The Northern Rivers is a region of northern New South Wales that borders southern Queensland. For photographers Lola and Pani, the area became fertile ground for capturing teens hanging out with their friends totally unencumbered.
“According to Aboriginal dreamtime stories of the native Bundjalung people, the landscape was formed by a battle of a Goanna and the Rainbow Serpent,” the pair explain. “The Goanna was the totem protector animal of the Bundjalung people. An epic battle of giant God-like creatures that took place in the sky and, after the battle, the landscape was formed by their dying bodies creating mountains, rainforests and rivers.” Under colonisation, the Northern Rivers became one of Australia’s primary timber exporters and, since the early 1970s, many have sought out the area in pursuit of an alternative lifestyle: in 2020 Northern Rivers is synonymous with hippies, surfers and off-the-grid dwellers.
“I grew up in the area,” Pani says. “On a visit home in 2017, I spotted a group of teenagers with wild mullets swimming at a local bridge jump spot where I had grown up. My friends and I used to do the same thing, just a bunch of friends, goofing around, jumping off the bridge trying to learn backflips or merely the most ridiculous water jumps we could think of. I got chatting to the boys, took a few pictures over an hour or so and didn’t really think much more of it. It wasn’t until I came back to London and reviewed the images that I’d realised how sentimental that whole scenario was. We stayed in touch on Instagram and that’s when we really noticed the way they dressed.”
For Lola, Northern Rivers couldn’t be further from her native home of Poland. But seeing the way the boys dressed and the way they styled their hair, felt unusually nostalgic for her too. “I grew up in a Polish housing estate,” she says. “The fact that they were from this hippy part of Australia known for yoga poses on the beach at sunrise, dressed like Polish 90s estate kids created this kind of perfect juxtaposition of both our backgrounds. We tend to shoot a lot in Poland and Australia. It's great having another person’s perspective on your home country. Things you’re so familiar with become fresh and exciting again.”
Returning to London, the pair kept in contact with the kids before returning a year later with the intention of creating a more comprehensive photographic study of their friendship group. It all came together very naturally and almost spontaneously,” Lola says. “Pani had met a couple of them in person and on our second trip we told them it would be cool to photograph more of their friends, so when we arrived at the house there were about ten guys just hanging on their cars in the front yard, kind of like: “We're here for the shoot”.
‘Northern Rivers Exhibition’ by Lola & Pani, 6th February - 6th March 2020 at Hempstead May Gallery, Unit 2/65 Dalston Lane, E8 2NG. RSVP to the opening night here.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.