I remember the first time I met Rachel Bach. I attended the book launch event for ‘Never Say Die: The Hundred-Year Overnight Success of Australian Women’s Football’ by Lee McGowan and Fiona Crawford late last year at Heidelberg United FC in Melbourne.
The event was expertly hosted by the amazing Helen Tyrikos, Heidelberg United FC’s Head of Women’s Football and was not only a chance to celebrate a wonderful book, but to celebrate women’s football with interviews with former and current Matildas and to hear the behind the scenes tales from football photographer, Rachel Bach.
I shamefully didn’t know of Rachel’s work before that night, but as soon as she began to speak about her journey as a photographer and the story behind some of her shots, I was transfixed.
Rachel’s work is sensational. Over many years of unpaid work, and travel at her own expense, to scoring contracts with Nike, she’s covered some of Australia’s finest athletes in their biggest moments. If you look at Rachel’s instagram account for her photography, By The White Line, you’ll not only see the elite level of her work, but how much trust and friendship she’s gained from the athletes she captures on film. Read the comments of her posts and you’ll see Matildas thanking Rachel for her work, making jokes and wishing her well. She’s worked hard at these relationships over a long time and the respect her subjects have for her rings true.
We’re thrilled at Siren to share some of Rachel’s work so you can learn more about her work, her process and her story.
Kasey Symons: Can you share with us how you got into footy photography?
Rachel Bach: I used to play football, and one year I started mucking around on a friend’s camera, while I sat injured on the sideline. Years later, I bought my own and began shooting local women’s football. I was studying my Master of Multimedia Design at the time, although ironically, I chose not to take any of the photography subjects offered… I didn’t think about photography as a career at all, I was just having fun at the weekend and I was passionate about women’s football.
KS: Who were some of the earliest talents you enjoyed photographing?
RB: When I think back to the earlier days of shooting, a couple of names come to mind. Alanna Kennedy and Kyah Simon were both playing W-League in Melbourne, and I’ll never forget how supportive they were towards me. I was enjoying capturing them in action, but as I started to get to know them as people, it became more meaningful. It would be remiss of me not to mention the top tier in Victoria—the NPLW—as well, where it all began. I can’t pick one or even a couple of names out of that, but that competition was the perfect place to start.
KS: I recall you telling the story behind this photo at the book launch event for ‘Never Say Die’ and what it revealed of Sam Kerr’s character—can you retell it for us?
RB: I took this photo of Sam whilst on assignment for Nike in Chicago last year. I think it speaks volumes about Sam as a person. She didn’t actually score the goal she’s celebrating, but look how much it means to her. I spent a lot of time with her last year, and she’s incredibly caring. With Sam, it’s always about the team. I think that’s on full display in this image.
KS: What have been the hardest moments to photograph?
RB: I think I’ll always find the heartbreaking losses most difficult. The dejection and the pain is hard to watch, let alone to capture and publish. When I know many of the players in a game personally, it’s infinitely harder. The Matildas’ World Cup knockout loss last year was shattering. Penalty shootouts are a cruel way to lose a game.
KS: As someone who gets to see these key moments in the growth of the game in Australia up close, what does it mean to you to see Aussies signed to powerhouse international clubs?
RB: Seeing the growth firsthand is exciting. I think it’s great that players want to challenge themselves, and sometimes [that] requires a change of environment. I get the sense that a number of the players want to challenge themselves as individuals for the betterment of the national team, which is admirable in my eyes. The reaction to Sam signing for Chelsea was immense, and nothing less than she deserved. On a personal note, the shoot we did in preparation for the announcement was one of my favourites that I’ve ever captured.
KS: You’ve been able to travel far and wide with the Matildas, is it even possible to choose a favourite trip/tournament? What are some moments that have stayed with you?
RB: It’s pretty difficult to pick a favourite because each trip is special to me in different ways. The Asian Cup in Jordan in 2018 was my first big trip, so that will always be special. The World Cup is the pinnacle of football, and covering the Matildas in France last year was incredible. The win against Brazil in Montpellier is one of my favourite memories. On home soil, the 2017 friendly against Brazil in Sydney was pretty emotional. I didn’t expect to shoot the Matildas in front of such a big crowd at home.I’ll never forget the atmosphere.
KS: There is this amazing artistry to some of your shots of players away from the game, how are you able to capture these athletes in such a way off the pitch?
RB: Taking the time to get to know the players’ personalities is crucial when it comes to capturing them away from the pitch. Not everyone loves being in front of a camera, so I try to find a way to make it as comfortable as it can be. It’s different for each person. Collaboration is key—I’m constantly having conversations with players about what kinds of images they like.
KS: The personality of the players always shines in your photos, you can tell they trust you. How have you been able to develop such a strong relationship with these amazing athletes over the years?
RB: I’ve spent a lot of time building trust with the players. I’ve never expected anything from them. For the first two and a half years of covering the Matildas and W-League, it was entirely voluntary. I didn’t make a cent, but I was there at every opportunity because of my passion for women’s football. I think that resonated with the players; it showed them how much I care about them. I’ve also really enjoyed getting to know the players as people, not just as athletes. That has helped foster those relationships, and I think they’ve embraced me and my camera as a result.
KS: With such a strong background in football photography, what is it like photographing other sports? And how was the experience photographing the GOAT in Serena Williams?!
RB: I don’t get the opportunity to photograph other sports too often, but when I do, I find I really enjoy myself. It feels new, and it challenges me. Photographing Serena was surreal. I noticed that most of the photographers were coming and going, staying only for the more significant points in the match. I sat there the entire time with a big smile on my face. I was in disbelief for most of it, and I felt like such a rookie. I got hit in the end by other people’s lenses countless times (there’s only so much space courtside), but it didn’t take anything away from the experience.
KS: We know you love football, but you’re also a Carlton Aussie rules fan, what does it mean to you for Carlton to have an AFLW team?
RB: I grew up with AFL, and more specifically with Carlton. I loved going to Princes Park (except that time my flag blew away in the wind), and I idolised the players. I wanted to play, but the problem was I only ever saw men competing, and so I never saw it as a viable option. Carlton fielding a women’s team means a lot to me—it changes that problem I had as a kid. I loved that I got the chance to shoot a couple of their games last year. I didn’t know that we were allowed into the rooms post-game—soccer/football is very restricted in that sense. Capturing the camaraderie in a place that means so much to me was truly special.