On the road

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Meet Frankie, the restored 1956 caravan responsible for the creative revival of Kara Rosenlund

Kara carPhotography: Kara Rosenlund | Profile Photography: Sharyn Cairns

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When Kara Rosenlund got engaged to her boyfriend Tim in 2011, the proposal drove her into a flurry of planning. But it wasn’t guest lists, seating plans and potential wedding dresses that had Kara in a spin. It was the dogged pursuit of her next career move. “I told Tim that before we got married I had to find my thing,” recalls Kara. “I needed him to see me on fire.” Kara’s ‘thing’ ended up being Frankie; a 1956 Franklin caravan she converted into a travelling wares pop-up shop. Inspired by her time spent rummaging around vintage markets in Europe while working as a prop stylist, Kara had seen a gap in the Australian market and devised a unique way to fill it, however previous searches for the bones of her project – a caravan – had been fruitless. Tim’s proposal fast-tracked her plan. “It was the impetus to definitely make it happen,” says Kara. “Three days later, I searched ‘caravan’ on Gumtree and there it was. I had tried searching many times before and there would never be anything there, but this was finally it.” While the plan had always been to refurbish a caravan, this particular motorhome needed a lot of work. In fact, Kara’s dad warned her against the purchase based on the huge slog he expected the project to create. But Kara followed her gut, an approach she insists has never let her down. “Everything comes back to my instincts,” says Kara. “I can’t escape them. If it’s not authentic or it’s not from the heart, you’re never going to push yourself or your business very far.”

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Kara road

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But Kara’s dad was right: the project was a huge undertaking. “You can stretch your life in ridiculous ways if you love what you’re doing and you see it as a worthwhile venture,” she says. As well as the removal of ant colonies and gecko infestations, the refurbishment required a fresh paint job, new suspension, an interior facelift, plenty of WD-40 and a whole lot of elbow grease. And, since Kara had already booked Frankie into her first market stall, she had effectively given herself a five-week timeline. But she delivered. Brimming with authentic china, silver, earthenware and other rustic pieces for the home, Frankie debuted at the Brisbane Farmers’ Markets in 2011 and is now a popular sight on the Brisbane market scene. Frankie and Kara have also ventured – very slowly – south of the Queensland border, making sporadic appearances in Byron Bay, Sydney and other east coast sites. “It takes three days to get to Sydney, puttering slowly in the left lane,” laughs Kara.

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Kara home

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THROUGH THE LENS

Surprisingly, Frankie is just one element of Kara’s eclectic career. She juggles the venture with numerous projects, most of which are underpinned by her prodigious talent as a photographer. In 2003, at just 21, Kara was the youngest person to be named the Canon/AIPP Australian Professional Photographer of the Year. She was judged on four portraits of “no one famous – just friends really – but they were very cinematic.” The award catapulted Kara’s career. With her then-boyfriend, also a photographer, Kara launched her own business and enjoyed huge success in the editorial and advertising space. Business was booming and life was great. Until her boyfriend broke up with her. “It completely destroyed me,” recalls Kara. “I was so distraught and I didn’t want anything to do with photography – it reminded me too much of him – so I gave it up.” Kara didn’t pick up a camera for seven years. She moved to London and found a new focus – prop styling, which enabled her to tap into her passion for homewares as she travelled to flea markets throughout Europe, sourcing unique and timeless pieces. The process was cathartic. Kara was healing, but still her camera remained on the sideline.

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Kara bed

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PASSION REIGNITED 

Upon returning to Brisbane in 2010, Kara also brought back an entire shipping container full of vintage finds she couldn’t bear to part with. Those pieces became the first intake of Frankie’s inventory and helped establish Kara’s brand. When Frankie launched the following year, word soon spread, encouraging Kara to reacquaint with her first love. “People wanted to see more of Frankie, so I picked up my camera again and the whole world of photography seemed to have changed,” says Kara. “Now, because of social media, it’s such a valuable asset to be able to communicate visually. I love photography again and am completely back in the game. I just feel so incredibly lucky but I also feel lucky that I had a break from it. Everything happens for a reason.”

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Kara Frankie

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OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

That mantra might also explain the wrong turn Kara took while towing Frankie from Sydney to Brisbane via Tamworth in 2013. Lost on the backroads, Kara and Frankie stumbled upon a beautiful homestead that kickstarted the next adventure and led to Kara’s debut photography book, Shelter: How Australians Live. During a 12-month roadtrip covering every state and territory of Australia, Kara documented quintessential Australian landscapes, homes and interiors. On a recent trip to Namibia, she did the same. With her new husband, her camera and a local translator in tow, Kara traversed the foreign landscape, capturing the country’s brilliant contrasts – the Herero women in full colour; the Himba women and their earthy beauty. Kara says she was amazed by the “power of connection,” despite the language barrier. Her encounter with Namibian local Hilary, who she met “in the middle of nowhere,” drives this point home. “Namibia taught me even more so to read the emotion of people, and there was something going on with Hilary that I couldn’t work out,” Kara says. “She was very timid. It turned out that she was almost killed two years ago by a boyfriend who would just bash her so badly. A few hours later we got to her village and, through the translator, I said, ‘Hilary, I have to take your portrait, you look so beautiful right now’. She took this amazing photo and it just proves that it’s how you make people feel that reflects the results you get through the camera.”

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Kara beach

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ON THE ROAD AGAIN 

Back on Australian soil, Kara is preparing Frankie for her return to the market circuit. Restocking Frankie is a daily task which involves filling her up with treasures found at auctions, house estates and through word-of-mouth. “It has remained very hands-on for me,” says Kara. “I need to touch and feel things so I know other people will like how it touches and feels.” With an upcoming book launch and constant styling and photography gigs on her plate, not to mention her online print shop, which is always working hard in the background, Frankie has become just one piece of a bigger career puzzle for Kara. But it is a crucial piece. “I am forever grateful that caravan was able to provide a much-needed stepping stone for me to get back in touch with my career because there was always something missing,” says Kara. “Creative people need to have creative avenues or else they get sad. I took that for granted at the beginning. That caravan kicked my arse for a while. It really did. But that made me become responsible. It made me think ahead and I am a better person for it.”

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Kara tree

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