It always starts with a stray thought buzzing around my head. That little idea is a stubborn bugger. It takes hold and grows a bit bigger. Then bigger still.
Like the idea that just wouldn’t go away – that gut feeling I had that photographing birth stories would be a very special part of the work that I do. I knew that there would be some resistance to it. It’s definitely not for everyone. But I always felt that if I could shoot and show what I had in my head, that amazing emotionally driven story of a baby’s birth, slowly people might start to change their minds. It was a visual answer to the question “why?” – why would you want to be photographed giving birth? And why would you? Well, this is what I think.
I’ve had another idea. I hope you’ll like it.
Today is the end of National Breastfeeding Week in the UK and it inspired me to create a series of portraits to celebrate breastfeeding, to photograph the connection between mum and baby and to capture that really special time in a growing family’s life.
You see, I grew up not really thinking about breastfeeding at all. It seemed the most natural thing in the world for a mum to nurse her baby. It never bothered me if I saw a woman breastfeeding in public when I was younger. If I ever looked twice it was because the look of absolute bliss on the mother’s face was beautiful to see.
But it feels like there is an atmosphere change about it – and not a comfortable one. There have been TV programmes about how young mothers find the idea disgusting, that they wouldn’t dream of doing it, and definitely not in public. I’ve heard firsthand stories about Facebook closing down accounts because an image of a mother nursing her newborn baby was deemed inappropriate. That, quite frankly, astonished me.
And then we are met with the severe idea of militant mothers breastfeeding toddlers and beyond, as if everyone who decides to do it is somehow making some strident political statement and not just making a personal decision about their own body and baby, continuing what they feel is a perfectly natural act.
It’s an either/or situation and extreme situations make the headlines.
So here I am. Thinking I would just find a couple of people who wanted to take part and that it would make a nice blog post to round off National Breastfeeding Week. But when I asked for people to participate, I was really surprised by the warm response I received.
Like all great little ideas, it’s quickly outgrown the brain box it was born in. This single blog post will now become a series of portraits called Milk taken throughout the summer – and it might, possibly, in the not too distant future become an exhibition too.
Serendipity then, that my first breastfeeding portrait in the Milk series is of the very special mum who trusted me enough to become the first birth story that I photographed. Warm and funny Juliet and her gorgeous nearly-nine month old daughter Ezra. Taken at her home, in front of the photo wall that I am extremely jealous of. Her own gallery of family moments and memories. I love it.
Thank you Juliet for taking part and spreading the word so successfully. A different experience than the first time I photographed you, right? This time you kept your clothes on.
If you’d like to be photographed for the Milk series of portraits, I would love to hear from you. You may be celebrating the struggle to breastfeed, enjoying the early connection with your newborn, or hoping to let other mothers know that shame shouldn’t be a reason to stop before you want to. Whatever your experience, it would be a pleasure to tell your story and share your joy.