Is the Grass Greener on the Other Side (of the World)?

Well, when it comes to living in Sweden, many signs point to Yes. Unless of course we’re talking about actual grass because then it’s a firm No for roughly ten months of the year. But it was the metaphoric greenness that drew me to Stockholm, a city famous for its progressive approach to things that the rest of the western world seems to either ignore or give the bare minimum amount of fucks. As a mother who wanted to go back to university for a career-side-step, the idea of studying in Australia was out of reach financially – an accumulation of course debt and super high daycare fees, while not earning enough each day to break even. Nope, not possible. So, I Googled my way around the world looking for countries that marched to a more socialist song. *Cue Scandinavia*.

My mother is from Finland and I remember her saying that moving to Australia felt like going back in time. She was only the second woman in her government job to even get maternity leave (unpaid of course) and she described her office complete with pictures of naked women pinned up on her male colleagues’ cubical walls. So, what did she do? Made tiny paper clothes for them! But her male colleagues, lifting up the paper dresses, said ‘the reveal just makes it more exciting.’ Yep, that was the 80s. But having worked in advertising for my career thus far, I knew the behaviour was only slightly better thirty years on. However, our country’s maternity leave policy has certainly taken some steps in the right direction (I got 14 weeks’ pay at minimum wage and my job was held for one year) and raising young kids in Australia can be filled with endless summers on the beach, accessible healthcare and schooling, and mothers’ group meetings. But did Scandinavia have more to offer? And could anything outweigh the long, dark winters that every expat blogger warned new arrivals about?

It was time to see how it was done in a country that looked, like all intents and purposes, to be a young-parent-paradise. As Finnish citizens, my daughter and I undoubtedly entered the country in a privileged position. As we walked to the EU Citizen line at the airport, I watched the stamp come down on my passport and with that simple smudge, all university fees disappeared. The citizen smudge also meant that daycare was less than a third of what we paid at home! But wait, there’s more: free health care and dental until you’re 20 years old and free bus rides if you have a pram. Furthermore, if you’re a Swedish citizen you also get a monthly allowance of up to $175 AUD per child until they’re 16, not to mention free schooling across the country (private schooling is rare which helps avoid the breeding of generational privilege to some extent) with free three-course lunches each day. Okay okay, looking pretty green, right? I haven’t even told you about the maternity leave yet …

Swedes are not shy when it comes to telling you about one of their country’s famed public policies. Sure, my pre-departure Googling told me some, but the landlord of our first rental confirmed the findings over a cup of jet black coffee: ‘Parents in Sweden get one and a half years of PAID parental leave,’ she said. ‘Three months are for the mother and three months are reserved for the father, but the rest can be split as the family needs.’ She went on to tell us, while frantically packing up her house, that three months are paid at a standard rate but the remaining 15 months are paid at 80% of your usual wage.

So, does all this government policy actually change behaviour, shape national identity, and demand gender equality? Hell yes.

Thanks to the policy makers (arguably more famous here than the Kanelbulle), mothers have a much more secure place in the workforce, should they choose to take it. And there’s a lot less urgency to return to the daily grind when your government’s picking up the tab on life’s expenses. Back in the land of Oz, I had to go back to work when my daughter was just six months old (they say women experience ‘baby brain’ after giving birth, but I still remembered that rent had to be paid). I could only work for four hours at a time because I was still trying to breastfeed. I remember spending a whole week massaging a blocked milk duct at my desk with pads in my bra anticipating the next leak – even my boobs knew it was too early to be separated from my infant! Reflecting on it now, I’m actually a little mad. Mad that I wasn’t offered an alternative, mad that I didn’t say ‘no’ when my boss consistently asked me to stay late, and mad that I thought my career wouldn’t wait for me. Because of the extended parental leave payment in Sweden, it feels like these early years with your baby are more highly valued. It also appears that the whole society’s willing to help you protect and preserve them, including the work-force.

Then there’s the fathers, the Swedish parents who are in equal demand when their baby falls or fills their nappy. I can’t speak from the perspective of a father, so I won’t. But like me, I’m sure many mums have heard this one at 2am when the baby wakes: ‘She just wants you. She doesn’t stop crying for me.’ Yep, that was the baby daddy talking and he’s usually right. We do have wildly strong bonds with our babies and they do settle with us more often. Why though? I think it’s because the majority of parenting is still ours even after the ol’ breastfeeding card is out of play. I know this is a generalisation but the assumption here in Stockholm isn’t the same; the equality given through parental leave policy extends right down to a child’s behaviour, equally looking to mum or dad to get its needs met.

I was at playgroup yesterday –  another free initiative by the Swedish government where fully-equipped playgroup centres are open for all kids aged 0 to 5 – and I was the only mother. There were at least 20 other parents there and they were all men. It was a Wednesday morning for the 9:15 – 11:30 session, and all the dads were on the ground (sometimes literally) talking about sleep routines, singing along for rhyme time, feeding pre-prepared snacks, and dealing with inevitable tantrums over the box of Pippi Longstocking figurines. It was actually a father I met at a grocery store who introduced me to these playgroups; I asked him if it was usual for there to be so many fathers and he said, ‘Of course. If you don’t take your paternity leave, you’re seen as less of a man. Why wouldn’t you want to spend this time with your child when the government pays you to?’

‘Less of a man’. This phrase really stuck with me. The only times I had encountered an equivalent of that phrase, men were anointed the status based on not living up to their archaic roles. They needed to provide, to work full-time and bring home the bacon. That’s what made them men after having a child. Most people of Gen X and beyond will feel that this is a totally outdated concept but it remains a common idea in my family and one that my dad’s an active distributor of.

‘He jus needs to find a feckin job Clare,’ my dad preached to me the last time he was in Stockholm. You see, my daughter’s father works in theatre and when we arrived, it wasn’t such an easy industry to break into. He was home a lot with our daughter while I worked and studied.

‘I jus can’t see how he’s happy wit himself,’ my dad continued. ‘Back in my day,’ here we go … ‘I couldn’t get da work I wanted when we frst arrived in Australia, so I washed windows in da day an stacked feckin shelves in da grocery store at night. Dats jus what men do ya know. Day get out der an provide for der families.’

Okay, this is clearly a generational difference too but when I reflected on all the young men in my life who are now fathers – my brother, my cousin, my friend’s husbands – they were all fitting into this manly mould: Working fulltime, bringing home the bacon, and raising their children in the evenings. The stark contract between that vision and the one for fathers in Sweden was certainly evident. I began to really feel (and live) that time warp my mother spoke about after her move in the opposite direction. And now, as I try to pinpoint the catalyst for such a huge shift in this societal narrative, I believe it stems from the globally glorified parental leave policy.

All this parental privilege and free money was seeming a little too perfect. It’s like when you stumble across the most delicious looking cake in a café window only to learn that it’s made of styrofoam and they only have stale doughnuts left (that example’s a little extreme – I take café confectionary very seriously – but you get the point). Of course there’s the high taxes to account for so much free-ness (we all know the money’s got to come from somewhere) but after having my daughter in the local daycare for over six months, it was time to start asking some questions. I approached a friend and fellow benefiter of this Swedish system, Anna, after dropping off our kiddies one morning. Anna is Swedish and has grown up with free lunches filling her belly every day at school. But she also had her first child in Australia and knows full-well the differences between mothering in the south vs the north. I told her about my article and began my one women show titled, The Joys of Raising a Child in Scandinavia. Sure, she nodded along, agreed, and added some more plusses to my already glowing report, ‘did you know that most medications are free for children under 18 too?’ I was ready to call it a day and tally up the results: Sweden was in fact, greener. But (and there’s always a ‘but’) once we got over the praising and got off the bus, which was filled with other work-commuting Swedes, the mask came off.

‘You know, no one questions the Swedish system,’ Anna told me in hushed tones under the subway station. Had I suddenly found myself in the middle of a classified conversation with a real-life insider?

‘Why question a system that seems to work so well?’ I prompted back with anticipation.

‘It’s just that,’ she said, ‘there’s only one system and everyone expects you to be on board with it, no questions asked.’ She was totally right and it suddenly clicked that I had often fielded questions and passive-aggressive comments about why my daughter was only in daycare two days a week rather than the standard five. Comments like this doozy from Monday: ‘It’s such a shame your daughter’s only here for part of the week, she misses out on so much. Is it because you’re finding it hard to get work in Sweden?’

Anna explained to me that it’s customary for new parents to take the full 18 months maternity/paternity leave and then enrol their child into daycare five days a week while returning to full-time work. *lightbulb moment* I was going against the system!

‘But what if you want to go back to work earlier?’ continued Anna, totally unaware of my personal epiphany. ‘There are no daycares that will take kids who are under one,’ she said, after explaining her own experience of going stir crazy at home with her second baby (totally relatable) and would have given anything to get one or two days in daycare so she could go back to work, something she had easily done with her first child in Australia.

‘Or what if you want to work part-time and keep your kids at home like you’re doing?’ She asked, thankfully not looking for the answer I didn’t have. ‘It’s not like that here,’ she continued, ‘you follow the system and sing its praises to anyone who’ll listen.’

 Clearly the parental system in Sweden is missing one fundamental element—flexibility. There are of course ways of going against the grain, it’s not like it’s illegal or anything. You could do what I do and smile politely when people tell you that it’ll be ‘sooo much better for your child and you if she goes into daycare full-time’. But going against a societal norm is no easy task and it’s even harder when that norm is continuously pitched as ‘perfect’.

For me this inflexible fine print doesn’t exactly outweigh all the benefits young families are given in Sweden but waving the flag of perfection may be a little strong too. Sweden is a country that recognises the needs of new parents, male and female. It’s a country that aligns with my values around health, education, and a general attempt at levelling the playing field of opportunity. But sprinkle in a little more choice when it comes to working hours (and a lot more summer) and you’ll have yourself a winning title, sweet Sweden.

It’s been almost a year since we moved to Stockholm and became the ‘Australians that rent the yellow house’. And in many ways, I have become a bragging benefactor in my own right, FaceTiming home to tell everyone that the rumours are true; my degree is free, daycare is less than a trolley of groceries, and the trip to the doctor for croup last week was free too, along with the medication! But I’m always aware that I have left a whole village of friends and family at home who were just a drive away on any sleep-deprived given day. For me, Sweden is offering a replacement village. A community village; a government funded village; a village that looks after its youngest, most malleable citizens. Most parents will agree that it takes a village to raise a child but no matter how green Sweden is, my village remains cemented on the people at home in Australia. I also feel a little uneasy when there’s a standardised way of doing things, especially when we’re talking about raising a child and even more so when the standardisation seems to be implemented on the level of societal pressure. I wouldn’t go so far as dropping word-bombs like oppression or conformativity, but the hum of obedience is in the air. I have learnt that it’s always best practice to ask questions and not be afraid to go against the green … I mean, grain.

Article (a condensed version) published in Your Zen Mama:

The Elastic Band vs The Helium Balloon

When you see the words own their own, they are great, completely non-threatening words. “Working”: it feels purposeful, driven, active. “Mother”: it feels safe, warm, nurturing. Now, let’s try put them together and have them compliment each other rather than compete against each other for your attention. Not possible. Well, not in my experience anyway. There's always fierce competition and one will inevitably lose out at any given time; it then becomes a moment-by-moment negotiation as to which word will lose and which will win. Toddler starts fondling in the knife draw, mothering wins. Email comes through from a new client who has just viewed your portfolio, work wins. Baby wakes up and is still in the sleepy cuddly mood, mothering wins. And so on. So, what has all this seesawing between definitions made us? Serial apologisers and time-bargainers, and I think I know why. We have added a whole lot of other definitions to each word. Mothering now seems to include sugar-free, toddler-approved masterchef; interior designer and full-time cleaner; baby stylist; and witty banterer IRL and on social media. In the same way, work seems to now include an extra level of proving yourself and thanking those who give you the chance to do so.

With all that in mind (things we have heard time and time again), I decided that I didn’t want to use this space to circulate the same narrative. You know the one; the one where we do it all and still apologise that we haven’t done more than that. We replace our bodies (once our babies have finished suckling at them for hours on end) for elastic bands. We stretch ourselves so thin that if we don’t inevitably snap, we will surely fray. And fray I did, as I’m sure you have too (or are currently). But if we want to keep the aforementioned duality of ourselves, the working and the mother, then something has to give. I’m certainly not willing to give up my work, and financially it isn’t an option. Also, I have become quite fond of this little person who conveniently learned to smile the day of my first blocked milk duct.

So here I am, presenting a new narrative. One that will hopefully become a new conversation, which could then become a real shift. A shift that takes us from an elastic band to a helium balloon. I don’t use this metaphor to imply that we should be so full up that we bounce around the roof joyfully, but perhaps we can hover. Just above the mess. Have enough helium left in us that we can literally live above the floor (at the exact right height to turn the kettle on or pour a glass of wine).

If we think of ourselves as helium balloons, then we can start to see when people are sucking the life right out of us, for their own (hilarious voice) benefit. And what’s a helium balloon without any helium? Just a shrivelled up piece of limp, stretched plastic on the floor surrounded by other discarded party paraphernalia. Okay, I think I have taken that metaphor about as far as it will go.

So, what is the new narrative? It’s one where we let things go (insert obvious reference to Frozen) and accept that the house it not going to look like a reveal from The Block for every playdate, and that it’s fine if our kids want to rock around in gumboots and a nappy. Let’s start to present a new vision for working mums to live by – scratch that – for all mums to live by. It’s a vision where some things just have to give, and there is no need to apologise for it … really.

One of my new mum friends is this vision to a T and how refreshing it is to have her in my life. Her advice - which was always my mum’s advice too funnily enough (although it often takes an ‘outsider’ to tell us before we listen) - was to start learning the word “no”. If we keep saying “yes”, nothing will change. If we keep doing it, it will keep getting done. By us. And we all know that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behaviour and expecting a different outcome. It’s time to call tools down and stop doing more than our fair share, more than what even needs to be done. Our toddlers are professional no-ers. And often it’s not said in defiance, it’s just an honest response. “Could you clean up the books before you take out the trains?” “No, mummy.”
“You have to finish your pumpkin before you get some ice cream.” “No thanks, mummy.”

So I started to see this as something to emulate when having those daily discussions with my own guilt. “Do the dishes before you sit down and binge watch the OC, pretending that you still relate to Marissa and Ryan more so than their parents.” “No, thanks.”
“Make something healthy for the kids to have at the beach tomorrow after you answer the 48 missed emails from today.” “No.”
“No” is a completely viable response to the extra definitions tacked onto our roles as working mothers. If we collectively agree on a different narrative, a different vision, and a different expectation, then we can make some real change. Something we can all do to start building the blocks in the right direction: don’t clean up before your next visitor. I dare you. And … don’t apologise for the mess. I double dare you.

Article published in Your Zen Mama (with photography by Tyler Brown and Kate Scheer).

The Boardroom Barbarians Want Coffee

They usher me into the boardroom first, ‘After you, Love,’ says the one with the suit.

‘Yes blondie, you go on ahead,’ echoes the one with the Converse and the topknot. I do go on ahead and even giggle. Why do I always giggle?

‘Thanks,’ with my head down and the word given to all of the boardroom barbarians, those that come now and those that have come before.

‘I’ll take a double shot espresso with one sugar,’ says the one with the visitor’s badge.

‘I’ll have the same, but no sugar,’ says the one with the USB stick at the ready, ‘I’m sweet enough,’ he winks.

The coffee orders are currently stuck in the grout of the exposed brick wall, waiting for me to pick them up. I’ve already giggled once, not this time.

‘I don’t get the coffees, I write the ads.’ Yes, that ought to do it. I see the words heading towards that shiny barbarian badge like a slap. So, I giggle. Why do I always giggle? Now the words land on their laps like laced defiance.

‘Oh, you call yourself a writer, do you?’ The one with the badge. They all laugh in a cauldron cackle. ‘I thought he was the writer on this account,’ pointing at topknot Converse.

‘Yes, he is the creative lead, but I concepted this campaign with our new art director,’ firm but kind, well done. ‘She also just graduated from Award School, and with second preference.’

‘Second preference. Who got first then? I bet Market Force snapped him up quicker than you can get a coffee around here.’ The badged barbarian directs this one to the suit.

‘It was a she, actually.’ I interject. Now I’m flushed red, I can feel the heat. They told me to stay quiet until the end and look what I’ve done, admitted that two graduates developed their next campaign.
‘She was me.’ I may be red but my eye contact is strong, head still raised.

‘Yes, yes, we snagged the top two Award grads just like last year.’ The one with the USB stick protects the agency’s ego standing.
‘But I’m still head strategist and he still runs the creative department. Just sampling a bit of fresh blood for this one.’ He inserts the UBS violently.
‘You are targeting the ironic generation, after all.’ Bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble.

The presentation flashes up on the newly rendered wall: ACQUISITION OF AUDIENCE SECTOR C. FEMALES AGED 18-25.

‘Hold your horses,’ announces the badge. ‘Since when do we start a presentation before coffee?’ He flounders his arms on the boardroom glass,
‘Come on Love, fetch someone who knows how to make a good brew.’

I stay seated.

Topknot stands, ‘I’ll get Susie.’

(a flash fiction piece written in response to ‘The Barbarians Are Coming’ by Marilyn Chin)


For me, there is nothing more therapeutic or healing than the act of writing. There is something about stringing words together that feels almost meditative. In fact, I am writing this article during a particularly tough time in my life, so what better thing to do than write about, well, writing. Every small, medium, and large business has to do it; every start-up, non-profit, community enterprise, freelancer, and entrepreneur needs to write and write well in order to be taken seriously. Even more importantly, to get noticed. When you take your business idea from subconscious to conscious; from a chat over wine with a girlfriend to a chat over numbers with an accountant; and inevitably from a dream into a frightening reality, the chances are you need to start putting pen to paper very early on and write about you and your business. *Cue the taunting blank page and anxiety-inducing blinking curser*

Clients often say to me, “I know what I want to say, but I don’t know how to say it.” This perennial stuckness can sometimes come from a lack of background work. So, here are some things you should know before you even attempt to face the black-page-nemesis of kryptonite doom (aka copywriting).

1.     Know your brand

Okay, this one is easier said than done and a lot of people decide to invest a fair chunk of time and money for this knowledge (certainly not a bad idea at all). Having a brand strategy is crucial and it will become the foundation of your copywriting – as well as a host of other creative and business decisions. What is your brand’s personality? Is it fun and playful, or serious and professional? What is the tone of the brand? Witty and intelligent, or humble and creative? Is your brand young and innovative, or established and trusted? There are a lot of questions and it’s time to start answering them. If you find it hard to define what your brand’s personality is, try to start with what your brand isn’t. Defiance can often kick-start the process with a lot more clarity.

2.     It’s about them, not you

For each piece you write, you need to know who you are talking to (and it’s never yourself). Some businesses make the mistake of talking too much about themselves and their pursuits. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s always about your audience – their lives, their problems, their reactions, and their needs. And your audience changes, a lot, so change with them and tailor each piece to each new audience.

3.     Choose your medium

Your style of writing needs to suit its environment. It needs to fit in with the content it’s surrounded by, or it needs to offer a clear contrast for a reason. The tone for a social media post will be vastly different to that of a stakeholder newsletter. Sure, this is about the audience but it’s also about the method by which you are reaching them. What frame of mind they are in and what they are expecting from you via that channel.  

4.     Simplify

Look at what you have just written and halve it. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but you do need to simplify the content and give it some structure. People are busy (preaching to the converted here I’m sure) and they skim read. Give the most important information first or a strong hook to read on (do both if you can), use headlines and sub-headlines so that readers can skip to the sections relevant to them, and just because Facebook ads have all but abandoned their character limits, it doesn’t mean you have to.

5.     Grammar, seriously

This one is make or break. Grammar is so important if you want to be taken seriously. If you can, get a fresh pair of eyes to look over your work before it goes out. You can also download a handy little tool called Grammarly which trumps spell-check on any program.

If you still come up completely wordless like Taylor Swift without a boyfriend or a breakup, or like Trump without Twitter (and you know this article can do nothing to save you from blank page-itis) then there’s a reason why people like me have jobs; we love extracting what’s in your mind and putting it into unique words for your brand and its audience. In other words: handball the task and keep copywriters writing!

Article published in The Perth Collective.

Time is on grief’s side, not yours

The first tear is like a punch.
A punch that blisters the skin-thin blockade.
A punch through the medication.
A punch through time.
Because time will not heal you like they say;
its passage is no longer linear,
it’s feeble, it breaks,
and bends and stretches when it should snap.

let's make good art

There is a point when life can feel a little less guided by the star of Bethlehem and a little more rerouted by the misunderstood witches of east wick. These pivotal points of fray and disenchantment can throw off our entire self-theory of evolution. "What happened?" "How did I get so lost?" And the worst one of all, "who have I become?" It’s at these moments that we need to stitch back together the pieces of our true self and wonder, "where exactly is she?" Well, I think I have the coveted answer - in our craft!

A mentor of mine once shared a clip of his favourite writer giving a graduate speech to a new group of arts' students, and the theme - make good art. Neil Gaiman quite clearly navigates his audience through their future life and work challenges with a three-word fall back – make good art. “Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong; in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make. Good. Art.” His string of scenarios all come back to this statement.

 “Husband runs off with a politician. Make good art.”

“Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor. Make good art.”

My scenarios run a little closer to non-fiction. Times when I have been faced with a grief so painful I thought the depths of the earth would be warmer than my bed. Other times when I’ve felt that my contribution was meaningless and destructive. Or, on the flip side, when a love so deep gave me an enlightened view of every single human expression. In those times, and many other less pivotal moments, I looked to my craft.

We joined a collective such as this to make good art. To be in a community of likeminded artists, whatever that expression may be; I've seen florals that dive into theories of ethereal reality, jewellery that clashes bold feminism with divine femininity, and space-artists that have an innate ability to add emotion and storytelling to a room. For me, the craft is writing. The grab-a-journal-and-explode kind of writing. When anything goes astray, the pencil is never far away (sorry for the unintentional, yet still not deleted, rhyme). It’s not necessarily my happy place, but more my place to gather up all the scattered marbles and attempt to put them (momentarily) back in my pocket. Love, deceit, illness, stress, grief, birth, identity, anxiety, insomnia ... it's all there and it all has the chance to be free within the bind. It is with these shared experiences that we are a true collective of human beings. Yes, we want to share our craft and make a living from what we would otherwise be doing with our time anyway, but it is deeper and rawer than that. I think it's about overcoming our collective human fault – as Ekhart Tolle puts it – to put our ego and identity aside and leave room to create with each other and learn from each other.

My contribution to this collective is an attempt at nuanced expression through words. My craft is to write. I look forward to each new brief; the piece's unique theme, the tone that is you and your vision. Most of all, I look forward to giving the words back and working together to make good art.

Here is a link to Gaiman’s speech if you are interested and have 20 minutes (which I know is a big ask for creative entrepreneurs):

Article published in The Perth Collective.


She found space in the periphery of the ocean,

the movement and freedom of the shell, each piece of sand that flew even further.

She avoided the rocks to invite as much space as available,

to escape from any permanence possible of tying her down.

She was the sand; she was the water, but only at the edge and only for now.


Eventually, the clouds found her, even on the margin of the body.

The clarity became murky; the sand was sharp.

Her penchant for avoidance no longer assisted the crave of escape.


She shuffled away from the edge.

And this time she didn't avoid the rocks,

she sat between them as if they could anchor her to something that was certain.

So her body would be armoured; her mind would escape as it always has.


NB: "Escapism is a constant pursuit and one that meanders between available and undesired. This piece is a little bit about the fluidity of the word and how, no matter how far towards the edge you go to find space, your mind will follow – In this case, permanency of body can offer some comfort when the mind is hell-bent on escapism."


When I see a deep expression of nature I breathe deep, whole. It's not a new concept and I don't know where my truth is in it - I feel like every Instagram post about nature is about connection and peace - but maybe that's it. Maybe it is our collective human commonality, that to be in nature is to breathe with every cell of your body; your eyes bulge with the breath filling them up like enlightened balloons, your belly swells bigger than when incubating new life, your finger tips tingle as if puffs of air are escaping from every line in their print, your nose points to the sky with pores that are open enough to take in a particle of light that may seem insignificant but is really the whole universe warming your face.

Nature is a pulse of life and being in it just means that your presence is whole again. You are not trying to find a filling prophesy amongst buildings that were once someone's art and expression but are now just a page in a resume portfolio and a deterioration of bricks and mortar built with a desire to be anywhere else than amongst the dust and debris of sterility.

The expression of nature may not matter either, like food. It is just fuel. Some people prefer sweet and smooth to savoury and spicy, others prefer a warm sunset to a white-washed mountain but they are all fuel in their full spectrum of expression. It is air, it is life, it is nature, it is breath. 

It moves, it rustles, it plays, it dances. It runs and hides and escapes and wanders. It is whatever you want it to be and tonight, with a simple green scene on a laptop in a small house in a city, I would like it to be poetry.


The #NoFilter campaign for UNICEF brought the location into the darkroom, using the film development process to give meaning to its message. Water from the highly polluted Saigon River was used to develop analog portraits of children who live in areas around the river, highlighting the dangers of their living conditions. “I wanted to shoot young children to emphasize their innocence in this polluted environment … to highlight the impact and suffering,” says portrait and advertising photographer, Teo Chai Guan.

The shoot took place at several locations in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and while research and location scouting could take place in advance, the portraits were completely dependent on who the team managed to find on the day. Teo describes this, as well as a 10-year hiatus from using film, as just one of the many challenges he encountered.

Like most photographers, Teo had never used un-filtered water to develop film before and described the process as a science experiment. “We collected samples of various grades of polluted water along different parts of the river and each type of water gave different effects. It was always an anticipation to see how each photograph turned out,” describes Teo.

This powerful UNICEF campaign, for their WASH program, won 2 Bronze Lions and Eurobest 2016.

Campaign: #NoFilter
Client: UNICEF
Agency: FCB Happiness Saigon, Vietnam
Photographer: Teo Chai Guan
Chief Creative Officer: Geoffrey Hantson
Creative Director: Paul Busschau
Producer: Huynh Tram

Article published in Capture Magazine.


Rather than simply receiving a brief from an Advertising agency, photographer Mathieu César finds it imperative to be involved in the concepting stage of an idea in order to create images that convey the final message. This cohesion is clearly evident in the ‘Revolution’ campaign for AIDES, (launched on World AIDS Day) which aims to dispel fear and isolation, and reduce the stigma of HIV pathology in sexual relationships. “I love that I was able to be involved in this campaign and use my photography to share important core values,” says César.

In order to create the perfect shot for each campaign, César described the project as a balance between adventure and caution. “We were afraid that this campaign would offend people,” he says. “We needed to convey the correct message with the correct image, [therefore] I needed to catch the perfect moment when the desire and the emotions are in perfect cohesion with the position and the location.”

All four images of the campaign were created with César’s signature black-and-white aesthetic, but keeping their unity with such different scenes was a challenge. “The indoor images were shot in studio, while the diving scene was specially constructed in a studio swimming pool in Paris and the parachute image was shoot on location at the Lagon Bleu,” he says without revealing the beach’s specific location in an effort to retain its anonymity. “We managed to keep the same team, as well as the same gear on each shoot to create a consistent campaign with limited post-production work.”

Campaign: Revolution
Client: AIDES
Agency: TBWA Paris
Executive Creative Directors: Benjamin Marchal, Faustin Claverie
Art Directors: Sébastien Skrzypczak, Morgane Alexandre
Photographer: Mathieu César
Production : Iconoclast Image

Article published in Capture Magazine.