Sharon’s prized success award is in the frame

A great achievement: Traralgon South local Sharon Slocum recently received the Stories 2021 People's Choice Award. photograph zac standish.

Zac Standish

TRARALGON South local Sharon Slocum received nationwide recognition recently after claiming the Stories 2021 People’s Choice Award at the annual Photo Collective Australian Photography Awards.

Submitting her story Isolation companions COVID 2020 lockdown, the 10-image display, known as a Driveway Project, depicts how residents of her surrounding Traralgon South and Callignee areas connected during what was an extremely trying period.

Ms Slocum described the feeling of finding out she had won the prestigious award.

“I cried,” Ms Slocum said.

“I never expected to win when I entered, I just wanted my story to be recorded and the stories that did win were absolutely incredible, really powerful stuff, so when I got the call (that I had won) I was really surprised and they just announced the extension of this lockdown so it was a massive boost for me after losing more work.”

Owner of local business Little Birdy Photography, Ms Slocum said her motivation to begin this project came after the COVID-19 pandemic put the majority of her usual work on hold.

“I was kind of at home doing not much at all, and I had seen all these different people doing ‘Driveway Projects’ in Melbourne and all different parts of the world, so I thought something like that might be really cool in our community, so I put a heads up around the Traralgon South and Callignee area,” she said.

“I ended up getting large amounts of interest from the community and then thought to myself ‘okay let’s try this’, so I went to the first family and initially thought I would do it the way I had seen it, but when I got to the property I saw all this beautiful space and how the children acted differently to being outside and my whole idea changed to me getting to know my neighbours.”

A project that ended up turning into an exercise in connecting with her surrounding community and getting to know how different people deal with the situations that arise from isolation, Ms Slocum talked about the factors she believe made her story stand out above the rest.

“I think it was the connections, I never did it for money, I never did it for any other reason than to keep busy and to keep engaged and to mentally have something to do and photography is what makes me happy – the bonus was what the people I photographed got out of it as well so that was a really nice part of it,” she said.

“I also think because it was a bit light hearted as well, if you have a look at the images there is a man kissing a goat, the expression of that dogs face with two children yelling beside him and the little girl doing cartwheels in a paddock full of alpacas.

“It is different, it is nice, it is fun and it’s warm so I think in a year where we have had so many horrible things happening, to have something that makes you smile was a big part of why it was so well received.”

An image journey filled with fun, laughter and emotion, she highlighted what she hopes the general public gets out of viewing her story.

“We did have fun and we could have fun in our own world (during lockdown) and I think if you lived in the city you have got no idea how lockdown effected someone in the country, and I hope that when you look those images you think those people were probably lucky as they had more room to move than us in the city,” she said.

“When I photographed the farmer throwing out the hay he told me ‘lockdown doesn’t affect me I am a farmer, I work every day anyway’, so there were people it didn’t impact very much and others that it did.

“I had front-line workers, nurses, police man and people like that, so the effect on them was different, people had to deal with things such as home schooling living in a regional community – so it was really about getting a gauge of the community and I hope people understand that.”

A highlight of her career to date, Ms Slocum took the opportunity to thank a number of different people for making this project happen and talked about another exciting development in her budding photography journey.

“The Photo Collective first and foremost and all the families that took part in the project, we laughed, we laughed a lot – there were alpacas, there were snakes, there were lizards, there were all sorts of things, so it was lots of fun to go out and meet these people and talk about their properties and what makes them proud to live up here,” she said.

“It was only a few weeks ago as well that I was accredited as photographer with the Australian Institute of Professional Photography so that was another big achievement – so I am really happy with how my career is progressing.”