I uncovered a strange little coffee klatch bit of posting at a photo blog awhile ago about the difficulty of bidding a job by way of a conference call with a client on the line while you are at the park with your kids. You know the story- kids see you’re on the cell and proceed to hurt themselves, scream your name repeatedly, that kind of thing.
I feel ambivalent about this. If I had been the Art Buyer on that call I would have been shocked and appalled that the photographer didn’t consider the bid important enough to …. Well, to not be at the park I guess. My own desire to be home with my (then) three under four influenced my decision to pursue freelance Art Buying work. That being said, I do carry the front door key in my back pocket in case my cell phone rings and I have to lock myself out (really locking them in) to take the call. At first I was completely in the closet about my family.
But in this scenario, would the photographer be better or worse off had she been a woman?
This is not going to be a posting about the history of women in photography. I actually can’t write about that tonight precisely because I am a mother and have been nursing sick kids for the last week- I just don’t have the energy to give you anything of substance on all that. What I’d rather do is look at the subject matter of a few women photographers in particular and how they have turned their whole lives into their work.
This is likely not at all true, but part of me wants to believe that these shooters could have only been successful because they are mothers. Whereas a handful of years ago, women photographers like Lauren Greenfield were exploring Girl Culture, Motherhood seems to be the new black. Here are just three examples:
Edith Maybin is from Canada:
In these photographs Edith Maybin investigates the space between mother and daughter. The subject is one that Maybin feared at first might be clichéd, but her own experience of motherhood made her realize that there was still more to be said. “There’s so much rubbish talked about that just isn’t what mothers go through,” she says. “There are very strong structures still of what’s expected of her, how she is to perform. I think there’s still a strong Victorianism about how we approach family and work.” She deals with the taboos of motherhood, the fears involved for the child and for one’s self; of the daughter growing up, of losing her and the difficulty of carving out an identity in the space between one’s own mother and daughter.
The Dutch proverb “a Jan Steen household” originated in the 17th century and is used today to refer to a home in disarray, full of rowdy children and boisterous family gatherings. The paintings of Steen, along with those of other Dutch and Flemish genre painters, helped inspire this body of work… the conflation of art and life is an area I have explored in photographing the everyday life of my family… at home.
The expectations of family life have never been more at odds with each other. I believe there are moments that can be found throughout any given day that bring sanctuary. It is in finding these moments amidst the stress of the everyday that my life as a mother parallels my work as an artist, and where the dynamics of family life throughout time seem remarkably unchanged. As an artist and as a mother, I believe life’s most poignant moments come from the ability to fuse fantasy and reality: to see the mythic amidst the chaos.
After five years of jet-setting as a busy commercial photographer, Gearon settled down for the first time and had a family – Emilee, who is seven years old, and Michael, now four. Following what proved to be an emotionally difficult time after the birth of her two children and the break-up of her marriage, Gearon began the highly personal project that launched her, unsuspecting, into an artistic career. The documenting of her extended family has acted as a personal journey for herself and for her family as well, both in a literal and emotional sense. In her photographs as in her life, Gearon’s children form a powerful presence among the domesticity.
These women have received varying degrees of fame and attention because of their motherhood and not despite it. On the other hand, none of the women commercial shooters I know locally have kids. Sometimes I’m asked how a woman commercial photographer can have kids and a successful career. I don’t know. But I think Nancy Vonk (Co-Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto) does. Check out her response to ad legend Neil French’s sexist answer to the question: Why aren’t there more Female Creative Directors? The title of this post on Neil’s Wikipedia entry is: Nancy Vonk’s Famous Blog Post that forced Neil French to resign.
So hat’s off to these three for mixing their home and their work. And hat’s off too to our small group of women commercial shooters in Canada. I’ve had the pleasure of working (or at least quoting) with these ones:
In my effort to expand that list, I’ll encourage all of you to check out this new call for work and add some content to the site: Women in Photography will showcase work, news and ideas from women in the contemporary photo world.
But let’s go back to the park. As I think about my own experience of motherhood and the difficulty of reconciling it with my work, I am increasingly baffled by the decision to take a conference call at the park. Baddadgoodphotographer (yes, that was his screen name): if you are reading this, please explain yourself. And Edith, Julie, and Tierney: keep up the good work. Seeing your kids is almost as good as seeing mine.