Exposing the Unexposed: An interview with Australia's freshest street collective

Street Collectives can often be put under a certain level of scrutiny, both for their selection process and whom they choose to include within them. Street Photography can often be blasted for being a middle class white man's game, and this can cause conflict within the field.

Those who do feel excluded are starting to show their worth via other avenues. Strapped with a “we don’t need you” approach, there is a section of the field doing it their own way and ensuring they give exposure to those, who they say, are less likely to be represented. 

I caught up with both Julia Coddington and Rebecca Wiltshire, the founders of Australia’s newest street collective - Unexposed - a collective that aims to give a voice to both women and Non-Binary street photographers....

Julia and Rebecca, thank you for joining me. I think a good starting point is to explain why you felt there was a need for such a collective in Australia…

Australia has some very talented street photographers.  It is a small, young and fragmented street photography community but it is evolving rapidly as more and more people are increasingly active on social media.  There are no ‘collectives’ that we know of that are purely street and all Australian.  There are Australians who are members of International collectives.  There are a ‘groups’ or communities of street photographers and groups of street photographers that get together to shoot, for example through ‘Meetup’. And there are numerous Australian based Facebook, Flickr and Instagram street photography groups. There are of course many photography and artist ‘collectives’ in Australia, including several that consist of just women.

We are actively involved in @womeninstreet and make a concerted effort to connect with street photographers in Australia and internationally.  We believe women have a lower profile and ‘status’ in the street photography community which reflects the status quo generally.  We felt that given the street photography community in Australia is young and evolving there is a great opportunity for women and NB street photographers to be integrated and included early on - from the ground up.

There are many gifted women and Non-Binary (NB) street photographers in this country and we wanted to provide a platform which allows us all to come together in a place where we feel supported and encouraged.  We can connect, share knowledge, explore our art and showcase our work.  We want our group to be collaborative rather than competitive or exclusive.  We hope that Unexposed will increase our exposure nationally and internationally and put women and NB street photographers on an equal footing with our male counterparts.

Could you give the readers an overview of your own experience within Street Photography, and some of the challenges you have faced as a woman within the field…

We are self taught photographers and self confessed street photography addicts. Julia has always enjoyed photography, photographing people and has always owned a camera, but it was the iPhone that got her hooked when she discovered she could discreetly take candid and abstract photos of random people in the street.  She became more seriously addicted to street photography in 2012.  Rebecca is newer to photography and after getting herself a camera a few years ago was immediately drawn to and now addicted to the street genre.  Our work is now recognised internationally and we are actively involved in the street community. Julia has been invited to speak about her work and conduct a workshop at Street Photo Milano in May; and we have both been invited to exhibit at the StreetSansFrontieres exhibition this year.  

As middle aged women we find it easy to photograph on the street, especially when armed with small cameras.  We are not seen as a threat and not really taken seriously.  In fact we find it easy to be invisible, this is to our advantage. However, we have found that being recognised as street photographers in a male dominated genre is much more difficult. We have many more hurdles to jump over then men.  We are immediately dismissed as not being as good or as worthy. As casual observers of the international scene it appears to be more difficult for women and NB street photographers to be included in festivals, exhibitions and collectives - most of which are organised or founded by men and who gravitate towards other men. There needs to be integration, inclusion and involvement of women at the initial stages.  Too often we are invited as an afterthought to get the female quota up.  Until women and NB street photographers are valued as equals, street photography cannot grow in a healthy way.

 ©  Julia Coddington

©  Julia Coddington

What kind of things will the collective offer to its members in order to grow and improve the community?

We are in the early stages so the focus is on connecting with women and NB street photographers and building the community.  Initially we will promote people and their work through Facebook and Instagram. We have started interviewing members to find out more about them and their work. With our Facebook group we hope to develop a forum for sharing information, having discussions, showcasing our work nationally and internationally. We hope to be able to create an environment where people feel safe enough to ask for feedback on their work, to share information on workshops, exhibitions and competitions and have discussions on different topics. We also hope it will provide a place for people to connect at the local level and organise to meet and go shooting together. We hope to have monthly themes to inspire people to get out and shoot.  Although only Australian women and NB people can post or be featured, we encourage everyone to support us by following the Facebook group page and Instagram feed, like our work and give us positive feedback.  This has already been happening. Our Instagram feed will feature the work of our members, including fresh work based on the monthly theme as well as from the archives. We hope that between these platforms and our website we will grow larger and stronger as a  community and expose our work to new audiences.

Unexposed states it will champion the work of Non-Binary people. Could you explain this further for those unfamiliar with Non-Binary people…

A non-binary person is one that does not identify with a specific gender.  We have personal connections with non-binary people.   The collective is for Australian street photographers who do not identify as male. The work of male street photographers dominates here and internationally and is well represented at all levels.  Our collective is about supporting, encouraging and promoting the work of the rest of us.

Whilst the group is of course built to promote positivity for marginalised groups - is there a slight sadness within you due to the need to have such a collective?

Not sadness, but more disappointment and frustration that street photographers with real talent are overlooked because of who they are.  And we are not just talking about women and NB people. Issues of race, class and age are ever present within the street photography community.  And let’s face it, as predominantly white female and NB middle class street photographers we are very privileged.

 © Rebecca Wiltshire

© Rebecca Wiltshire

Will you be focused on one specific kind of street style, or are all artistic approaches to street photography welcome?

Yes, all styles of street photography are welcome. The focus will will be on improving our work collectively and encouraging our members to actively look at other Australian and international work so we learn and grow.  Real progression of the genre will only happen when all styles, and all groups are represented.

The Collective says the aim is to try redefine the term “Collective” in a Street Photography sense - Why is this important to you and how do you intend to achieve it?

Historically most collectives are made up of a group of like-minded men and only rarely are women invited to join.  This has persisted until recently when more and more collectives are trying to be, and are becoming more balanced in terms of gender.  There is still a way to go.  Our collective is a reaction to the traditional male dominated ‘collective’.  We are about inclusion of Australian women and NB people who shoot street, have an eye for street, or want to try street. It’s not an exclusive group where you have to be invited to join.  We are exclusive only in so far as and we feature work by Australians who aren’t men.

Before we say goodbye - Could you highlight some of the work currently being produced by your members?

Absolutely...

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Be sure to check out their Facebook page - Unexposed Collective.