In the last day or so I've started to actively search for images by mothers that pertain to motherhood. Obviously this is a subject that I feel an affinity with, and yet until now I haven't in any cohesive way done any research on other mothers who are artists. I think the impetus has come from feeling like my "Life is a series of small moments" images are pretty fully formed and therefore my image-making won't be influenced by potentially similar work. "Life is..." may never be finished (I'll probably keep adding to it here and there as it's so intimately connected with my existence at this point) but it's no longer in the beginning or even middle "active" stages, when I take pictures in a more continuous fashion, trying to shape and hone a project. I feel comfortable with it now; my concept has gelled, so my shooting for the series is more sporadic. I suspect at some point it will turn into a different project, as my role as a mother changes as the girls get older and the dynamic of my family's life shifts.
For now I find myself really wanting to see what other work is out there that addresses the role of being a mother, particularly with small children. I admire Martine Fougeron's photographs, which I mentioned briefly in a previous post, but her images center on adolescence, a stage that's in my more distant future. I love getting her take on this state of "in-between" that's so specific to the teenage years, and the tenderness in her photographs strikes a chord with me. Still, I want to see the vision of my life through someone else's eyes. I suppose it's largely the desire for connection that I've been feeling lately, the knowledge that other people out there are also trying to combine creative pursuits with raising small children. I've felt a deep sense of community among my friends who are mothers, and am very grateful to have such supportive women in my life, but the artistic side of me has been out of the loop for a while now as far as support is concerned (my art-school critique days are far behind me). That's one of the reasons why I started a blog, in order to find other people out there who know the trials and passions of being an artist, and in the short time I've been writing I've already had some wonderful email exchanges with other photographers, which has been very exciting. So I think turning to images by mothers is about wanting to feel even further that I'm not alone in this sometimes precarious balancing act.
In all honesty, though I say I'm "starting" this journey, there are a couple of artists whom I've been aware of for a bit now, but whose images I haven't actively studied thus far. I've kept their work in a folder in a drawer, so to speak, and am now bringing it out into the daylight. Christy Karpinski is one of the first mother/photographers I discovered when we were both in the book "A Field Guide to the North American Family." Some of her shots resonate very deeply with me; she really captures that sense of both metaphorical dark and light which is such a part of motherhood. Besides, I'm a sucker for shallow depth of field, which she has down.
© Christy Karpinski
(note: the pairing is not her own, I joined the two images so you could see examples of both her black-and-white and color work)
I also came across Morgan Jones' work a couple of months ago through The Ones We Love. What she's written about her children on the site is fantastic, see here. I connect with what she has to say, having used words like anxiety and boredom myself in my artist statement (some things about motherhood, like most things in life, are universal). The way Jones puts it is incredibly poetic and wonderfully quirky. As far as her work is concerned, I think many of her images capture poignantly the emotions contained within tense moments that parents know so well. I only wish she had an actual website; all of her work is on Flikr, and some of the photos begin to look merely like snapshots, mostly because of a too-cute factor. With a tight edit, on an organized site, I think her work could really showcase those gems that truly
convey what it's like to look at your kids closely through the camera lens. Some of her photographs also have a humor that I appreciate. The dirty dress image is unlike most of her other work, but I included it because I think it's such a great shot; I know that muddy dress after a day in the park all too well. (It occurs to me as I finish writing this that Morgan could be a man, but somehow through the writing and pictures I assumed she was a woman...)
© Morgan Jones
Of course there's always the exceptional Sally Mann, whose work I see with completely new eyes since Edie and June were born. (Some of her images literally make me want to weep, in a good way). But for my purposes I'm trying to limit my focus to work that's presently being produced. I know Mann is still shooting, but her kids are now grown, and as much as I admire her photographs from when they were young, I want to see what's been happening in the art world over the past few years.
I have to say, Google image searching was a bad place to begin; there are a lot of cutesy soft-focus pictures of pregnant women and babies out there. I abandoned that approach and did just a text search and I've begun finding more interesting stuff, all of which I don't have time to organize right now. I'll keep on looking and see what I turn up and write about what strikes me as moving and original. And there are also some great photos being created by fathers, but that's another post entirely. As a teaser check out Robert Knight's Harry Project. I'll be sure to give him and the other photo dads out there the credit they deserve when I have the chance.