Words: Celia Drummond
Pictures: Elyse Hudson
Producer: Sarah Morton
ELYSE Hudson was playing for the Swan Districts Wheelchair AFL team and realised that there weren't any images being taken of the games she played in. With a developing interest in sports photography, she decided to ask the organisers if she could take her camera out as a volunteer photographer when she wasn't on the court.
And so, it began. Elyse submitted this dynamic series of photos to the 2022 AFL Footy Focus Competition, thanks to Toyota. Taken during the Western Australian Wheelchair AFL competition, held in November of last year, the teams involved were Swan Districts, East Perth and Subiaco.
Wheelchair footy is based on AFL rules and generally played on a basketball court. It enables people of all ages and disability levels to participate. It's a high-paced game with big hits and lots of competition, but everyone is encouraged to have a go and push themselves beyond what they think they can achieve.
"With only three teams in the league, we all got to know each other really well over the course of the season. That created a real sense of camaraderie as well as rivalry." Elyse recalls.
However, what Elyse loves most about this form of the game is its inclusiveness.
"Everyone is welcome. I'm an able-bodied 'athlete' and there are players with varying disabilities in our team. The rules are adapted to facilitate participation and fair play," she says.
Elyse also carries this sentiment of inclusivity when shooting matches.
"As a photographer, I believe it's important to reflect what I experience as a player, and for me, that's ensuring I try to capture everyone that's playing," she says.
With this commitment, Elyse grabs every opportunity she can to shoot, and sees each match as a chance to learn and develop her photography skills. Her photos are now used on club and league social media channels to celebrate the game and ultimately bring in new recruits.
"To me, the Western Australian Wheelchair Football League is important because it provides an opportunity for people with a disability to play AFL and I feel a responsibility to promote the sport in its best light," she says.
Alongside this responsibility, Elyse has first-hand experience of the incredible intensity of wheelchair footy. The players move fast in the chairs, and it creates some very interesting dynamics, so much so that Elyse can find herself unofficially umpiring during a match.
"We have a few players who are exceptionally sporty, including a couple who have represented Australia at international sporting events. While they inspire a bit of awe and envy at their talents, we're often having to remind one of them that he is supposed to remain in his chair in the ruck, despite the fact he isn't taller than his opposing player," Elyse laughs.
"When I have photo evidence of his guilty behaviour, the camera gets passed around for everyone to have a look and have a chuckle."
Alongside the fun, shooting wheelchair football is also unique because of the technical challenges.
"Being indoors, you don't have an amazing amount of light available, which makes it very hard to get those gorgeous, smooth looking shots you might see of an AFL match taken outside on a sunny day." Elyse says.
The budding photographer is very conscious that despite the challenges she also has a duty of care when she shoots courtside.
"I am always acutely aware that players on the court may have a disability that would be negatively impacted by my camera flash," Elyse explains.
"It's so important to ensure that my photography does not impede on the players in any way, so I'm always careful of how I am shooting."
Elyse thinks that no matter where her photography may next take her, she will always value shooting community level footy, and most notably wheelchair footy, because of how rewarding it is.
"Many of my subjects are not professional athletes, but they love playing so much. When I can showcase just how cool they look it's all the sweeter."
#FootyFocus22, 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 2023. 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 2022 to: http://footyfocus22.afl/