The SOYA Awards are back for 2013

The Qantas Spirit of Youth Awards (SOYA 365) are on again, and the call is out for entries with only one day (ONE!) left to enter the program’s first category of 2013: Photography.

If you’re looking to expand your creative horizons, find an outlet and get yourself out there, it's worth entering. The prize, as always is $5000 worth of Qantas air travel to wherever your imagination desires, as well as an extra five grand in cash – and, the most integral and exciting part, a 12 month mentorship with an industry leader offering you insights, experiences and advice that money can’t buy.

Last year, incredibly raw and confronting images of young Australian mothers earned Raphaela Rosella the top prize: a trip to Europe’s biggest festival of photography and a year with world-renowned Australian photographer Polly Borland as her spiritual/creative guru.

 We caught up with both of them for a rundown of an experience the pair described as “emotional” and “unimaginable”.

Raphaela grew up on the north coast of NSW and knew what she wanted to be from a young age. Picking up a camera in primary school, she studied her passion in high school, but never expected to go to university. With a scholarship from Youth Off The Streets, a leadership program at Beyond Empathy and Slippry Sirkus, she completed a Bachelor of Photography and now works at not-for-profit publication The Australian Photojournalist.

“I believe the challenges and obstacles I faced while growing up encouraged me to think differently about life,” she says. “The support I received made a difference in my life and through my photography, friendship and support with my subject I hope to do the same.”

Her photos hold a sense of intimacy that you don’t get by just pointing and shooting.

“The sensitive nature of the circumstances I am often working in means I am uncomfortable photographing excessively to capture the ‘right’ image,” Raphaela explains.

“Sometimes I don’t photograph at all.  As the project evolved, it became important that the research was viewed as a collaboration, giving each woman the opportunity to express her own feelings and experiences of early motherhood.”

Her SOYA entries comprised portraits of four young women from her local area.

Through the pictures she sought to “connect an audience with Mimi, Gillianne, Tammara and Ashleigh and provide a platform for their stories, choices, achievements and struggles to be heard.

“Rather than arguing the oversimplified narratives of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ mothers, by investigating and individualising the complex range of issues that lead teen girls to early pregnancy and the challenges they face, the collaborations seek to show that each mother is different, and there is no ‘uniform’ type.

“By listening and telling the stories of others, we come to understand that there are no stereotypes and we stand as individuals.”

As a young photographer, her biggest challenge has been “getting noticed and having your stories published.”

She and Polly met in Australia in August and they had “a fantastic time together” – and so began a mentorship she describes as “casual”.

Polly Borland, an Australian living in London, is known for her own confronting and wide-ranging work, from portraits of the Queen, to nudes of Germaine Greer, to bizarre costumed subjects. She had never officially mentored another photographer before and was moved by what she saw in Raphaela.

She names Diane Arbus, Larry Clark and John Hillcoat as early role models “who taught me to never give up trying.”

She never stops learning, either, saying she is “constantly surprised at how excited I can still get when looking through the camera!”

When she was asked to become a mentor for SOYA, she was motivated to “give help to someone who may need encouragement with a medium I love.”

“When I met Raphaela it was very emotional,” she says. “I saw in her a young me; she seemed to be using photography to understand the world around her, while she hoped it was a tool for the greater good.

“She passionately believes in what she is doing and it has become a need that she is driven by. She is a gifted viewer of the world.”

A trip to Les Rencontres D’Arles, the huge photography festival in the south of France, expanded Raphaela’s view of the world.

“Les Rencontres D’Arles was unimaginable,” the young photographer says.

“I attended a workshop with Magnum photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti, saw exhibitions by some of my most favourite and respected practitioners and met a bunch of photographers and editors who I admire.”

Since SOYA, Raphaela has been working to further her young mothers project, You didn’t take away my future, you gave me a new one, by “exploring class, stigma and gender”.

She hopes the project will serve as  “a platform to show the complexities of each woman’s lived experience, and challenge conventional views of young mothers through recognising the validity of their (often misunderstood and stigmatised) choices.”

In five years’ time she hopes to “have my work widely published and exhibited internationally and to continue working and telling stories that I am passionate about.” 

Her mentorship has provided her with “a relationship and support network I can see continuing beyond the one year provided by SOYA.”

The best advice she has received from Polly? “Keep doing what you’re doing.”

You didn’t take away my future, you gave me a new one can be viewed here.

Below is a video of an event held in celebration of the 2012 winners and to welcome the next chapter. This year, it could be you under the wing of Polly Borland or other experts in your chosen field – but get your roller skates on, because the Photography category, as first cab off the rank, closes next Tuesday, February 5. Check out for more details and to jump on board.

profile of Eliza Goetze