Lately I’ve been investigating motherhood and photography; not representations of motherhood so much as photography by mothers where their motherhood is the subject. If you google “motherhood and photography,” you get a whole lot of portrait photographers marketing to mothers, not so many photographs from mothers. That tells me that there is something about photography that relates to motherhood, but it also tells me that there is a gap.
Along my recent web travels, one of my first stops was a post by Heather Morton on the subject saying that motherhood is the new black in photography, and giving three photographers’ work as evidence. (Edited to add this link to another photographer exploring motherhood.) Let’s hope so.
Indeed, there seems to be more evidence to support that notion. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered this film, which is yet to be released on dvd, so I haven’t actually seen it. But it looks very promising. Something about the words, “Who does she think she is?” grabbed me from the sidebar of one of the blogs I read, and now I’m trying to figure out how to get my eyes on it. On the surface, the problem of balancing motherhood with art seems analagous to balancing motherhood with a career. Except that I think art is viewed as optional at best and self-indulgent at worst, definitely something that should be sublimated beneath motherhood.
I’m also interested in checking out:
- The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood by Rachel Power
- Tierney Gearon: The Mother Project
- In Their Mothers’ Eyes: Women Photographers and Their Children, which seems to be out of print.
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When I read Between Interruptions: 30 Mothers Tell the Truth about Motherhood last year, I started every new essay hoping find a story like mine. I see lots of stories of women who lose themselves in maternity, who have to redefine themselves in new terms that are compatible with motherhood, and not just in that book. And I don’t mean to deny their stories, not at all; there are as many experiences of motherhood as there are mothers, and we need to respect them all. But when that is pretty much the only experience I hear, I wonder. Am I selfish? Am I doing something wrong?
My experience of motherhood hasn’t been defined by sacrifice or losing myself; if anything I’ve rediscovered myself and my passion. Before I became a mother, I was a drone. I went to work and came home and watched tv or read escapist fiction. But being a mother made me want to live meaningfully, or at least pursue meaning. Or something like that.
* * *
Ever since I got back into photography after my son was born, I’ve viewed my pictures of my son, our home, our family, as a silly maternal exercise, a duty, less serious or important than my other photos. But now I’m looking at the photos from a political perspective. This is life. This is domesticity. Why shouldn’t it be a serious subject of photography?
(I can’t help but think, though, of the photographer who kept bringing his prints to a mentor, even the image that the mentor declared bad year after year. The one the photographer had to climb a mountain to make.
Maybe I’m not really in any position to judge the merit of my domestic photos. Maybe, when I look at pictures of my son, our family, I see the mountain I climbed, the mountain I’m still climbing.)
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Our experience of motherhood doesn’t equal our children. And making photographs of our children isn’t the same as finding a way to photograph motherhood. I don’t know the answer, but I’m interested in looking for one. So here are some of my recent efforts:
No idea how this will turn out, but I’m thinking of calling it “Domessticity” or “Do-mess-stick.”