Back from a short break, Siren Collaborator Rachel Bach, known as By The White Line, details her return to freelance work after repeated Melbourne lockdowns.
My alarm startled me as it went off. It was five in the morning, as I stumbled to my car. Melbourne’s second lockdown had just finished, and I was finally allowed to take photos outside of home again. It was November 2020, and I met Sabrina Frederick at a baseball field in Melbourne’s east. ‘Take two,’ I thought to myself. It felt like the start of a new chapter in my freelance photography journey. It was time to see if I could answer the question I’d asked myself at the beginning of 2020. Could I make a living from doing what I love most?
I’d had plenty of time during lockdown to think about what I wanted to shoot. My love of photography came from shooting football, so naturally that was front of mind. The start of the W-League season wasn’t far off, and I would look to cover local competitions once that ended – as I’d been doing for years. The difference this time, however, was that I didn’t have the security of a full-time job or longer-term contract. This was no longer just a hobby.
I wanted to find a way to balance shooting what I love with making a living, as well as learning and improving as a photographer along the way. I rejected suggestions of finding part-time work to supplement my income. I felt obliged to fully commit to freelancing, and to focusing on producing content. I was fully aware of the risks, but I wanted to take a chance on myself.
To do that, I knew I needed to diversify. I’ve often been asked whether I only shoot people playing football. In the past, I found myself amused, slightly offended or a combination of the two by that question. Upon reflecting on my work during lockdown, however, it occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t showing enough variation in what I could produce.
Over the next few months, I started working on projects away from the fast-paced action I was accustomed to capturing. I shot a range of products in my home studio (and by home studio I mean rearranging rooms in my house to suit, of course). I dusted off my video gear to help tell stories. I shot portraits and headshots. The momentum was building, and I even started to believe that I could make freelancing work.
At the same time, I was still able to cover sport—some as paid work, some purely for the love of it. The W-League season was underway, and I was thrilled to be pitchside once again. I also had the chance to cover AFLW, which had been on my to-do list for a while. I was excited to challenge myself, and the novelty didn’t wear off at all during the season. It was difficult balancing both sports at times—fixture clashes were simply unavoidable. I recall one weekend where I covered four games between the two. Exhaustion aside, I was very much enjoying shooting both sports.
I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. After 2020 I was all too aware of the highs and lows that accompany freelancing. In February, a short lockdown in Melbourne served as the perfect reminder of this. I lost a significant amount of work as a result, and it then took weeks to regain that momentum that I’d worked so hard to build. I tried not to let it get to me.
I’d always worried that if photography became my full-time job I’d lose my love for it. Moreover, it seemed as though my identity and photographing football had become inextricably intertwined. What would happen if that started to shift? I was starting to find out, and it wasn’t what I feared.
Instead, I found I was more driven than I’d ever been. Expanding my photographic offering beyond capturing action allowed me to discover new interests. I ventured outside of my comfort zone, taking on projects I would’ve been too scared to even consider in years past. I felt as though my photography was improving as a result. Most importantly, however, I was enjoying myself whilst doing it.
Finding fulfilment in areas outside of football photography has also helped to ease some of the sadness I hold about not currently working with the Matildas. Travel restrictions have made it impossible to cover the team for the time being, so I just have to be patient. Truthfully, it took a fair amount of time to accept that.
Once I’d regained my momentum post-February, I found opportunities in areas I’d never even considered. I shot portraits and behind the scenes content at the Melbourne Vixens’ content day, which later led to shooting my first ever netball game for the team. I never played netball growing up, and apart from watching a Diamonds game every now and then, I didn’t know much about it.
It only took one shoot with the Vixens to pique my interest. Shooting portraits with Jo Weston, Kate Moloney, Mwai Kumwenda and Emily Mannix on that content day was incredibly fun. They seemed comfortable in front of my camera, and I loved their energy. When the rest of the players joined for team photos they added to the warm, light-hearted and cheerful atmosphere.
It was only when I shot their first game, however, that I was able to truly appreciate the intensity of the sport. I was in awe as players flew through the air, crashed into each other, and slammed into the court. It was difficult to shoot initially, but I found my rhythm as the match progressed. I was intrigued, and hoped to work with the team again. Weeks later, I photographed portraits for their Indigenous dress reveal, and then a training session as well. I embraced these new opportunities, which all came from one shoot months earlier.
Whilst finding new interests was exciting, football was never far from my mind. It would be remiss of me not to mention the W-League grand final, which I was so grateful to be able to cover in April. When I started shooting the league, Melbourne Victory—a team I’d supported since the league started—was going through a rough patch. Over the years I captured many of their highs and lows. This was the first time that they’d been in a grand final since I started shooting.
It was my first time travelling post COVID, and I didn’t relax until I was inside the stadium in Sydney. I wanted to be there to capture the occasion for the players. I’d always felt welcomed by them, even as personnel changed between seasons. Watching them win the match and lift that trophy was truly euphoric. It’s one of my favourite memories of capturing football in Australia.
After the grand final, I continued to find work, and some consistency was developing. I wasn’t fixating too much on what was coming next. I was focused on making the most of the opportunities I had. I felt more relaxed than I had in quite a while, and happier, too. I felt more excited than anxious about freelancing—a big shift in my mindset.
In May, another COVID outbreak saw Melbourne forced back into lockdown. My last shoot —the night before the lockdown began—was an incredibly exciting one. Sabrina Frederick was signing for Collingwood in the AFLW, and I was going to shoot her in the black and white for the first time. When I was allowed to shoot again after lockdown last year, working with her helped me rediscover my love for photography. Sabs has fast become a friend of mine since then, and I loved being able to capture such an important moment in her journey. “What a shoot to finish on before lockdown,” I told her.
As I’m writing this, Melbourne is easing restrictions, and we’re coming out of lockdown. It hasn’t been an easy couple of weeks for me—I won’t pretend otherwise. Once again, I’m facing the unenviable task of rebuilding momentum when it comes to work. However, the past seven months have shown me that it’s not impossible. I don’t know what lies ahead exactly, but I can’t wait to find out.