THE BEAUTIFUL chaos of excited kids playing the traditional Indigenous game of Marn Grook is a sheer delight to watch, but presents a tricky proposition to a photographer trying to capture the spirit of the action.
That's the task in front of Perth snapper Blake Parry when WAFL club Swan Districts puts on a Marn Grook exhibition match at half-time of home games during NAIDOC Week.
"It's chaotic," Parry told AFL.com.au.
"They play it in the middle of the ground, so I've got to come in quite close to the action, which is great fun for me too.
"I don't have to sit in one spot and wait for the action to happen … I've got to be moving around the group.
"The ball can go high up into the air and be caught by any person at any time, so it's pretty crazy to try to capture that. It's a real challenge to try to capture a particular moment that encapsulates the essence of the game.
"You can tell from the photos that the kids just love it. That no goals are being kicked doesn't bother them at all … it's all about having some fun, which is great to shoot."
Marn Grook, from the Woiwurrung word for 'game ball', has been played by First Nations people for generations, with a game lasting up to two days and featuring as many as 100 players representing their totems.
These wonderful images that celebrate local footy at its best are Blake Parry's entries into the AFL's Footy Focus 2023 competition, thanks to Toyota.
Blake, who does extensive photography work with Swan Districts, has two images from his entry that stand out for him.
"I love the one with the ball up in the air on its own because it's a bit artistic," he says.
"It's quite moody, with the dark clouds in the background.
"My other favourite is where just about every kid on the ground is going up for the ball at the same time.
"The ball is up in the air, everyone is trying to grab it, there are girls and boys from different age groups all having a go.
"It's just chaos in there … there's no leads, there's no one-on-ones, everyone is just having a go.
"The older kids can obviously jump higher than the younger ones, but they often will catch the ball and pass it off to one of the younger kids so they can have a kick.
"It just shows the spirit of the game."
Parry, a lifelong West Coast fan, started photographing motorsports as a hobby about nine years ago and, with his love of AFL, shooting local footy was a natural progression.
His passion for photography is deeply satisfying on many levels.
"I'm quite a technical person, I work in IT, so I like the technical aspect of photography, with the cameras, lenses, and post-processing, but it also appeals to my creative side," he says.
"To get my positioning right, to be able to get a subject separated from the background, black-and-white versus colour … there are so many aspects of photography that I love.
"And the stories that you get in football, from club legends to kids coming up to people working hard to come back from injury.
"To try to capture that human side is a really strong point for me."
Parry estimates he has approximately 60,000 images on file, mostly from WAFL games, and has deleted about 10 times that number.
One stands out when he's asked to choose a favourite.
"I took a photo of Liam Ryan sitting on Will Schofield's head taking the mark-of-the-year … that's probably my favourite footy photo out of all of them," he replies without hesitation.
"He was playing for Subiaco at the time and would end up being teammates with Will and Tom Barrass, who was also in that pack.
"It's my No.1 photo because it's just the perfect moment.
"That's the standout, but I've got so many other favourites from junior games, which are just hilarious."
Blake has his fingers crossed for a competition win, and if he does manage to score the prize of shadowing acclaimed AFL Photos photographers Michael Willson or Dylan Burns at an AFL game, it won't be his first brush with the seasoned professionals.
"I had a chance to work with the AFL Photos team in 2021 when the Grand Final was in Perth," he says.
"I didn't shoot the game action, but I got the chance to cover the pre-game functions with the Premier and the premiership cup, which was a really cool thing to get to do. The atmosphere was amazing that day.
"To be able to go to a game with those guys and see how they go about organising their day's work would be great."
#FootyFocus23, thanks to Toyota's Good For Footy program, is now open for entries! Here's your chance to shadow and shoot with Michael Willson and Dylan Burns at a game in 2024. We want to see your photos that capture the essence of our great game at a grassroots level. To enter, upload your best community footy photos taken during 2023 to: http://footyfocus23.afl/