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Talented horse lover highlights farming with photography

Lambs after shearing time.
Lambs after shearing time. CJO Photography

WITH her arms outstretched and her face speckled with raindrops, eight-year-old Alexandra O'Neill beamed as the first decent storm rolled across the cattle farm.

Although only young at the time, the country girl knew very well the importance of good summer rain to the Moree, New South Wales, property that had endured six failed springs.

Capturing the expression of relief and triumph on her daughter's face was a significant moment for her mum, Candice O'Neill.

The rural photographer is driven by the desire to bridge the gap between city and country.

She wants all Australians to understand the work and hardship that goes into creating the food that feeds a nation.

"When we saw the big storm we grabbed the Australian flag - it was on Australia Day last year - and we ran down in the paddock to try and get some photos,” she said.

"It was when she was waving the Australian flag around that it started raining... she was dancing in the rain.

"I get a little bit emotional thinking about it because it had been very tough times so to catch that moment, it was a big thing.”

It's now a year since she took that special shot and the family is living on a different property near Tamworth, but Candice is still passionate about raising awareness of the plight of farmers.

She has just signed up with Outback Creative.

Outback Creative is a new initiative geared at bringing 50 of Australia's best artists together to build a one-stop shop for people looking to buy bush art.

Taking the dogs for a swim is a great opportunity for photography.
Taking the dogs for a swim is a great opportunity for photography. CJO Photography

"Outback Creative is not just about getting the artists together, but we want to use that power to educate people on what's happening on the land,” she said.

"The art is giving people a look behind the scenes.”

Outback Creative has quickly grown its social media footprint, boasting more than 4500 followers on Facebook since being launched this year.

Candice is already using the platform to help farmers. She has teamed up with fellow rural photographer Matt Lawson to create a calendar to raise funds for the Burrumbuttock Hay Run.

"Being from the land, I know it's so tough during dry times, so I think it's a really great cause,” she said.

"We only launched the calendar (this week) and we have already sold 10 copies. We want to get a least 100 bales sold.”

Candice describes the disconnect between city dwellers and people on the land as "scary”.

"I have cousins and family who live in the city who have probably never been west of the Great Divide,” she said.

"And their children who would be the same age as my daughter have no idea where there food comes from.

"There is a whole generation who have no idea what goes into their milk or their bread or their steak.”

Through photography and social media, Candice felt she was making a difference by promoting agriculture.

"Shearing, mustering, horses, cattle, stockman... that's the stuff I love to photograph,” she said.

"I think I am showing people something that they might not get the chance to see every day like I do.

"But portraiture and weddings pays the bills.”

Candice can't remember a time when photography wasn't her hobby.

Her first camera was a point-and-shoot film camera that was given to her as a Christmas present. Now she rarely leaves the house without her Nikon D800.

"Often, if I am at home, I might be halfway through cooking dinner and I will look up and see an amazing sunset, so I will jump on the quad bike and race down the paddock to get the shot,” she said.

"And when I come home, dinner will be burnt.”

Her husband Tom is now the manager of a beef, sheep and hay property situated about 30km outside Tamworth.

The mixed-enterprise farm keeps the family busy but also creates a wonderful backdrop for Candice's art.

Recently the region was covered in a blanket of snow.

The cold snap came as a "climate shock” to Candice, who originally grew up in Dalby, but she said she had to venture out to get some pictures.

During summer months, Candice said her photography business, CJO Photography & Printing, was a full-time job.

"I love paying the bills with something I enjoy doing,” she said.

A recent career highlight for her was being commissioned to photograph the Buck Brannaman horse clinic in Tamworth. Buck is well-regarded trainer and the inspiration for the movie The Horse Whisperer.

"It's not every day you get to meet someone who has had a movie made about them,” she said.

Search "CJO Photography and Printing” on Facebook for more information or visit www.cjophotonsw.com.au.

Fast Facts

Outback Creative was launched this year.

The initiative hopes to deliver quality outback artwork and media to a large audience; both in digital and physical form.

As well as champion and support the artists involved in the collective, Outback Creative wants to promote rural creativity and rural issues.

Search Outback Creative on Facebook to stay up to date, or visit www. outbackcreative.com.au for more information.


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