The Swedish photographer documents her best friend during the final month of her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter in a beautiful and unflinching new publication
For Swedish photographer Lina Scheynius, the pregnancy of her best friend, Amanda, presented the chance to capture one of life’s most awe-inspiring occurrences. Scheynius has long enthralled audiences with her dreamy, diaristic style of image-making, documenting intimate, introspective elements of her everyday life – from snapshots of her friendships and romantic encounters to dimly lit interiors, expansive skyscapes and serene still lifes. For her newest project, however, a photo book titled 11, she has turned her lens to Amanda’s world – documenting the final month of her friend’s pregnancy and the birth of her baby daughter, Ruby, in May 2018.
“Amanda was already an important part of my diary work, but this was obviously a completely new situation for both of us,” Scheynius tells AnOther of the very personal collaboration. “We both had the idea separately and then it took a couple of months for us to ask each other. She was more hesitant than I was, and we talked through it thoroughly before the birth and made a list of rules so that it was all clear beforehand what the boundaries were.” Scheynius explains that the project was partially influenced, on her part, by the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. “He photographed his honeymoon and made a book out of it, and I’ve always been very inspired by that sentimental journey. This is similar in that it’s an important event taking place over a short space of time.”
The resulting photographs are a captivating documentation of both the action and inaction involved in pregnancy and labour (“I was surprised by how much of it is a form of waiting and anticipation,” Scheynius says). In some shots, Amanda is seen outdoors, peacefully at one with nature; in others, her pain and discomfort is tangible. “I wanted to offer a bit more nuance on what giving birth looks like,” Scheynius explains. The images are frequently presented in complementary pairs, to clever effect. In one instance, Amanda’s round belly sits opposite a still life of two similarly rotund medical bowls, while in another, a picture of Amanda breathing in gas and air on a hospital bed is contrasted with an image of her floating calmly in the sea.
As in Scheynius’s previous work, which embraces bruises and bodily fluids, the photographer does not shy away from the more visceral elements of the birth, depicting hypodermic needles and the baby’s crimson placenta in the same poetic manner as she approaches the tender portraits of her friend. “The placenta is a very powerful image,” the photographer says. “When the midwife held it up she said, ‘It’s the tree of life.’” On witnessing the moment that Ruby was born, Scheynius reflects, “I didn’t know just how emotional it was going to be – also for me. When she came out, I hadn’t slept at all for 36 hours, but I still had so much energy; I felt wide awake and alive. It was really beautiful. I think my bond with Ruby will always be extra special.”
11 by Lina Scheynius is available now.