Mother & Child

Moth­er­hood as seen by pho­tog­ra­pher Clai­borne Swan­son Frank

Milk Magazine (English) - - CONTENTS - Mother & Child, by Clai­borne Swan­son Frank, pub­lished by As­souline, as­

In her book Mother & Child, pub­lished by As­souline, the pho­tog­ra­pher Clai­borne Swan­son Frank ex­plores the mean­ing of be­ing a mother in the 21st cen­tury. Her portraits, to­gether with the words of each of the women she pho­tographed, strive to give tan­gi­ble form to the in­vis­i­ble, yet un­con­di­tional, bond be­tween a mother and her chil­dren.

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Moth­er­hood trans­formed my world. In many ways, I was a child un­til I had my own chil­dren. I never per­son­ally felt like a adult un­til I had my chil­dren and was forced to be re­spon­si­ble for the life, hap­pi­ness and health of an­other hu­man be­ing. Moth­er­hood forces you to grow up. My small re­al­ity of life and my own needs ex­ploded with the birth of my first son. I sud­denly felt a re­spon­si­bil­ity and pur­pose I had never known be­fore. With my new in­sight, I felt in­spired to tell a mod­ern story of moth­er­hood, to doc­u­ment and hon­our this pro­found hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. My hope was to take portraits of moth­ers and their chil­dren that cap­tured love and joy, to try to stop time in a series of portraits – and show how this ex­pe­ri­ence con­nects us all. It’s one of the great com­mon­al­i­ties of hu­man­ity.

How did you choose the moth­ers who took part in this pro­ject?

I chose moth­ers that in­spired me. Moth­ers that are leav­ing their mark on the Earth as they con­trib­ute and cre­ate, all the while hold­ing their role as a mother most high and im­por­tant in their lives.

Is this book a way of celebrating women?

Ab­so­lutely. I set out to cel­e­brate women in all my books.

After meet­ing all th­ese moth­ers, was there a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor of moth­er­hood that struck you?

Yes. I learned how truly univer­sal and hu­man this ex­pe­ri­ence of moth­er­hood is – how this love con­nects us all. I also had the rev­e­la­tion that fam­i­lies are our mod­ern tribes. They give us pur­pose and shel­ter from the world. Our fam­i­lies de­fine a part of who we are and who we want to be. I also learned how each mother is do­ing her very best to be the best par­ent she can be. Be­ing a mother is the most im­por­tant job we all have and we each only get one chance to do it right. I felt in­spired by how im­por­tant each mother found their role was as a mother and how deeply they want to raise lov­ing, kind, thought­ful chil­dren.

You’re a fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher and there­fore quite ac­cus­tomed to pho­tograph­ing women. Is tak­ing pho­tos of chil­dren dif­fer­ent?

I’m a por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher, I shoot fash­ion, but from a por­trait and life­style point of view. My usual cre­ative process did not work in a sin­gle one of the seventy shoots I did for this book... Be­fore, my pro­fes­sional life had been fo­cused on get­ting a per­fect shot. I had quiet, peace­ful sets; I picked the lo­ca­tions and styled the sub­jects. It was all about cre­at­ing a deep in­ti­macy and con­nec­tion with my sub­ject, and cre­at­ing a space for a mo­ment be­tween us in a very con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment. And then, when I started pho­tograph­ing fam­i­lies for this book, all of that went out the win­dow. In ev­ery shoot, there were mo­ments of peace, mo­ments of chaos, and ev­ery­thing in-be­tween. It all seemed out of my con­trol; there was no way to make sure the dress was per­fect, to chore­o­graph the mo­ment, to con­trol or pose a child. It chal­lenged my process and for­mula deeply. At first, I’d leave a shoot and not know what I’d got­ten, if I even had got­ten any­thing us­able. Then I’d get home and go through it all and dis­cover th­ese in­cred­i­ble mo­ments. I’ve re­al­ized that the most beau­ti­ful mo­ment is never the cu­rated mo­ment. I was ba­si­cally re-learn­ing how to be a pho­tog­ra­pher. I was forced to be very present,

and shoot in a freer and looser way, and to trust that the mo­ment would ap­pear and that I’d be able to doc­u­ment it. This cre­ative evo­lu­tion com­pletely mir­rored the evo­lu­tion – and the grow­ing pains – that I’d been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing as a mother.

How ex­actly did ma­ter­nity change you?

I of­ten felt tired and in­tro­verted, but preg­nancy was a very cre­ative time for me. I felt deeply grate­ful for this life grow­ing inside of me – but there was that im­me­di­ate rev­e­la­tion that nei­ther my life nor my body was my own any longer. In many ways, preg­nancy pre­pares you for the re­al­ity that your life no longer be­longs to you alone, that it no longer re­volves solely around your needs and wants.

Do you mean we lose our free­dom and in­sou­ciance when we be­come a mother?

Yes I do. I missed my free­dom in a real way after the birth of my first child, but I got used to it by the time my sec­ond son was born. Once you’re a mom for long enough, you for­get what com­plete free­dom feels like. It’s been years since I’ve slept with­out a baby mon­i­tor. I’d be ly­ing if I didn’t say that there are days when I miss be­ing free, or sleep­ing more than six hours. But I don’t feel re­sent­ful. With that loss of free­dom came this trans­form­ing love, and I was ready for it. Be­com­ing a mother al­lowed me to feel con­nected to life in a dif­fer­ent way. My whole ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing alive was re­de­fined.

Is moth­er­hood what you ex­pected it to be?

I was told that the love be­tween a mother and a child was un­like any other love. I think the great­est gift my chil­dren have shared with me is their love. I feel over­whelmed with grat­i­tude that they have so much un­con­di­tional love for me and I for them. I never knew be­ing a mom would be as much fun as it is and at the same time I had no idea how hard par­ent­ing can be. No one can teach you how to be a par­ent; you have to learn each day and find your own truth as to how you want to raise your chil­dren. Be­ing a par­ent forces you to look at your life and the morals and val­ues you want to in­stall in your chil­dren. Par­ent­ing has forced me to evolve as a hu­man be­ing and be­ing a mother has made me a bet­ter per­son. I don’t think I re­al­ized how much per­sonal growth was nec­es­sary for par­ent­ing.

Did this aware­ness change your re­la­tion­ship with your own mother?

Yes , I think I un­der­stood for the first time what a hard job she had rais­ing three girls. Once you have kids you fi­nally un­der­stand your par­ents in a way you never could be­fore.

Which woman do you think is the ma­ter­nal fig­ure par ex­cel­lence?

I don’t be­lieve there is a per­fect mother... I think ev­ery mother has strengths and weak­nesses. All we can do is give the best of our selves to our chil­dren, love our chil­dren with all we are and try to raise lov­ing, kind hu­man be­ings.

How would you de­scribe moth­er­hood in few words?

Preg­nancy con­firms the re­al­ity that from love you can cre­ate life – this truth blows my mind. It is one of the great­est mir­a­cles of life.

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