For more than fifteen years, I have been photographing mothers and families. During our photography sessions, these women and their partners have shared with me their personal triumphs and challenges. It is their wisdom, guidance, laughter, spirit and grace that has inspired me to be all I can be not only as a photographer, but also as a person. I dedicate these stories to all of these women who have blessed my life in the past seventeen years. I share these stories here and more of them in my book Portraits of Pregnancy: The Birth of a Mother so others can benefit as I have. Continue reading →
As an artist, I am constantly trying to challenge myself. I want my work to continue to evolve but stay true to my mission of making pregnant women feel beautiful about their bodies and their experience. In 2004, I wanted to explore working with several women over the entire forty weeks of their pregnancy. I thought that it would be inspiring to discuss with them what they were going through mentally, emotionally and physically and then go into the studio and document it using movement, fabric, focusing techniques and film.
I met Janet Ko in 2004. She answered our call for pregnant women to document for forty weeks. After interviewing what seemed like hundreds of moms, she stood out in the crowd. She was 44, had a small child, and had had some medical complications during her first pregnancy. She was completely present during our initial interview, honest, emotionally available and articulate about her experiences. She was also a former modern dancer. I knew she would be the perfect woman to work with, who could clearly communicate her experiences during the previous four months well enough for me to make some photographs.
My intention for this section “Our Mother’s Stories” has been to do an interview and then write a brief essay. But I was reading through Janet’s journals that she kept for me during the forty weeks and I felt it was best to post her own words. The photos that accompany this essay were taken during the early stages of her pregnancy.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Jenna Bommer has a soft and gentle Southern accent that only reveals itself when she says certain words. She and her husband Jason met in New Orleans in 1992 and eventually moved to Seattle in 1998. I have known Jenna since 2002. Now pregnant with her third baby, Jenna has commissioned me to photograph all three of her pregnancies.
Jenna and I met to go through her proofs from our shoot on the day after the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. She was almost due and couldn’t eat much because of extreme heartburn. She seemed quiet. When I asked her how she was, she was thoughtful with her reply, saying she had spent the anniversary thinking about the horrible things the people from her hometown had endured and their suffering. She said, “if you are from New Orleans, everyone you know has a story.” But she was quick to comment about how blessed her family was compared to the many families who are still struggling almost two years later.
I met Jodi and her husband Mark in Seattle in May of 2009. I was in the middle of a crazy travel schedule that was a combination of book tours, photographing clients in my different studios and caring for my father who just had surgery and lived in a remote part of South Dakota. Fourteen airplanes in less than two weeks was pushing even my limits to stay centered. And while I was having a great time, I made sure to keep up with my morning dog walks, meditations and workouts at the gym so that this frenetic energy didn’t spill over into my studio time with my clients where I like to be calm and relaxed. My photography sessions start with me relaxing in my chair, pen in hand to take notes, and my clients sitting on the couch looking at my work. I like to get to know the people who I am about to create something with.
Jodi briefly touched on the fact that she had a difficult pregnancy at the beginning of our session as we were getting to know each other. I know getting pregnant, staying pregnant and the actual pregnancy isn’t easy for many of my clients. Expectations are sometimes vastly different from the reality of the pregnancy and birth. So this wasn’t new to me to listen and empathize with a mom having a particularly difficult time. Jodi didn’t elaborate and seemed to take it in stride. She emanated a grace and strength that she was just going to get through it, and not let it bring her down.
I saw them ten weeks later to show them their beautiful proofs from our session together. It wasn’t until they returned with a beautiful little girl that I realized how truly special and inspiring a woman Jodi is, AND what a truly difficult and challenging pregnancy, birth and post-partum she had endured and was still enduring.
Sharon Kaufman, 36, quietly walked into my studio on West 27th. I almost didn’t hear her. She was a well-dressed woman, wearing the traditional NY color, black, and around her neck was a delicate silver necklace from Tiffany. On it was a bean – the nickname she and her husband had given to the baby she was carrying. The necklace was a gift from her husband when they found out she was pregnant, after many months of trying.
Sharon was nervous and excited for her shoot. These images would be a surprise for Bob for their first anniversary.
Following the traditional paper theme for first anniversary gifts, she wanted to incorporate her pregnancy into the gift and came up with the idea of having maternity photographs taken as a “paper present.” She wrote Bob a poem, hinting of the gift but kept the photo session a secret.
After researching many maternity photographers online, she told me that she loved my portfolio. She was also very impressed that we responded immediately to her initial phone call and how my team stayed in touch with her during the booking process, taking special care to tell her what to expect. Of course this all made me feel great.
And now, here she was at my studio. We began her shoot the same way I do with all my clients, with a brief conversation and some yoga. We got along very well. I was completely taken by the love she had for her husband and her thoughtfulness of the gift including writing the poem.
I met Sarah Mann in Brooklyn, New York while staying with a friend in a cool loft that once was a sewing factory. The quintessential artist’s crib, the loft was a bit rough around the edges, but over the years the environment had become a beautiful creation from being inhabited by artists.
A jewelry designer by trade, Sarah was always active, riding her bike through the streets of Manhattan in a torrential downpour, or heading out for a long walk. Her life never appeared stressful or overly packed with things to do—everything flowed. She always seemed calm but at the same time always was telling rich thoughtful stories about meaningful relationships and activities. She was the most balanced person I had met.
I remember being surprised when Sarah and I were taking a walk around Prospect Park in Brooklyn and she shared her secret with me. She wanted to have a baby and was starting to prepare to do it by herself. At 35, she realized the window was closing for her and while she still had time for a meaningful relationship, time for having a baby was running out. I was also thinking about having children and I marveled at her thoughtful approach.
Sarah began her journey by joining Single Mothers by Choice, a support group dedicated to helping single women wanting to have children, or who are currently pregnant or who already have children. She spent the next year as a “thinker.” Other members of the group were called triers, adopters or mothers. Sarah’s year allowed her to research thoroughly what would become her next roll. She wanted to make sure she was ready mentally and emotionally to become a mother before she became pregnant.
Many years ago we found out that we could not have a baby without medical intervention. Being a mother was something I wanted for so long, but surprisingly, getting the news was not as devastating as I would have expected. In fact, it was almost freeing. It was as if someone or something had simply pointed me down a different path. There was an odd peace about it.
Years passed and I became fulfilled in my career and the joy of being an aunt. I suppose I looked for other ways to “mother” and felt I was contributing to the world in ways other than by raising a child.
Through a series of coincidences, I ended up volunteering to assist a group of Tibetan monks while they were visiting and touring the U.S. They stayed in our home while they were teaching and performing in the Seattle area. As we pulled up to our driveway, I remember being a little embarrassed at the size of our house, especially given what they are used to; sleeping multiple people per room with a dirt floor in India. I apologized for the size of our home and explained that when we bought it, we thought we’d have a family, but that it wasn’t possible. Continue reading →