These Photographs of Motherhood Are Unlike Any You’ve Ever Seen #sobeautiful

by Brenda Pitt

Elinor Carucci, “Feeding Emanuelle from a plastic bottle after I stopped breastfeeding” 2004.

Photography, as a medium, is inextricably bound to the idea of motherhood. We see mothers (and fathers) everywhere snapping pictures of their infants. Art critic Roland Barthes rooted his discussion of the emotional power of photographs in an image he found of his mother after her death. Photography gives us a means of capturing something we know will soon be lost: the pregnant belly, the milk mustache. In snapping a photograph, one can reproduce and immortalize its subject; it’s a type of birth. Perhaps this is why the family album holds so much weight within a household. 


Ana Casas Broda, “Kinderwunsch (Video game)” 2010.


But as digital photography, Facebook, and Instagram begin to take over the way we think about images, meaningful moments get obscured. When everything is captured and reproduced on the web, the power of a tangible snapshot or the family album is diminished. In 1977, critic Susan Sontag warned that we take our culture’s plethora of images for granted, we will experience a “[distancing of] emotions” and “the erosion of the very notion of meaning”(On Photography). Photographs cease to be miraculous forms of rebirth or tangible records of meaningful objects when we begin to reproduce images for reproduction’s sake. 


Annu Palakannu Matthew, “Archana” from the series Re-Generation, 2010.

Curator Susan Bright hopes to use the iconic image of the mother to combat the way we take images – particularly those of mothers – for granted. Inspired by the media’s representations of motherhood (i.e. celebrity moms), Bright compiled a collection of work entitled Home Truths: Motherhood and Photography to be published November and exhibited in London over the next year. The images she includes “are not [necessarily] aspects of motherhood that are typically photographed or displayed to the world;” they are not the manicured images of celebrity moms that we so often mistake for reality. In Annunciation, a series by Elina Brotherus, “repeated failed pregnancy test… are displayed on a shelf, to ironically echo the mantle pieces where children are traditionally propped.” 


Elina Brotherus, “Annunciation 14” 2012.


These are not the photographs of Pinterest or Facebook. In her eyes, the photographs of each artist address “concerning the loss of the photographic object, set against the abundance of digital images” predicted decades ago by Sontag. 

Ana Casas Broda, “Kinderwunsch (Ana Playroom V),” from the Playroom series 2010.

My favorite works are “Miyako Ishuichi’s small, delicate [photographs of her mother’s objects made after her death…] carefully mounted in varying thicknesses of Plexiglas – the thickness of which conceptually represents the relationship of the object to her mother’s body.” Bright explains that the tangibility of the work “[reinforces] photography as a material form over a digital image.” Mother #35 displays an old red lipstick, an icon normally associated with youth, sensuality, and fertility, preserved forever past the wearer’s lifetime. 


Miyako Ishiuchi, “Mother’s #35” 2001.


Photography as it relates to the female body and birth are of paramount importance in the collection. Bright uses the astounding works of Janine Antini, Katie Murray and Ann Fessler, Leigh Ledare, Ada Casas Broda, Elinor Carcucci, Tierney Gearon, Fred Huning, and others to remind us that “photography is at a pivotal moment in its history” and that women and mothers have a crucial role to play in preserving photographic meaning. 


Tierney Gearon, “Untitled” from The Mother Project. 2001.


Fred Huning, “Untitled” from the series Plum Harvest. 2011.


Hanna Putz, “Untitled” (Nave 2). 2012.


Janine Antoni, “Inhabit” 2009.


Katie Murray, still from Gazelle. 2012.


Thanks to TIME/Susan Bright

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