“We live in a paradise,” says photographer Sam Harris of the tiny southwestern Australian village that he, his wife Yael, and his two daughters, Uma and Yali, have come to call home. In 2002, the family, composed at that time of mother, father, and three-year-old Uma, left behind the hustle and bustle of London in search of a life spent close to nature. After backpacking through Thailand, India, and Australia, they nested in a forest near the town of Balingup with the newly arrived infant Yali, amongst the wild kangaroos and surrounded by the chuckling birdsong of Kookaburras.
In the twelve years since Harris embarked on his journey, he has documented his children from infancy through adolescence. The Middle of Somewhere is his record of their early years, their ecstatic adventures, and their inevitable disappointments along the way. Balingup, says Harris, has an estimated population of five hundred, with a large portion living away from the town itself and sequestered in the forest. Sprinkled across the landscape are artists, musicians, retirees, and farmers; residents hail from all across the globe, and yet they are bound together for their shared endearment to this one unusual place. Despite the fact that houses are separated by many hundreds of yards, the community gathers regularly for potluck meals, events Harris affectionately refers to as “instant banquets.” The people of Balingup often construct their houses themselves.
As for their own house, Harris describes it as brightly illuminated and petite, explaining that the sprawling outdoors complements its cozy interior. He, Yael, Uma, and Yali drink rainwater, which is both safe and sweet to the taste. The daughters, now fifteen and eleven, spend their days attending school, hanging out with friends, and riding horses along the nearby trails. They have a pair of budgerigar birds, named Cheepy and Smuggles, and next door, they can visit flocks of sheep, pigeons, chickens. Their garden is outfitted with a popular birdbath, and they live beside ducks both domesticated and wild. Uma is wise beyond her years, and Yali is introspective and whimsical. They both love Harry Potter.
Harris knows that the life he has given his children is different—and in many ways, more innocent—than most. They don’t own a television, and where he describes his own south London school as “rough and tough,” his daughters attend a tiny, close-knit school. He proudly explains that they both have the honor of being named “Head Girls” in their classrooms. Still, he doesn’t dread their growing up. As he puts it, “nothing stays the same,” and that’s the real beauty of it all. With adolescence, his daughters have become more self-aware, and his process is constantly evolving. Although no one can permanently hold on to the prelapsarian glitter of childhood, this will remain their Eden.
Every member of the Harris family has contributed to the book; clippings from Yael’s diary work as narration, and Uma created the cover art. Yali had a hand in the editing process. The Middle of Somewhere is in its most essential sense a family album, says Harris, noting that when asked what single item they would save in case of a fire, “most people say the family photo album.”
The Middle of Somewhere will be released this June and is now available for pre-sale. The book is published by ceiba foto and will celebrate its launch at Bronx Documentary Center on June 5th and at The Photographers’ Gallery in London on July 2nd.
All images © Sam Harris