Birth Culture on

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.”

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Audio Slide Show: Birth in Lagos

Birth in Lagos from Alice Proujansky on Vimeo.

I put together this slide show with audio editing help from my excellent friend Chris Devlin of Win Win.

Doing audio lets me make a record of the conversations I have with subjects, and those have always been one of the best parts of meeting and photographing people. Thinking about sound makes my ears wake up and pay attention – not fair for the eyes to do all the work. I’m looking forward to doing more of this.

Midwives in Lagos, Nigeria

I traveled to Lagos, Nigeria last month as part of my ongoing project about birth attendants and the culture of birth.

With 18 million residents, Lagos is on track to be Africa’s largest megacity by 2015. While some of the city’s residents bask in oil wealth, thousands more live in malarial slums where governmental neglect and corruption leave piles of garbage, unclean water and rampant crime – rural conditions in an urban setting – and Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world.

Six months ago, a team of Nigerian midwives began to offer free maternity care to slum residents at a Doctors Without Borders-run clinic, combining international training and funding with local expertise and stability. Midwife Grace Ngozi explains, “There are Africans that don’t really need somebody to come and help them. All we need is ‘Give me work and I’ll do it.’”

When I took these photographs, state-employed doctors had been on strike for 11 weeks and patients could not afford private hospitals, so the clinic proved indispensable.

As with many resources in megacities, health care is plentiful but inaccessible to the city’s poorest residents, and this clinic is a model for equitable redistribution of a city’s resources.

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