A number of years ago I worked with a fresh faced photographer named Steph Comelli at my music blog. Steph was looking to get a bit of experience shooting live events and really kick start a career and I would be organising photographer passes to various gigs and festivals to send her along to. Little would I know, a couple of years later we’d have done a u-turn and both be focused on footy—women’s footy—in our own capacity. Steph is now better known as She Scores, and is one of the premier photographers of women’s footy in Australia, capturing many of the key moments we think of when it comes to the AFLW competition.
Can you share with us how you got into footy photography?
I started playing footy at MUWFC in 2010, & had been playing on-and-off for about 6-7 years before I picked up a camera and took it to a game. I’ve always been a sports fan, & in my final year at uni (RMIT BA Photog.) I still hadn’t shot any sport – which was what I really wanted to do – so for my final year project I chose to create an online presence that championed women in sport. I didn’t know what that would look like at first, but I knew that I wanted to create something that would have some longevity to it – not just a series of pictures that I’d display for my final assessment. July 2016 marked the beginning of my footy photography journey, and later that year She Scores was born.
Who were some of the earliest talents you enjoyed photographing?
In the early days players like Meg Hutchins, Darcy Vescio, Britt Bonnici & Rocky Cranston were a few that I enjoyed capturing. To this day I still enjoy photographing them.
I get a thrill photographing players that are openly emotive & who dominate the contest. Players who wear their emotions on their faces, the unapologetically passionate players who help give my work that little extra point of difference. Younger players that I like photographing are players like Eb Marinoff, Maddy Prespakis, Caitlin Greiser & Lily Mithen.
What did Kate Sheahan’s debut, then injury represent to you?
To me, this moment demonstrates the absolute highs and devastating lows of sport bundled up in a nut shell, all in space of 30 seconds. It was the whole notion that everything could be over in a split second – the training, work, effort, sweat, the commitment to make it to the top tier of any sport can just be smashed into a million pieces in one moment. It makes me think about instinct and fate and destiny a little bit – both in the athlete’s instance, and in mine. I took this shot from over the fence because, on a whim, I thought it might be a good vantage point, it felt right. Little did I know that I’d be in the prime spot for when this happened.
How is the experience of shooting a grand final different to that of a home and away game?
It’s the buzz. The whole space feels different. The crowd roars a little louder, the players bump a little harder, the desperation to win makes for a great spectacle. Everything is heightened on Grand Final day. I vividly remember shooting the Grand Final in Adelaide last year, and the energy was palpable. Players couldn’t hear each other on the ground, and the crowd was massive. The emotion that comes with such high intensity and energy around a game makes them such a thrill to shoot.
What do you think is unique about the women’s footy community?
Just that, the community. As both a player and someone who floats around women’s footy media as well, I can wholeheartedly say that this community is the most welcoming, accepting, warm and beautiful group of people I’ve ever met. It’s a really diverse community, but it’s very symbiotic and everyone works together for the betterment of women’s footy as a whole. It’s a very open and safe space, and one that I’m very grateful to have found – especially through those formative years when I was trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be.
What was going through your head as you took this iconic photo?
“Hold your bloody camera up and just take pictures!!!” or something to that effect.
I remember tearing up when this was all happening, and I got a little bit caught in the moment. All I remember was the crowd and the whole collective who were there that day just sounded like they’d all been kicked in the guts when it happened. Then the applause started, then the players kept going up and showing their support, and then I realised that instead of taking this in just for myself, I needed to document it. For a moment there I forgot I had a camera on me, I became just like every other person in that stadium—shocked, devastated for Erin, and hopeful she’d come out of it with the news that it wasn’t as bad as we thought… But I think deep down we all knew. I think this photo shows that deep down, Erin knew, too.
How important do you think pride games are to footy?
In women’s footy, in particular, pride games are an integral part of the fixture. Whether that be at a local or national level, pride games create a very inclusive, safe space for players and supporters. It’s a brilliant initiative and one that brings out the most colourful parts of our community. I love them, I’m a huge advocate for pride games, and think that they do a great job of showcasing the diversity, acceptance, and safe space the women’s footy community provides for so many people. Being able to show up to the footy and be proud of who we are is important. Celebrating a proud, diverse community just reiterates the strength of women’s footy—both in its rich history, and in its modern culture.
Whose athleticism are you always trying to capture?
I don’t think it’s ever really one player in particular. For me, I like to try and capture players in ways that I think make for interesting pictures. It’s usually those split-split-second things that are a challenge, but that I get a kick out of capturing well – like a great contested mark or a player in full flight. So it just depends on the day, who’s having a standout game, and who happens to be doing all the good stuff in the corner of the field where I happen to be sitting!
You have a knack for capturing the human side of footy. How important do you think this is as a compliment to the on field documentation?
It’s super important. To me, it’s almost more important. I think the on-field stuff is needed and it’s what we want to see in the papers the next morning. It’s what allows us to see how far the women have come when we can see what training and a professional sporting environment can do for their skill-levels and the quality of the game—that’s important. But what keeps me inspired and continually trying to better myself as a creative is the stuff that goes on off-field. It’s the stuff that happens off the ball, away from the main contest, after the siren, before the players run out, after they’ve won or lost a game – that’s the stuff that matters to me and that’s the kind of material I love shooting. Documentary-wise and in terms of having some sort of historical context, I think the human element is what will give generations to come a real taste of what women’s footy looked like when it first started. The human side of footy is what keeps me going back for more. It’s the challenge of finding elements to shoot that I think other people may have missed. It’s the excitement of capturing something that might not make the back page of the paper, but that means something to that particular player. That’s the goal, and that’s where the gold is, in my opinion.
What’s your favourite part of footy?
The people, the community. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without the help, talent and athleticism of such a great bunch of women. There are so many that work tirelessly behind the scenes – volunteers, journos, mums and dads who drive their young girls to games. So many people need to be involved to make the machine that is women’s footy work and move forward. For me, it’s the community. The people and the collective love we share for the game is what keeps me coming back every week.