Rachel Bach, in her first entry for the By The White Line Diaries, shares how she first took her place behind the lens and found her love for football photography.
It all started in Prague. It was December 2015, and I was spending my university break roaming around Europe. After a long day of sightseeing, I was sitting on my bunk bed at a hostel, chatting with friends from home. One of them mentioned seeing a job advertisement online for a multimedia coordinator. Football Victoria wanted someone with a video skillset.
”You’d be perfect for it,” she told me. It piqued my interest, but I brushed it off. It was a full-time role, and I was at the halfway point of my Master of Multimedia Design. I had no intention of abandoning the course. “You should apply. You never know.”
A week later, I couldn’t stop thinking about that conversation. I decided to apply – I had nothing to lose. By then, I was in Istanbul. The only sightseeing that day involved the bakery and juice stand, where I fuelled myself with simit (circular bread) and pomegranate juice. I sat down at my computer, crafted a resume and portfolio, and pressed send.
I didn’t get the job. The demands of the role – unsurprisingly – were too great for someone to take on while studying. I was told there would be paid freelance opportunities for covering Victorian competitions instead. However, these opportunities would be in photography only. I was asked whether that would be of interest to me. It wasn’t necessarily the photography that appealed to me. At that point, it was the opportunity to be involved – creatively – in sport.
I said yes.
A few months later – back home in Melbourne – a parcel arrived for me. I’d invested in a small amount of gear – I now had a lens to go with my camera body. While I’d been waiting to start shooting, I’d spent hours scouring the internet for information about photographing sport. I’m sure my browser history would’ve shown strings of words such as “freezing action sport photography” and “do I let the ball hit me or the camera?”.
Now that my camera was ready, it was time to choose a game. I knew I wanted to shoot NPLW, the top women’s tier in Victoria. I’d followed the league for a number of years, and was familiar with many of the players. I hadn’t been assigned a game – I wasn’t being paid – but I wanted to practise, and I wanted to show that I cared about covering this league and the players in it.
I chose a game that a close friend of mine was playing in – Round 9, Box Hill vs Alamein. Coincidentally, it was the same friend who encouraged me to apply for the job back in Prague.
When I arrived at Box Hill’s Wembley Park that Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t alone. I’d brought a friend along – I was too nervous to go by myself. We walked through the gate and headed for the corner opposite the grandstand, away from everyone and everything. The lanyard holding my accreditation was somewhat inconspicuous, but there was no hiding in the fluorescence of the mandatory photographer’s bib. Or so I thought.
I chose a spot on the goal line, a few metres inside the corner flag, and pulled my camera out of the bag. I attached it to a monopod, and raised it to eye level. I stood behind the fence, afraid to get too close. I was incredibly self-conscious about the sound of my camera’s shutter. I desperately wanted to be invisible. Whenever the ball came near me, I pressed my face even closer to the eyepiece, as though it would shield me from being noticed.
In reality, no one said a word to me – apart from my
friend chaperone – for 90 minutes. I doubt anyone so much as threw a second glance my way. They were all there for the football, as was I. I watched as a 17-year old Melina Ayres scored a hatrick in a 3-0 victory for Alamein. Larissa Crummer, then with the Matildas, made her debut in the league. I recall being amused by Melissa Maizels cursing in goal, even though she kept a clean sheet.
Fortunately, my heightened sense of self-consciousness didn’t prevent me from enjoying myself. In fact, I was captivated. The desire to shoot again felt pressing, and I found myself back at Wembley Park the following Saturday. Box Hill won a thrilling match in the dying minutes. This time, I even photographed from inside the fence.