When we think of our favourite moments in football – those that gripped us, that stayed with us well beyond the moment itself – how do you remember them?
For many, the first thing that springs to mind is an image. Something that captures that moment in time. A photo of the team that you won the championship with. A selfie after the game. The trophy. The winning moment.
What about for the CommBank Matildas? A Sam Kerr backflip. Players, arms aloft, running to celebrate Asian Cup success. Emily van Egmond, central and standing tall, teammates mobbing her after she scored to seal Olympic qualification. Clare Polkinghorne, roaring after a victory.
The best sports photographers produce images that condense our favourite memories into singular moments. These images are cherished long after the event, but the photographers themselves often miss the plaudits that they deserve.
Kyoko Kurihara is one of these photographers. Based in Queensland for the past 15 years, the Osaka native first began to seriously hone her craft in 2020.
“Actually, I am a chef!” she explained.
“I had lots of time with nothing to do during lockdown. So, I decided to learn how to use my camera, and how to edit. I had a camera – a basic camera – but I decided that I needed a professional camera. I spent almost $20,000 for a camera and lens, but I still couldn’t go outside! So, I started learning with YouTube, and online.
Finally, when we could go outside, I approached Gold Coast United – I said, ‘I have a good camera, I don’t have experience, but I want to do some shooting for you guys.’ They said okay, no problem. It was just practice for me to begin with – I didn’t have any skill!
They really loved it. They were really happy with it! Neither team – the girls or the boys – previously had a photographer for their games. I felt really good.”
So, how did someone with no previous background in football – or photography - get into sports photography?
She never played the game, but when Yukari Kinga - a good friend of hers - played in the league, she began to watch closely for the first time. She saw her first live game in Australia in the 2017/18 W-League season and never looked back again.
“I don’t say football is my life, because I’ve never played football,” she answered, “but football is inspirational to me.”
After the NPL season finished, she approached the Brisbane Roar to ask if she could do some photography for them. Originally, she spent time with their NPL men’s team – but her quality photography soon caught the attention of the club hierarchy.
She was asked if she wanted to be involved as a photographer for their A-League Women’s side.
“I said, ‘really, are you serious!’” she laughed.
“Last season, I went to their first day of training. I was so nervous. I am here, shooting you guys – this is unbelievable! Even now, this is all new for me.”
“I was just practising, learning, shooting, shooting more.”
“After that, I went back to the NPL for Gold Coast United this year, and now… we’re here.”
Kurihara’s natural talent shines through in her photography. Even with such limited experience, she is already making waves, both with Brisbane Roar and the CommBank Matildas as well.
Most notably, she was the woman who captured one of the shots that defines Clare Polkinghorne’s career. A singular figure, standing tall, roaring, after a late victory over New Zealand.
As she pointed out during her conversation, her camera is still less than two years old. That is something that takes anyone aback who has seen the results of her photography over the past season.
She was asked what is uniquely appealing about shooting women’s football.
“I soon realised that, in Queensland, there are no female photographers for women’s football,” she explained. “I’ve never met a female photographer, in Queensland.”
“So I thought – I should be! I should be this person for women’s football.”
“Whenever I go to a game, it’s only the guys who are photographers. When female photographers like me are there, I can get more smiles and expression.”
You can see that expression come out in her photography. When Indiah-Paige Riley re-signed for Brisbane Roar this year, Kurihara was there during training. Riley looked down the lens, focused on warming up, but with a half-smile – you get the sense of her character as a person, as well as an athlete.
“In the A-League Men, there are so many photographers shooting them. But I don’t think many photographers focus on the girls,” she continued.
“I want to be one of the female photographers in Queensland.”
It is inspiring that Kurihara – instead of simply wondering why there were no visible female sports photographers in Queensland – went and simply became that photographer.
The next time that you notice a particularly striking image of women’s football taken in Queensland, it may well be at the end of Kurihara’s lens.
And, the next time that you see a problem that needs fixing – or a passion that should be pursued – think of Kyoko Kurihara. Be inspired to be the change that you want to see.