Motherhood: The first twenty-four hours

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the next installment of the FullBleed series, established portrait photographer Jenny Lewis shares her motives for, and experiences of, documenting mothers and their babies, the day they were born. Conceived as a project that would present childbirth as an empowering and positive experience, One Day Young, captures the rawness of those first moments between mother and child. The documentary reveals Lewis’ experiences of entering into such intimate settings and what she took away from these encounters.  
Moving to Hackney over twenty years ago, Lewis began her career processing films at Metro Imaging. She soon started receiving commissions from big music magazines, such as Kerrang and NME, photographing the likes of Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. Lewis is still an editorial photographer, undertaking commissions for an array of impressive clients, but she is also committed to her personal work, much of which centres on her experience of living and working in East London.

FullBleed founder Jude Edginton presents a moving insight into the evolution of the project, from its fruition to its current articulation. “I think I was just terrified that if people knew I was a mother they wouldn’t commission me,” recounts Lewis. Driven to capture the strength of new mothers, she set out to find women who would let her photograph them within the first twenty-four hours of giving birth.“I felt really strongly that I should tell people it’s going to be OK by photographing women the day after they’d had a baby.”
The documentary follows Lewis as she cycles along the streets of Hackney, remembering the process of finding and photographing the 150 subjects she captured for the project. Lewis began by leafleting throughout her borough, initially skeptical as to whether anyone would reply. Gradually the responses started flooding in, marking the start of a series that would continue for the next five years.

One Day Young © Jenny Lewis
“I think for me as a portrait photographer, the most interesting portraits I’ve ever taken are of these normal women, amazing people, who live down the road from me in doors that I’ve cycled past 100 times, whether it’s a five-story mansion or an estate down the road,” she remarks.
“You know it’s such a raw moment within those first 24 hours. The mother’s eyes are so wide with wonder with what she’s achieved,” observes Lewis. Her portraits, a selection of which are interspersed throughout the film, capture the intensity of that first day. Photographed in the interior of their homes, with natural lighting, the images offer a candid insight into these women’s experiences and, in doing so, a reassurance to others to not be afraid.
One Day Young © Jenny Lewis
With the project coming to a natural conclusion for Lewis in London, she began to think about exploring this moment in other cultures. WaterAid invited her to take the project to Malawi to look at the challenges of maternal health, which presented the perfect opportunity to do so. Photographing mothers faced with much greater adversity than those back home, Lewis was struck by the universality of those first moments of motherhood.
“You still had that intense pride and fierce love and relief and joy and of course the babies were utterly perfect. So at that moment everything was kind of the same even though the challenges they’d faced were much greater.”
The documentary captures Lewis’ passionate commitment to the project, dedicated to presenting an alternate perspective on what is often presented as a distressing experience. The first installment of the project has recently been published as a book, but the series is far from over: “I don’t think that’s the end of the journey for One Day Young. I don’t know what’s next, but I’m sure there’ll be another moment to explore,” says Lewis.
To learn more about Jenny Lewis and her work, watch the complete documentary on FullBleed.TV. For more FullBleed films, sign up to FullBleed’s channel and keep an eye on BJP’s Twitter and Facebook for new releases.
One Day Young © Jenny Lewis