Motherhood & Pregnancy by Simone Steenberg

10.05.2020 | Art , Blog , Culture | BY:

When looking at motherhood and its lineage within the canon of art history, images of Madonna and Child are at the forefront. A prevalent symbol in Christian iconography, depictions were greatly diversified by Renaissance masters such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Caravaggio. Yet it was only in the last century that motherhood emerged from the skirts of the Madonna into a space of critical and conceptual practice. During the 1970s second-wave feminism nudged a more rigorous and expanded consideration of women’s issues into the arena. Take artist Mary Kelly’s Post Partum Document 1973 – 1979; a six-year documentation of Kelly’s relationship with her newborn son that includes drawings, annotations, and recorded conversations. 

Naturally, photography became a popular medium through which to depict motherhood and to reflect the fascination and controversy it attracts. Sally Mann’s Immediate Family series from 1992, capturing her naked and roaming free children highlights a departure from the stereotypical portrayal of motherhood that dominated contemporary visual culture. 

Like photography itself, the expectations and demands of motherhood are in flux; both subject and medium grapple for new meaning in a changing world. Simone Steenberg’s series Motherhood & Pregnancy explores just this, as she records the transformation that women experience on this journey. Capturing this transitory state of the female body is simultaneously an exploration of their strengths and vulnerabilities. 

Steenberg’s subjects are observed in varied guises. Some are adorned in flamboyant and playful outfits positioned in both assertive and contrived poses within the studio setting, some proudly nurse their new-born within the familiar domestic setting, while others are immersed in water, gracefully floating in what appears to be their natural habitat. Ultimately, Steenberg’s series showcases how women navigate an experience that is both collective and deeply personal. 

Using analog film cameras, Steenberg began documenting mother and child three years ago;

I’ve always been intrigued by the different states women go through, the physical and psychological transformations, and especially the different shapes of the female body. The women I photograph are a mixture of friends, women I cast through Instagram or women who contact me directly. I shoot everything with analog so it’s a very performative and intimate process. I love shooting outdoors in nature and I feel the pregnant body relates so beautifully to mother earth, its curves, and diverse landscapes. “

With a background in fashion photography, Steenberg was sensitive to the stereotypical image of the pregnant woman; 

Maternity/ Pregnancy shoots have always been done in a certain way, very polished and not hugely sensual or empowering. I want to produce images which challenge the norms and beauty ideals inherent in society, and where women have ownership of their bodies and are allowed or free to express pleasure and desires. I want to create a special experience, an exchange between me and my subject, where we reveal things about ourselves to each other. It is very much about intimacy and trust.

The dialogue Steenberg fosters with her subjects allows for images that present the reality of motherhood; beautiful, personal, raw – matter of fact; one of the main elements in this project is that everyone involved learns and grows from working together. 

The intimate bond between photographer and subject is reflected in her documentation of various mothers breastfeeding their children; a natural and universal exchange, yet one that has forever been tainted by cultural perceptions. Steenberg wishes to celebrate this intimate bond, yet without sentimentality; “I’ve done many images of women breastfeeding where I highlight their milk leaking. I want to open up a dialogue about this phenomenon, and also celebrate this state and the natural wetness created from women’s bodies.

Acknowledging that she has yet to experience motherhood, Steenberg draws on her fascination with the relationship between women and water. We observe it in the milk that oozes from her subject’s breasts and the mouths of the naked, heavily pregnant females surrounded by water reeds, or those who flow freely in the lakes near to her hometown in Copenhagen; 

I see water as reflective, always bouncing back and forward, like an exchange. I grew up in Copenhagen, surrounded by the ocean, and have always felt very close to the water. I am fascinated by the effect it has on us, which is why I believe it has become such an essential part of my photography. 

The mother has unprecedented visibility and influence in both our cultural and political spheres. As a result, our evolution into a technological dependent and consumer-driven planet has given rise to an obsession with social platforms that host a growing number of communities.

‘The Mummy Blogger’, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are vessels for celebrity bumps and babies; literature and film regularly take mothering as their main storyline; and in society, debates around women’s work-life balance and childcare are in regular political focus. Instead of fetishizing the mother, Steenberg offers a reflective and safe environment where her subjects are allowed to express their connections and experiences of motherhood. Steenberg’s images are consistent in that they always manage to convey the intense power and beauty inherent to mothering. Pain and happiness are paired with the exhaustion and vulnerability of motherhood; all of which must be acknowledged as part of this collective and deeply personal journey. 

Be sure to keep up with Simone’s journey and her latest series via instagram.

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The Great Mother at the Trussardi Foundation

26.08.2015 | Art , Blog | BY:

Mum/Mamma/Maman: the word signifying ‘mother’ is almost a universal term – and with good reason. The authority of Mamma is particularly synonymous with Italy, so its seems only fitting that what the Trussardi Foundation’s latest contemporary art exhibition at Palazzo Reale in Milan will explore the mother figure as a subject of admiration, myth, historical significance and artistic inspiration. Curated by director Massimiliano Gioni (the artistic director of the Venice Bienale 2013), the show will run from August 25 to November 15.

127 international artists will be exhibited over 20,000 square feet, analysing the iconography of motherhood in the 20th and 21st centuries. Highlights include work from Julie Den Hagg (pictured above, courtesy of Rineke Dijkstra and Marion Goodman Gallery), Anna Maria Maiolino (below, first picture, courtesy of Galleria Raffaella Cortese) and and Joan Jonas (below, second picture, photograph by Roberta Neiman). The Great Mother aims to celebrate women’s power, not only as a life-giving, creative force, but also the story of female empowerment over the course of the past 100 years. No subject will be overlooked, from gender struggles to sexual politics, and one of the exhibition’s goals is to encourage women to be active participants in the representation, rather than just its subject.

Until 15 November,

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Light Fantastic

02.02.2012 | Blog | BY:

As Vice’s former picture editor, curator of online gallery Tiny Vices and snapper for untold fashion magazines, Tim Barber is a prolific image-maker. His new book Untitled Photographs, is a selection of his images taken over the last 15 years and tonight sees the London launch of an exhibition of the images where Barber will also be signing copies.

Held together by no specific theme, his images are poetic plays on light and space. Taking images of everyday experiences, there’s an anonymity to his photographs that hints at stories the viewer can only imagine. Whether it’s a girl teetering over the precipice of New York or an alien smoke puff hanging above a kitchen sink, Barber’s camera intimately and lovingly records moments in life.

Tim Barber: Untitled Photographs exhibition and book signing is tonight at 7pm at Mother, Biscuit Building, 10 Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DD


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