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Small Town Girl

‘Small Town Girl’ | Elize Strydom Photographs the Lives of SA Teens

Eliza Strydom

Rebecca tries to catch a crab in the creek at Nieu-Bethesda, Eastern Cape


Documentary photographer and ABC journalist, Elize Strydom’s ongoing photography project ‘Small Town Girl’ documents the lives of teenage girls from small towns around the world. Shot in Australia (where she grew up), South Africa (where she was supposed to grow up), and the USA (where she wanted to grow up), the lives of these teenage girls are captured in an intimate and poetic way. “It occurred to me that it really isn’t about the photos at all. It’s about relationships and connection. The camera is the ‘key’ that gives me access to the girls’ lives – it’s my reason for being there – but the experiences we share, the things we learn from each other and the reciprocal understanding we gain is the real reason and purpose. The photos are just evidence, you know?”, says Elize on her blog.


Having met her dad for the first time 12 years ago in South Africa, the Sydney-based photographer’s decision to bring ‘Small Town Girl’ to the country was a personal one. She stayed in SA for two and a half months where she lived with and photographed six girls all over the country. Spending time with the diverse bunch of girls, Elize got many glimpses of the life she might have had in SA had she grown up in the country. “South Africa is fascinating and wild. It’s such a young nation and so alive with possibility and promise. There’s an undeniable energy and buzz everywhere you go. It felt like the future was being negotiated and re-negotiated before my eyes. I can’t wait to go back and meet more small town girls”, says Elize.


The project was inspired by the photographer’s realisation of the extraordinary years between childhood and adulthood: having a home surrounded with space and silence, a mind awake with exciting possibilities and raw emotions, instead of being a grown-up with a demanding job and weighty responsibilities. For Elize, the photographs in ‘Small Town Girl’ are Elize’s memories of her adolescence, which are validated and challenged as she walks beside these teenage girls.


Eliza Strydom STG
Rebecca wears her mom’s tee-shirt in a field full of prickly pear trees in Nieu-Bethesda, Eastern Cape
Small Town Girl
Mpho and her best friend fight over a text message in Jouberton, North West Province 
Small Town Girl
Mpho eats Simba chips in her backyard in Jouberton, North West ProvinceSmall Town Girl
Mpho kisses her baby cousin after a bath in Jouberton, North West Province Small Town Girl
Varoux on the farm in Eendekuil, Western Cape 
Elize Strydom Small Town Girl
Varoux’s mom plucks a goose while she separates the feathers from the down in Eendekuil, Western CapeElize Strydom Small Town Girl
Varoux and her friends at the park in Eendekuil, Western Cape
Elize Strydom Small Town Girl
Happy delivers toys to children who live in orphanages in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, Kwa-Zulu NatalElize Strydom Small Town Girl
Happy washes dishes after cooking dinner for the girls in her room at iKhethelo Children’s Village, Kwa-Zulu Natal 
Eliza Strydom
Girls take – and review – selfies at a Landsdiens camp at Hartenbos, Western Cape Eliza Strydom
Students in Consumer Studies class at an Afrikaans high school in Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape
Small Town Girl
Lizandri at Spur after a swimming gala in Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape
Small Town Girl
Mpho reads text messages from Lebogang’s phone in Jouberton, North West Province
Small Town Girl
Varoux and the farm kids braai on a Friday night in Eendekuil, Western CapeSmall Town Girl
Mpho and Lebogang walk around their neighbourhood in Jouberton, North West ProvinceSmall Town Girl
Nyameka looks at photos on a phone while her mom and sister look on in Jouberton, North West Province


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