"This moment here was in South Sudan, a young country that has been in a state of civil war for the past couple of years and where I have visited a lot of refugee camps," explains Ilana Rose. She steps back from her work, a photo of a grandmother with her nine grandchildren.
Rose says the woman's daughter was just 26 years old but had already given birth to three sets of twins."The really bad trouble started in December 2013," she says. "The daughter was pregnant with these twins here, but the family had to flee. She didn't know where her husband was, and she gave birth on the side of the road mid-escape."
As a prominent Australian photojournalist, Rose has covered subculture and social justice for over 25 years. From S&M culture in the 90s, to indigenous justice at the Koori Courts, and Australian women's affairs—every photo that surrounds us in her Brunswick home stands as a time capsule, quiet vigils to moments in our history.
Born in Melbourne's east, Rose started taking photos in her teens and went on to study at Victorian College in the 1980s—one of the only photo schools of the time. It was tough to get her foot in the door of the industry, though: "It was very difficult for women around then to get a job, so I freelanced for all the dailies."
After graduation, Rose went abroad, working in London as the Sun Herald's foreign correspondent for three years. Much of her 20s was spent photographing subcultures from 90s train gangs to the beginning of graffiti in Melbourne. She was the Big Issue's first photographer and shot an 80-piece with the Koori Courts shown on Reconciliation Day at Melbourne's Federation Square in 2005.
Rose's most recent exhibition comes after a four-year stint with World Vision, delving head first into the state of modern gender inequality. She ventured to third world countries all over the globe, such as Ethiopia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Uganda, Peru, Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka. The photos will be shown at No Lillies, a fundraiser for UN Women, currently at MAGNET Galleries.
"This one here was in Uganda, January last year, where South Sudanese were fleeing over the border." Rose points to a photo of two women, both refugees, skipping in barren land. "This girl on the left and her siblings lost their parents, so when they arrived at the refugee settlement, the woman on the right took the girl under her wing and began looking after her."
Throughout her four years working with World Vision, Rose traveled the world, photographing women in developing countries from Africa to South America. In India, she met a woman with a tattoo in memory of her late husband. It's just his name and a heart. He had died from HIV/AIDS, and the woman was one of many in her community marginalized because of her husband's death. "She told me how much she loved him," Rose remembered.
Traveling the world for the past four years, Rose says she's seen first hand that for women in the developing world overcoming gender inequality is a fight for survival. "There are no jobs and entire families must fend for themselves off the land. The one thing that's a real gender problem is that girls are not sent to school," she says.
"Everyone sees education as the key out of the poverty trap, but girls are often the ones doing things like fetching water—a risk that puts them at harm alone on roads for kilometers at a time."
Back in Australia, discussion of gender disparities quickly turns to women at work: the theme for the No Lilies exhibition. With a mother who was a feminist in the 60s and who attended university with the likes of Germaine Greer, Rose believes the problem of gender inequality is deeply rooted in Australia.
"I was raised to see myself in no way as a lesser being, and that is because of my mother," she reflects. "I grew up as a 'tomboy'. I've worked in a man's world. I have gay friends, straight friends, friends who are ambiguous in their sexuality—I never look to people for these identifiers. I look inside.
"It seems as if, for me, gender inequality is this lack of understanding that family work and home care are still so undervalued."
Individually, Rose's photos are powerful but considered as a whole their message is clear: The female world is not one clad with materialism, beauty, or sex. It is defined by selflessness. "I saw women do everything—absolutely everything, including a lot of manual labor," she says.
"The most amazing thing about these experiences was seeing the parallels between women here [in Australia] and women all over the world. Women everywhere want the best for their family and to foster a love like no other."
Ilana Rose was interviewed by Alexandra Manatakis