Heidi Holmberg by Ashlee Wells Jackson
We all know that pregnant women are beautiful. Many mothers-to-be sit for professional portrait photographs so that they can remember their glowing, fertile bodies as time goes by. These are images that they will one day show their children. My mother is not one of these mothers; we never took a traditional family photograph. Photographs of my mother that I’ve found over the years have all been post-pregnancy snapshots: her disheveled hair and sweaty face, my cocooned body in her arms, slightly off center on a rumpled living room couch.
Here, I see her glowing; the air about her is pregnant although she herself is no longer literally pregnant. But today, so many women are faced with post-baby body-shaming, and it’s hard to remember that women are just as beautiful after giving birth as they are before.
Chicago-based photographer Ashlee Wells Jackson struggled to celebrate her own changing body after childbirth. She explains, “I found myself [...] unable to accept the changes and the new body I was carrying around.” She then realized that she was not alone; many women were feeling this way.
The artist might have found a way to, as she puts it, “[embrace] the beauty inherent in the changes brought to [women’s] bodies by motherhood, childbirth and breastfeeding.” Jackson’s current body of work, entitled “The 4th Trimester Bodies Project,” frames women (and their children, in many cases) in a way that underscores the beauty of the mothers’ changing bodies.
Anna Kostopaulos Janusz
The women are all dressed in black undergarments, and their children are photographed nude. The most beautiful, interesting subjects of these images truly are the mothers’ midsections, their thighs, their breasts, their marks and their scars.
The female body becomes a glorious landscape on which the children play and nest. In one image, two children hold hands as they find comfort in their mother’s bosom. In a few portraits, nude children lean against their mothers’ abdomens for cushioning and support. Many swing in their mothers’ arms.
Inspired by her own experience with pregnancy and childbirth, Jackson sets out to photograph mothers from around America. She will shoot in Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, Los Angeles, and Kansas City. Women of all backgrounds and ages are invited to sit for this project. Jackson writes, “Our only guideline is that you are a MOTHER and are willing to [...] bare it all in the name of honest beauty [...] It doesn’t matter how you’ve come to motherhood or how old your children are.” Jackson’s goal for this body of work is to create a published book, a community website, and a gallery show.
Jess and Nancy Mota
Contemporary portraits (of both men and women) often seem disingenuous or cold. I miss the emotional pangs that were once so celebrated in photography, the exhilarating and heartbreaking feeling critic Roland Barthes describes in Camera Lucida after seeing an image of his mother as a child. Even after the efforts of Judy Chicago, the art world is quick to judge the “sentimental” portrait, especially if it’s created by a woman artist. But I think Jackson’s work is beautiful and important, both for women and for the ever-changing field of portrait photography.
Check out a sampling of Jackson's work below, and visit her site to see how you can help with the project. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Patrice and Lizzy Dewey
All images via Ashlee Wells Jackson