We are family: a Newcastle photo essay

KATHERINE Williams was canvassing Newcastle for a subject to photograph when she stumbled upon a young man standing with his motorbike outside a Carrington house.

He introduced himself as Blake Waterhouse.

When Williams returned with a CD of photographs she had taken of Waterhouse, he introduced her to his pregnant girlfriend, Sammi.

The couple lived together in a small house owned by Sammi's grandmother and occupied by five other people, including Sammi's mother and three younger siblings.

"I thought, there's a story here," Williams says. "Everyone from their family was sitting outside, it was a gathering point where anyone who would walk past would have a chat.

"I wanted to capture all the love that was in that house. It was bursting out of its seams, but they were all there for each other."

Williams has been intrigued by people's stories ever since she could remember.

She was born in England and moved with her family as a 10-year-old to Germany, where she lived for 18 years. She came to her father's homeland of Australia in 2009 on holiday and decided to stay.

Until then, Williams's love of photography had been a hobby, something she indulged in where she had an empty pocket of time or when travelling. She discovered when she arrived in Newcastle she had an opportunity to turn her hobby into so much more.

"It was a fresh start, a chance to re-create myself," she says.

Williams met photographer Heath Wade, who offered to train her and hired her as an assistant photographer at weddings. She started a two-year course in photography at CATC Design School in Sydney.

She was keen to follow her love of documentary photography.

"I wanted to be able to show people the world the way I see it," she says. "Everyone has a story and wants to tell it, if they are aware that someone is going to listen to them. Everyone has something to say, even if they don't know it. They all have a little bit of wisdom to share."

On a road trip in 2011 from Newcastle to Darwin she took photographs for a project she would call 100 Strangers, which would later include Blake Waterhouse, and place her in the top 10 finalists in the 2012 Shutterbug Awards.

"I realised people opened up to me just because I was carrying a camera. I loved getting to know them and hearing their stories," she says.

She was equally as intrigued by the story of Blake, 17, and Sammi, 18.

"This family have got an amazing life that is so different to mine."

Williams met the family a few times before returning with her EOS 5D Mark II SLR Canon after the birth of Blake and Sammi's daughter Arielle.

"I wanted to capture a snapshot of their daily life as it was in that house. I wanted to capture the interaction between the family members and how caring Sammi and Blake were for their little baby - they never took their eyes off her," she says.

Sammi was naturally maternal and was full of questions about things like lunchboxes and homework when she picked up her two younger siblings, Sophie and Jesse, from school.

Williams says it was amazing to see how Sammi's mother Jenny held the household together in testing circumstances.

"She is only 34 and she was so supportive of everyone - I don't think anyone would ever feel alone there. They always support one another no matter what."

Williams says she keeps in touch with the family on Facebook and hopes to photograph them again in the future.

"I once heard 'the truth is what you see' and I feel I captured what I saw," she says.

(katherinewilliamsphotography.com.au)

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