Poetic Depictions of Motherhood by Women Photographers

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Eye Mama: Poetic Truths of Home and Motherhood
Photography by Luca Marko

Curated by Karni Arieli, Eye Mama brings together more than 150 images of modern-day motherhood. Here, she talks about “documenting the unseen narrative of motherhood”

“I see both the beauty and the dark side of things,” writes Sally Mann in Hold Still: A Memoir of Photographs. “The loveliness of cornfields and full sails, but the ruin as well. And I see them at the same time, at once ecstatic at the beauty of things, and chary of that ecstasy ... for there cannot be any real beauty without the indolic whiff of decay.” It is in these enlisted dualities – of both the chaos and the beauty – that British-Israeli photographer and curator, Karni Arieli, delineates as the capacious experience of what it means to be a modern-day mother in her new photo book, Eye Mama: Poetic Truths of Home and Motherhood

There is the house. The baby, to hold. The plastic animals. The lego scattered across the bedroom floor. The trickles of warm milk. Half-eaten fish fingers, cold peas and coagulated ketchup. The nosebleeds. The tantrums. The hazy light of dusk cast upon a sleeping child.

Curated by Arieli, Eye Mama features a selection of photographs taken by various women and non-binary photographers from across the world, who document their own perspectives of caregiving, capturing the quiet minutiae of everyday life for mothers.

Below, in her own words, Karni Arieli speaks to AnOther about the birth of Eye Mama:

“In the pandemic, I was using social media a lot. During this time, I noticed that everyone, but in particular mother figures, were documenting their home lives. I remember thinking, ‘Why is no one putting together bodies of work, looking at home and motherhood?’ I was so drawn to this body of work, and I knew I had to collect it myself.

“I started an Instagram account called Eye Mama Project, where mothers could submit their images of home. I always knew I wanted to make a book out of this project: to create a statement, saying that these times of being a mother in the pandemic existed – here is the proof. I want it to be a piece of history that someone can hold.

“For the book, I came up with the term, the ‘Mama Gaze,’ which is essentially a flavour of collecting the stories of parenting by figures who consider themselves as mamas. For the book, I was mixing well-known photographers with unknown photographers – any mama figures who had experienced IVF, miscarriage, abortion, adoption, fostering or same-sex parenting.

“Curating this book was much harder than anticipated, as I wanted to make it as inclusive as I could. We had 4,200 images submitted, and we had to narrow it down to 200. The Royal Photographic Society of Bristol gave me a room to curate in and I printed all the images, spending days on end editing and re-editing with the graphic designers to balance the flavour of the book. Eye Mama took a little bit away from my experience of motherhood, and it was such a big project that I would be away for days and nights. It was a passion project, and I couldn’t let go.

“I didn’t want to showcase motherhood as it usually is in popular culture, where it’s beautiful and perfect, with a loss of self and no interest in one’s own wellbeing. Where your body can bounce back to what it was before; that doesn’t exist in real life. I wanted the document to be the unseen narrative of motherhood – the struggles, the humour, the uncertainty, the imperfections, the dark and the light.

“Nothing real is ever just one thing, it’s always a duality. Eye Mama is a book that looks at those dualities. A loss of a new self, but then going on to find the new self. The loss of an old body, but living on in a new body. The notion of finding yourself as a mother. And I find beauty in capturing that duality.”

Eye Mama: Poetic Truths of Home and Motherhood by Karni Arieli is out now.