While she’s used to taking celebrity portraits like those of actress Keira Knightley, chef Jamie Oliver or the rock band Beastie Boys, photographer Jenny Lewis shows that she’s just as skilled at capturing beautiful portraits of mother and child. One Day Young is a touching photo project that shows mothers with their babies within 24 hours of their birth. Lewis didn’t know any of the mothers beforehand, rather, she called out for participants in the London borough of Hackney with this message:
“My aim is to capture the extraordinary bonding, warmth and strength between mother and infant. In fact the whole range of amazing emotions felt at that time, as the mothering instinct kicks in. Having had a home birth, I am particularly interested in catching this moment of intimacy in the home, where the outside world has not burst the bubble…”
Look through the photographs and you’ll see a wide range of emotions displayed on each woman’s face. However, there’s one feeling that runs throughout…pride. “Motherhood really brings people together, it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got, or what your job is, you’ve just done this amazing thing so everyone feels joyous and proud,” Lewis said.
Update: We were lucky enough to get a hold of Lewis to ask her some questions. Read that interview, below.
What inspired you to want to start this series?
I’m not entirely sure. I think having had two amazing natural births, one in a pool in the hospital and one at home, I felt I had a duty to women to let them know it could be ok to offer images of support and encouragement. I had grown up knowing nothing surrounding birth except pain and fear until I came across Ina May’s birth stories by chance. Just reading those stories made me realize that if they could do it so could I. I felt supported and encouraged by women I had never met and wanted to pass the same message onto other women, not being a writer a series of images seemed to be the way to do this.
Emotionally, how were the moms? Were they calm, frantic, or excited?
I was completely surprised at the serenity I found at each house. You imagine mayhem, screaming and crying and drama, yet in reality, you are invited into the calmest space ever. It got me thinking that post birth is so misrepresented in our culture/media and this is unhelpful to women and new families. If you were told about this overwhelming calmness, women would feel reassured they would be able to cope. The only stories I heard before I had my children were ones of pain straight to sleepless nights. This episode of pure joy seemed to be missing, so it was a surprise to me.
How many women did you photograph in all?
I’ve shot around eighty case studies and have a further thirty booked. Obviously, you never know if anyone will be home within 24 hrs if they go to hospital so I won’t be photographing all of them.
What is your favorite portrait and why?
All the subjects who have taken part mean so much to me, from the woman who told me she lost her previous baby in childbirth, while I was taking pictures of her son who was four hours old, to the woman with her fourth healthy child. The mother who finally had a child after 10 years of IVF and numerous miscarriages, to the woman whose own mother died in childbirth that she never got to meet her. There are so many stories – single mothers, women struggling with older handicapped children, and a young couple who had only just met and got a little over-excited on New Years Eve. All of these stories are entwined for me with the images and I find it impossible to single any one out.
What did you learn from creating this series?
Having photographed all sorts of people for years, I was struck by the lack of self consciousness in these portraits. It really made me think about all the barriers people put up and the masks they hide behind when they are faced with a camera. These are, by far, the most natural portraits I have ever taken. The women are just themselves with nothing to prove, they have such a sense of pride and strength.
Is the project ongoing?
I expected to work on the project for six months, but three years later I am still shooting and still getting goosebumps during every session. I am looking for a publisher and somewhere to exhibit the series at the moment. Maybe that will be my deadline to stop, or at least stop this series and start another.