back to blog
featured

9 Photographers Picturing Motherhood

When it comes to depicting motherhood, stereotypes abound. From the age-old Madonna and Child to today’s celebrity moms beaming from magazine covers, motherhood endures as and subject of both fascination and controversy. For decades, artists have worked to change the ways in which childbearing and child-rearing have been perceived. The following photographs illuminate truths about the experience and potential of motherhood.

Justine Kurland, Baby Tooth, 2011. © Justine Kurland

Justine Kurland, Baby Tooth, 2011
© Justine Kurland

Justine Kurland

Drawn to the road and its possibilities, Justine Kurland spent the better part of twelve years traveling the United States in a van. Her son, Casper, played a key role in the resulting book, Highway Kind, often accompanying her, and determining the direction of her photographs. Traversing her role as both artist and mother, Kurland’s work reflects a delicate balance between the need for routine and the desire for freedom and escape.

LaToya Ruby Frazier, Mom Relaxing My Hair, 2005. © LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier, Mom Relaxing My Hair, 2005
Courtesy the artist, Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/Rome, and Michel Rein, Paris/Brussels

LaToya Ruby Frazier

LaToya Ruby Frazier collaborated with her mother and grandmother to create an intergenerational exploration of the legacy of racism and economic decline in America’s small towns, as embodied by her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania. The Notion of Family is a statement both personal and truly political—an intervention in the histories and narratives of the region.

Doug Dubois, My mother on the bathroom scale, Oldwick, NJ, 1999. © Doug DuBois

Doug Dubois, My mother on the bathroom scale, Oldwick, NJ, 1999
© the artist

Doug DuBois

Doug DuBois photographed his family for over twenty years to produce …all the days and nights. His intimate portraits resonate with emotional immediacy, offering a potent examination of family relations, and what it means to subject personal relationships to the unblinking eye of the camera.

Mary Ellen Mark, Erin (who previously went by her street name “Tiny”) pregnant with Daylon, Seattle, 1985

Mary Ellen Mark, Erin (who previously went by her street name “Tiny”) pregnant with Daylon, Seattle, 1985
© the artist

Mary Ellen Mark

“Tiny” (Erin Charles) is unforgettable. Mary Ellen Mark first met the fiercely independent thirteen-year-old living on the streets of Seattle, and continued photographing her for over 30 years. Now in her forties, Tiny has ten children, and Mary Ellen Mark’s Tiny: Streetwise Revisited remains a unique perspective on class, motherhood, addiction, and ultimately, love.

Elinor Carucci, Bath, 2006Courtesy the artist and Prestel

Elinor Carucci, Bath, 2006
Courtesy the artist and Prestel

Elinor Carucci

For her project, Mother, Carucci documented nine years of raising her twins, from the expectance of pregnancy, to the chaos of their youth. The resulting work peels back the sentimental façade of motherhood, revealing the rawness, banality, and beauty of her reality.

Learn more about Mother here.

 

Sally Mann, Damaged Child, 1984© the artist

Sally Mann, Damaged Child, 1984
© the artist

Sally Mann

When Immediate Family was first published in 1992, Sally Mann’s intimate photos of her children—roaming naked and free on their family farm in Virginia—were a dramatic and controversial departure from stereotypical portrayals of motherhood that dominated visual culture at the time.

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipoma, CA, 1936

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipoma, CA, 1936

Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange, who documented rural poverty for the federal Farm Security Administration throughout the Great Depression, is perhaps best known for this image. “Migrant Mother,” portraying a thirty-two-year-old mother in a pea-picker’s camp struggling to feed her seven children, would become an icon of the era.

Alive Proujansky, Jen Carnig holds her son Wiley James Carnig Lavoie immediately after his birth at home as her husband Dan Lavoie, daughter Olive Carnig-Lavoie and best friend Lisa Johnson, look on. 2013. Courtesy the artist.

Alice Proujansky, Jen Carnig holds her son Wiley James Carnig Lavoie immediately after his birth at home as her husband Dan Lavoie, daughter Olive Carnig-Lavoie and best friend Lisa Johnson, look on, 2013
Courtesy the artist

Alice Proujansky

Alice Proujansky’s project, Women’s Work, follows women as they navigate childbirth, motherhood, and career, offering insight into the challenges that many mothers face in maintaining their personal and professional identities along the way.

Proujansky is also the author of Go Photo! An Activity Book for Kids.

Robin Schwartz, Rascal, Albino Wallaby, 2010. © Robin Schwartz

Robin Schwartz, Rascal, Albino Wallaby, 2010
© the artist

Robin Schwartz

Robin Schwartz began collaborating with her daughter, Amelia, when Amelia was just three years old. Now eighteen, Amelia has become her mother’s muse. Amelia and the Animals depicts their journey into invented worlds and fables, and has brought the two closer. “Photography gives us the opportunity to access our dreams,” Schwartz said, “to discover the extraordinary.”

Sign up for Aperture's weekly newsletter: