Em Jensen is a photographer based in Melbourne, Australia & the talent behind the "Sheilas" photographic film series.
"Sheilas documents a subculture of female-identifying folk within the moto scene in Victoria. These women have formed deep connections and community over their shared interest in motorcycles and modern-day greaser culture. Jensen explores these connections and relationships while following numerous specifically female-identifying motorcycle clubs over the course of multiple months."
Em shares with us, what it was like for her to discover this untapped female riding sub-culture of Melbourne & how she went about immersing herself in it and creating the "Sheilas" series. We hope you enjoy her story & encourage you to check out her work.
The series "Sheilas" happened kind of naturally at first - a friend of mine told me about a festival called Sheilas Shakedown that saw hundreds of greaser babes get together to ride motorcycles and hot rods around the bush over a weekend in the summer.
To be honest I had no idea at all about greaser culture, I’d never even been on a motorcycle before, but I tagged along with my film camera to Sheilas Shakedown. I had a vague idea about maybe making a series about these women who rode motorbikes and drove hot rods but I hadn’t really fleshed out the concept. I asked a friend to drive my convertible with the roof down on the big ride out so I could hang out to the top and take some snaps of the girls.
I knew pretty quickly I had to follow through with this series; the adrenaline of being amongst this huge group of women having the time of their lives riding together down the highway was probably one of the most thrilling experiences I’d had on a photoshoot and I just thought they were the coolest people ever. I ended up shooting thirteen rolls of film over the course of the day I spent at the festival - which, for a film shooter, is ALOT.
When I got back from Sheilas Shakedown I told a few friends about the festival and the motorcycle clubs and I was so intrigued by how little people knew about these clubs, the festival, and just generally that there was this whole culture of women who ride throughout Melbourne. Some friends even asked me if the clubs were dangerous in a kind of underworld biker gang way. I did some research into motorcycle culture and realised there’s just about no documentation of female-identifying motorcycle clubs, so it’s no wonder people were surprised and confused by them. I decided I needed to make a series that candidly and honestly captures this scene, and gives space to a completely under-represented but incredibly interesting subculture.
I sent messages to a few of the girls I’d met at the festival, asking if I could tag along on more rides and meetups. Everyone was so welcoming and keen for me to take snaps. I spent the next six months attending rides, pizza catchups and planning shoots at car parks around the city. I think by the last few months I’d been hanging with the groups for so long that everyone just completely forgot I was photographing and that’s always when you can capture the best photos.
For the final shoot one of the girls from The Leatherettes, Sarah, let us use her partner's pub The Retreat Hotel, and all the girls brought their bikes into the bar and had beers while I photographed. It was so dreamy and surreal and the best way to wrap up months of shooting!
Since the series conclusion, it’s really taken off and been so well received- which really is just proof that there hadn’t been enough documentation on female motorcycle clubs in Australia before. I think the series offers an honest depiction of women who ride and their community and connection and the bond formed over their shared interest in Motorcycle culture.
Sheilas was selected as a finalist in Frankie Magazine’s Good Stuff Awards, and is going to be exhibiting at this dreamy bar in Ballarat called Renard as part of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale over the summer, with the opening night on Saturday November 6th.
After the Biennale concludes it’ll be coming back to the city to exhibit at Brunswick Artist Bar, and then I’m hoping to tour it all over the city for most of 2022. I have also been working on a zine style photo book of the series which is now available for pre-order!