I love what Narratively did with my Women’s Work project, and am so glad to have the opportunity to speak about this work I’m doing (all of it!).
I teach a middle school photo class once a week in a public New York City middle school, and I’ve been photographing there and at similar schools. The schools speak with the same visual vocabulary but time and students personalize the walls. Assimilation, teenage rebellion: institutional architecture, teenage dismay – and hearts.
Slate published an interview with me and a selection of my Birth Culture photographs. I’m so glad to have had the chance to explain why I care about this project, and to share the work widely. I’m amazed and happy about the response it’s gotten – 24,000 shares on Facebook!
Much like death, the subject of birth is often taboo, a fact of life that is rarely explored beyond established procedure. Proujansky has been fascinated by the various ways in which each culture she has explored approaches birth but said that in the United States, gender and generation often dominate the conversation.
“We have ideas about what women’s bodies are for and it’s not this,” she said about American views on birth. “You see a woman naked but her body is performing functions that are intense. Our culture has a weird thing about images of women’s bodies doing this kind of physical work that isn’t young and sexy; birth has elements of struggle, power, transformation and mortality that don’t fit with our ideas about women’s bodies: they’re ok to look at when they’re sexy but when they’re working it’s something else. Birth is uncontrolled and that freaks us out.”
She also feels it ties into the idea of how we view motherhood.
“We sometimes celebrate mothers and put them on a pedestal and they’re supposed to be self sacrificing with an endless well of love but we also have stereotypes about them being intellect free with snide jokes about mom jeans and soccer moms.”
I’ve just promised to read a book on the critical theory of photography each month this year.
It’s the kind of thing I always want to do but never think I have the time. But Jo Lien, a photographer and English professor in Idaho, created a blog circle and it was just the commitment device I needed.
We started off with Henri Cartier Bresson’s The Mind’s Eye, and the quote that stayed with me was this: “[Photography] is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.”
I recently photographed a stay-at-home father and his corporate lawyer wife for my project on Women’s Work. HCB’s words helped me ignore my thoughts that I should be photographing something grittier, or breaking news-y, or farther away from myself. I feel strongly about birth and other kinds of women’s work, and it’s relevant to my life.
My head is curious, my eye is interested, and my heart is full when I photograph these things. So on I go.
Here are some photographs of Aaron, Miki and baby Oliver during their evening routine: dinner, bath, and a family reading of Harry Potter. A framed picture in their living room says:
The measure of a man is not the size of his
paycheck, the car that he drives or the
clothes that he wears.
It is the strength of his hands that hold
you close, the intensity of his smile when
he looks at you and the size of his heart
that will always love you.
I love you, dad. Oliver
Feel free to read the other blogs in this circle, starting with Annie Morris’ post (her photographs are dreamy and beautiful, and she lives in one of my favorite places in the entire world).
Picking the kids up from daycare, training for a run in honor of a friend lost to leukemia, bathing a child – small actions that add up to a life.
(More photographs of Jen as a working mother here.)
But before she went back to work, Jen had to get through dropping her baby off for his first day at daycare. The morning was hectic and rushed, but everyone made it out of the house (and Jen remembered all of her breast pump supplies).
She looked forward to being around other people and using her intellect more, but she felt a strong pull toward her kids as she left them at a local daycare. Jen’s working two days a week now, but her days in the office are intense and the work tends to leak into her days at home with baby Wiley.
Last month The Daily Beast asked me to photograph remembrances of the September 11th attacks for their Instagram feed. I walked and walked, shooting with my phone. I photographed a Green-Wood Cemetery grove that holds the graves of 9/11 first responders, a tower that looked disconcertingly like the World Trade Center, a memorial at the New York Fire Museum (where a fragment of one of the planes is displayed), One World Trade Center, St. Paul’s Chapel (the church became a place of refuge for Ground Zero workers – scuff marks from their equipment still mark the pews), the FDNY Memorial Wall, and the Tribute in Light (close up and then from Sunset Park). The memorial traces were moving and sad, and I was able to work discreetly throughout with my tiny camera.
I photographed Talia Braude, a 39-year-old self-employed architect and single mom by choice, for The Daily Beast. Paula Szuchman wrote about women who aren’t waiting for a partner to come along before starting a family.
Talia’s matter of fact competence and sweetness with her baby Rian are impressive, and I loved photographing this little family.
And what does my baby do while I photograph working moms? Hangs out and eats at daycare with Alexxis, Iris, Elia and his friends (or, when he’s home sick, naps while I rush to get computer work done before he wakes up). Center-based daycares like William’s are the second-most common childcare arrangement for young children of working moms in the U.S.