peripheral vision

photography by Kate Wilhelm

peripheral vision blog

because making photographs exposes as much about the photographer as the subject

mothers and photography

Lately I’ve been investigating motherhood and photography; not representations of motherhood so much as photography by mothers where their motherhood is the subject. If you google “motherhood and photography,” you get a whole lot of portrait photographers marketing to mothers, not so many photographs from mothers. That tells me that there is something about photography that relates to motherhood, but it also tells me that there is a gap.

Along my recent web travels, one of my first stops was a post by Heather Morton on the subject saying that motherhood is the new black in photography, and giving three photographers’ work as evidence. (Edited to add this link to another photographer exploring motherhood.) Let’s hope so.

Indeed, there seems to be more evidence to support that notion. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered this film, which is yet to be released on dvd, so I haven’t actually seen it. But it looks very promising. Something about the words, “Who does she think she is?” grabbed me from the sidebar of one of the blogs I read, and now I’m trying to figure out how to get my eyes on it. On the surface, the problem of balancing motherhood with art seems analagous to balancing motherhood with a career. Except that I think art is viewed as optional at best and self-indulgent at worst, definitely something that should be sublimated beneath motherhood.

I’m also interested in checking out:

* * *

When I read Between Interruptions: 30 Mothers Tell the Truth about Motherhood last year, I started every new essay hoping find a story like mine. I see lots of stories of women who lose themselves in maternity, who have to redefine themselves in new terms that are compatible with motherhood, and not just in that book. And I don’t mean to deny their stories, not at all; there are as many experiences of motherhood as there are mothers, and we need to respect them all. But when that is pretty much the only experience I hear, I wonder. Am I selfish? Am I doing something wrong?

My experience of motherhood hasn’t been defined by sacrifice or losing myself; if anything I’ve rediscovered myself and my passion. Before I became a mother, I was a drone. I went to work and came home and watched tv or read escapist fiction. But being a mother made me want to live meaningfully, or at least pursue meaning. Or something like that.

* * *

Ever since I got back into photography after my son was born, I’ve viewed my pictures of my son, our home, our family, as a silly maternal exercise, a duty, less serious or important than my other photos. But now I’m looking at the photos from a political perspective. This is life. This is domesticity. Why shouldn’t it be a serious subject of photography?

(I can’t help but think, though, of the photographer who kept bringing his prints to a mentor, even the image that the mentor declared bad year after year. The one the photographer had to climb a mountain to make.

Maybe I’m not really in any position to judge the merit of my domestic photos. Maybe, when I look at pictures of my son, our family, I see the mountain I climbed, the mountain I’m still climbing.)

* * *

Our experience of motherhood doesn’t equal our children. And making photographs of our children isn’t the same as finding a way to photograph motherhood. I don’t know the answer, but I’m interested in looking for one. So here are some of my recent efforts:

morning after_




fishing rod

No idea how this will turn out, but I’m thinking of calling it “Domessticity” or “Do-mess-stick.”

12 Responses to “mothers and photography”

  1. Denguy Says:

    My wife semi-seriously took up photography after we had our first child, too.
    Odd, eh?

  2. Kyla Says:

    The pjs photo! Oh, my heart. Just perfect.

  3. Mad Says:

    I really like the pj torso shot. There’s something about the lines and curves and the way that a mother’s eye is drawn to movement and minutiae in a way that is acts as metonymy for an overwhelming love that couldn’t possibly taken in in its entirety.

    There’s likely more to say but it’s day care pickup time. Ah, motherhood.

  4. Nigel Merrick Says:

    You have some really nice work on here and I love your writing style. The blog name “Peripheral Vision” has to be one of the coolest names I’ve seen and I wish I had thought of it! :-)

    I look forward to reading more from you, and will definitely add a link to your blog from mine.

  5. Andrea Says:

    That’s interesting. Now you’ve got me wondering how you take photographs exploring motherhood without including either children or their detritus. I hope you’ll keep posting your efforts.

    This meaning-and-motherhood thing is funny. I remember losing myself completely. for about eighteen months I couldn’t think of writing anything but blog posts. And I know what those writers mean when they talk about integrating pre- and post-children selves. But at teh same time I know what you mean, too, about finding meaning, or at least finding a motivation to find meaning, after motherhood. Before Frances was born I had a deep dark nihilist streak and struggled with existential depression on a frequent basis. Life was a fluke, nothing we did had any objective or inherent meaning, might as well die. and now, while I still struggle with those questions in the abstract, at the very least the meaning of my own life is crystal clear. And my desire to give my own life a deeper and truer meaning has only intensified. I couldn’t even begin to calculate the value of such a gift.

  6. kate w Says:

    Andrea, I don’t think that photographs exploring motherhood HAVE to exclude children and their detritus; just that photographs of our kids don’t necessarily make motherhood the subject of the photo.

  7. Mad Says:

    OK, I just tried to write a response to this but it ended up getting bogged down in the reality of my life wherein I cannot find literal distance from my child and therefore cannot also achieve artistic distance.

  8. Beck Says:

    Lovely photos AND lovely post.
    I’m not interested, so much, in capturing my experiences with motherhood but I’m not a very… what’s the word? A very introverted mother, I guess.I literally don’t think about it that much – but since I’ve been a mother for nearly a decade now, it’s been my primary adult identity for a LOOONG time. I do take lots of pictures of my kids, but they’re mostly intended as memory prompts for some cold, far-off day when they’re grown and gone. Booo hoooo! I’m crying just thinking about it.

  9. niobe Says:

    I’m with Beck on pretty much all counts. I love the post. I love the photos. (especially the third one) But I’ve been a mother for sooo long (17 years now) that the idea of motherhood isn’t all that significant to me. Well, my own motherhood, anyway. I’m still fascinated by posts like this that give me a window into someone else’s concept of motherhood.

  10. f2point4 Says:

    Hi Kate.

    Thanks for commenting on my blog! Wish you had told me you’d drop in, and I’d have made a coffee!

    So I came to visit you back, and I really liked this entry. It’s very interesting, and a like that fact that you are looking for new angles. I think you made a good start and I am sure it will be a fascinating journey for you.

    All the best for this year, and let us know how your documentary workshop goes, will you?

  11. peripheral vision blog » Blog Archive » on inspiration and mothers Says:

    [...] series (also through JM Colberg). I find her work really interesting, and as I’ve already written here, I’m particularly interested in explorations of motherhood. Apparently, a professor of [...]

  12. peripheral vision blog » Blog Archive » hindsight Says:

    [...] how I wanted to find a way to represent motherhood through photography without using pictures of my kid? Well I think I [...]

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