Castlemaine photographer Isaebella Doherty relaxes are her beautiful home.

Isaebella Doherty

Words by Steven Winstanley
Artist portraits by Tara Moore

Isaebella Doherty is a young, exuberant and endlessly talented award-winning photographer, filmmaker and singer from Castlemaine. Her photographic styles include landscape, textural, portraiture and fashion and can sit comfortably in the centre or peek curiously over the edge.

Isaebella created a spot in her busy schedule to answer some questions for Calder Western about her globetrotting childhood, the importance of food security and her passion for imagemaking. She was also kind enough to play the model in our photo shoot of her and the results are simply stunning.

You were raised in a family of farmers, musicians, artists, actors and filmmakers. Can you talk a little about your upbringing? Were you a creative child?

I was an immensely creative child. Unfortunately, my Catholic education bullied a lot of my imagination and creative drive out of me and so I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to repair those connections and facilitate that space for my subconscious to delve and wander again.

I was born in Long Gully, a homebirth to two young parents. I grew up outside, making mud pies and climbing the beautiful 50-year-old Peppercorn tree my father had built a treehouse in for me. We won the most edible garden in Victoria, we had geese, chickens, dogs; a beautiful abundance in an old weatherboard house. I began creative dance at 18 months, wrote songs and sung constantly. We had travelled to, or lived in, over 30 countries by the time I was 18, so I grew up really fast in a lot of ways, but it made our family immensely close. There was always a lot of music, a lot of people, a lot of noise and a lot of love around.

I went in and out of homeschooling for most of my childhood, moving to schools around Bendigo trying to find a place I fit. It wasn’t until I moved to the Castlemaine Secondary Steiner stream, in Year 10, that I finally found that place; and I’ve had the same close group of friends for over 10 years now, whom I treasure immensely.

You can offer words of advice to a young Isaebella. What would those words of advice be?

That is, unfortunately, a very hard question for me. My therapist has actually recently asked me to speak to my younger self to heal past traumas and, as much as I can, reassure little me. I don’t know what advice, per se, would be useful.

I’ve found things like: “Don’t pay attention to those who put you down” or “Just keep being yourself” or any of the, often condescending, cliches people dish out are not particularly helpful to a young person with a colourful spirit and growing up in a conservative environment. That advice often makes your life more difficult and you more vulnerable. The ‘advice’ I needed as a young person was not situationally pertinent. My teacher said to me, in Grade 6 at St Therese’s, ‘Why don’t you just try not being the black sheep?!’

But I guess: "Just keep your head up! Your people are out there and your life will be very beautiful!"

What drew you to the mediums of photography and filmmaking for your creative expression?

My cousins and I made films from a very young age, on Windows Movie Maker. I’ve been in the film industry since I was 6 months old, with my debut as a crying baby in the film The Man From Snowy River. My mum is an actress and a filmmaker and I had an agent from a young age. My cousin had a post-production firm from when I was in my early teen’s, and he mentored me. I got my first DSLR camera at 18 and everything went from there.

I’ve taken photographs forever though. I remember all my friends getting shitty at me for taking so many photos of them and then the next morning asking to see them all, which I always found wonderfully ironic.

You are a self-taught photographer. To land photographic assignments, is it essential to have a photography qualification or will an outstanding folio of work suffice?

I think it’s a personal journey. I’ve not found it necessary for myself to pursue a tertiary photographic education, but I don’t know how useful it is because I’ve never experienced it. I’ve had a different kind of education and some people do find my work attractive; but I have no way of knowing whether they would find it more or less attractive respective to my education. Or whether my work would be better, or worse, if I did have a degree.

Isaebella Doherty photographic art 1
Isaebella Doherty photographic art 2
Isaebella Doherty photographic art 3

What challenges have you faced so far in your career?

I’ve been pretty lucky. I have a very supportive community. Most of my challenges have come from the struggle to get consistent work and experiencing a lot of self-doubt, stemming from my pretty intense anxiety. But I feel very fortunate for the experiences I’ve had thus far in my career.

What are some of the highlights of your career to date?

Completing my first feature documentary (co-directed with my amazing mumma) by 22 was pretty sensational. The subsequent film festival circuit and international response was also amazing. Winning the Maggie Diaz prize and then the Olive Cotton People’s Choice Award were another two very special highlights.

Anytime on the road with my camera is a highlight, though. That’s where I feel at the pinnacle of my existence.

I, also, really bloody love making music videos with mates.

Many artists have faced periods of self-doubt. Have you ever doubted your creative abilities or vision? If so, how did you rediscover your confidence?

Yep! I’m pretty constantly in fluxes of self-doubt, especially with respect to my creative pursuits. I think I just try to return to the reasons why I’m actually doing it.

There have been a few experiences where I was really disillusioned and then have had award nominations come with a serene timeliness to prop my spirits. Other times I’ve just spent the day by myself documenting spaces in silence, reconnecting with the camera after long periods of abstinence. I definitely tend to prosper when creating in solitude.

Which photographers and filmmakers inspire you?

I would say I’m more inspired by environments. Nature is my greatest source of inspiration. I see a lot of the world in layers now, a habit picked up walking the Camino de Santiago a few years back. What began as a visual interpretation of the ever-changing environments now takes on many abstract forms through my life, community and work. It totally transformed the way I see and the way I compose any of my creations.

All of my friends and family inspire me daily, I am so fortunate to have the greatest community of incredible creators, inventors and innovators around me.

Isaebella Doherty photographic art 3
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Is there a particluar artist or model that you would love to collaborate with?

Not really. I find marvelous collaborations quite effortlessly, so I’ve never really needed to fantasize about potential collaborators.

I’ve always employed a great deal of improvisation in my work: turn up, see what there is, create something with it. I do have quite a fantastical element to my imagination and I do engage foresight, but I love reactionary formations as well; most of my favourite works have eventuated from such and the reflection that ensues.

Are you involved in any other creative pursuits other than photography and filmmaking?

I sing and write, and currently working on that a lot more, while also learning piano and doing weekly aerial classes at our local circus school. My daily meditations come in cooking and gardening though.

You are a co-director of the non-profit organisation Regrarians. Can you tell us a little about this venture?

Absolutely! Regarians is a regenerative design, living and media organization, working around the world helping to regenerate farms, communities and soils! I co-direct it with my parents. My father is a regenerative farm planner, designer and educator. My mum and I are the media arm. This has been our families’ purpose for over 26 years and we truly believe in its benefit of changing the world for the better and returning a lot of power to people, while revitalizing the land.

You were co-director and director of photography on the ambitious Polyfaces documentary, which has won a slew of awards. What was this project like to work on?

The experience of creating Polyfaces was intense and amazing. I was freshly 18-years-old when we commenced filming in Virginia. I taught myself to use the 5D camera we bought while shooting the film. My parents spent the money they were going to build our home with on the film. We raised nearly $180,000 from donors around the world. The whole process took nearly five years, half of which I was bouncing back between London, my home at the time, and the States. By the time the film was released I had undertaken an enormous personal and professional metamorphosis. I was definitely quite overwhelmed and a bit jaded by the end of the process, but that was due to a huge overhaul of discovery and experiences that I don’t think any of us were particularly prepared for when it began.

The film’s message is still undoubtedly immensely important. I believe that wholly and implore people to watch it and educate themselves about the future of our food security and the role they can play in it.

My mum said a woman is rural Uruguay was so excited to meet her at the course Regarians’ was teaching there. She said it was her favourite film and any visitors that come to stay with her have to watch it. It is immensely powerful in that it is a joyous and optimistic film. It’s educational and pragmatic, but it has a utopia, rather than the apocalypse, at the end and I think that’s something we all really need right now.

Everywhere, every day, there are bountiful and beautiful reasons for hope.

For the Calder Western photo shoot, you stepped out from behind the camera and became the model. How did you find the experience?

I actually love it. I’ve been in front of the camera from a young age so I don’t find it intimidating and I love playing dress-ups.

I met two young guys from Jhansi in Bangkok a couple of days ago and helped them shoot a video for their upcoming fashion show for Mr and Mrs India in Thailand, I love getting to put on my radio voice and strutting around. You could definitely say I’m a born performer.

Portrait of photographer Isaebella Doherty.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently writing an album; which is proving to be a very rewarding experience. I have a documentary on Indigenous food culture in the conceptual stage, working with friends and mumma again, and my photographic project, ‘I Am Because We Are’, a reflection on the intimacies of relationships, platonic and romantic, and how they shape us.

Describe your personality in five words?

"Exuberant". "Intrepid". "Loving". "Passionate". My grandma would always say I’m "effervescent", so I’ll throw that in there for her.

What places would you recommend people visit while in Castlemaine?

My perfect day in "C-Rock City" would start with a croissant from Johnny Bakers, then a coffee and a savoury muffin at North Kitchen in the courtyard reading The Guardian, followed by a walk around the Botanic Gardens or Kalimna Park with my pup Nashi. A nice browse through the Vintage Bazaar, onto a late lunch at Fig. Then a sunset hike at Lanjanuc or Lalgambook and a few games of pool,and a parma, with mates at The Bridge.

A generous patron offers to fund an arts project of your choice for Castlemaine. What would you like to develop for the town?

I think we have almost everything anyone could ask for in Castlemaine. It’s a pretty amazing town filled with sensational people, events and spaces.

I know you love music. What artists do you currently have on high rotation?

Right now I’m listening to Lontalius’s new album, "All I Have", Channel Tres, Faye Webster, old Robyn tracks, Slick Slazenger, Four Tet, Sampha The Great’s new album, "The Return", and my babe Joey Jean’s new project, "Eternal Crush".

Photographer Isaebella Doherty at home.
Photographer Isaebella Doherty outside the doors of the Imperial Hotel, Castlemaine.
Photographer Isaebella Doherty outside the town hall in Castlemaine.

What was the best gig you have been to?

OOFT! That is a very difficult question.

My favourite gig of all time was Thee Oh Sees, Batrider and Dirty Cosby at The Newmarket Hotel in Bendigo when I was 17.

Others include Moses Sumney at Flow Festival in Finland, Billy Bragg at the Theatre Royal Castlemaine, Jon Lemmon at Chronophonium in New Zealand, Darkside at Sziget Festival in Hungary, Four Tet at Golden Plains, to name a few.

I’ve been to a lot of amazing gigs over the years!

What websites do you frequent for a good read or inspiration?

I actually just read a lot of news. I like to be up to date with all of the happenings in the world.

You can play the lead in any movie ever created. Who would you play and why?

Cher in Clueless, so I can have that outfit creating program she has in her wardrobe and drive her convertible Jeep.

Or Jon Favreau in Chef, so I can eat all that delicious southern barbecue drenched in hickory sauce. Yum.

I really just want to be the 1st AD or a producer for Netflix's Chef’s Table to be honest!



Isaebella Doherty's work can be viewed at isaebella.com