after.
I went to France as a volunteer. It was the only way I could get accredited— offering my photos in exchange for media accreditation. When I started planning and saving for the trip, I wasn’t working as a full-time photographer. It was my passion, but it barely covered the cost of my gear. All of that changed at the beginning of 2019.
I was at work one morning editing real estate videos— I worked as a video producer full-time. An email landed in my inbox, offering me an opportunity to work for Nike, documenting the journeys of several Matildas in the lead up to the World Cup. I suddenly went from shooting on weekends and taking leave to follow the team, to being flown interstate and internationally to work with players. I knew that I’d worked incredibly hard over a number of years to produce quality content in the female football space, but it still seemed surreal. They wanted to pay me to do what I love most? Crazy.
When I arrived in France five months later, I’d just spent time in Turkey and the Netherlands shooting the Matildas’ pre-camp for Nike. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case at the World Cup. Despite their best efforts, I couldn’t shoot for Nike at a tournament one of their competitors sponsors. So, I became a volunteer again. In some ways, it gave me more freedom. I wasn’t shooting to a brief, and there wasn’t that external pressure to deliver.
I travelled with a friend, and we packed in as much football, steak frites, and sight-seeing as we could into a month. In Nice, before the Matildas’ round of 16 match, I went to training for the first time since the Netherlands, to shoot the team photo. After seeing me daily for weeks in the lead up to the tournament, my absence was pointed out by some of the staff. They didn’t realise I was there as a volunteer until then, that this was my holiday. I don’t think that most people knew that.
In that time, I started to learn a lot about the value of my work. In Montpellier, I was fortunate enough to be in the right spot for Chloe Logarzo’s iconic goal celebration. There were no other photographers in that corner with me, which is a rarity at a World Cup. In Grenoble, Sam Kerr came to me directly for a photo with the ball after scoring four goals. Those photos are unique. Some outlets requested to use the imagery in exchange for an image credit, while others simply published them without my permission. Very few offered remuneration.
Making my imagery harder to access was against my nature. I had started shooting because I wanted to provide more visibility for women’s sport. However, more than ever, I started to realise the value in my work. Once it became my sole source of income, the importance of preserving that value increased tenfold.
Sitting at the edge of the pitch after the World Cup final, I looked around. Photographers were jostling to get into position for that moment – the trophy lift. I took the shot, and then the TV camera people moved into the frame. So, I picked up my wide angle lens, and took a photo of the scene. It was chaotic.
After the presentation, the players celebrated with the fans, and then their families and friends. I stayed in the middle of the pitch, hoping to capture the emotional side of the event, as I often do. It’s hard to know where to look when there’s so much happening, but as a photographer you know you can’t capture everything. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it.
Kelley O’Hara was sitting alone on the stage. I quickly pressed my shutter, unsure how long the moment would last. I didn’t look at the photo until shortly after, when I sat down to edit. As soon as I saw it on my computer, I knew it was a special frame. The elation and relief on her face were palpable. I also loved Christen Press’ legs sprawled across confetti covered ground behind Kelley.
In a month, I’d travelled all over France, covering fifteen matches along the way. It was wonderful and yet exhausting at the same time. I found the shift back to volunteering challenging. I had high expectations of myself, even if I no longer had the same external pressures. By the day of the final, I’d been away for seven weeks.
There I was, covering a match I’d dreamed about for years. I’d always imagined I’d be consumed by happiness if I had the privilege. Instead, I felt elated, grateful and drained – a strange combination.
As the stands emptied and players disappeared, I was overcome with relief. When I shoot women’s football, I’m emotionally invested. I wholly commit myself to capturing the moments before, during and after the match. It had caught up with me, and somehow, one frame on that final day managed to capture my experience perfectly.