Reframing the debate around teenage motherhood

When Raphaela Rosella was a teenager, her twin sister became pregnant. “I called her a slut and told her to get an abortion because I thought she could have a better life,” says the Australian photographer, who is now 27 and took part in last year’s Joop Swart Masterclass.



“But what is a better life? On reflection, I realised my reaction framed my sister’s pregnancy as a social problem. Instead of supporting her choice, I assumed that becoming a mother at a young age was irresponsible and irrational. Most public discourses do not consider that becoming a mother at a young age could ever be a rational choice,” she explains.



Years later, after spending time with a young, homeless mother, pregnant with her third child, Rosella was inspired to start the evocatively titled project, You didn’t take away my future, you gave me a new one. Following mothers Tammara, Nunjul and Rowrow, it proposes that teenage pregnancies aren’t necessarily ‘irrational’ or ‘irresponsible’, and can have positive outcomes.



“Tammara was part of my previous project [about young mothers] and had moved interstate,” says the Brisbane-based photographer. “Her circumstances were now even more complex – she was 17 weeks pregnant, homeless and in a relationship with a partner who was waiting to be sentenced to jail. I wondered whether this baby would be the catalyst for change in her life.”



Despite difficult circumstances, Rosella continued to tell Tammara and her family’s story, and so began her latest project. She immersed herself in each of the women’s lives, photographing with a medium format camera held at waist height so as not to be intrusive, and listening to – and recording – their stories. Presenting these recordings along with her photographs, she aims to go beyond the stereotypes of what makes a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ mother and simply show the complexities of their experiences.



“I was particularly conscious of not presenting the women as vulnerable victims, and [wanted to] avoid reinforcing a stereotype,” she says. “I hope to continue investigating relationships between social class, stigma and gender among young women and men experiencing ‘disadvantage’ in Australia.”

Find more of Raphaela’s work here.

First published in the June 2014 issue. You can buy the issue here.

IPA_NLB11 copy 2 weeks left