Lina Scheynius’ intimate study of childbirth

One of the final images in Lina Scheynius’ new photobook 11 depicts a crimson placenta. Cradled in a midwife’s gloved-palm, the organ glistens beneath the harsh glare of a delivery room spotlight. “It was an amazing moment,” says Scheynius, “the midwife scooped it up and showed that it looked like a tree — she called it the tree of life.” The photographer’s best friend, Amanda, around whose pregnancy the book is based, decided to take the placenta home and plant an actual tree on it it. “They are supposed to be really nourishing,” says Scheynius.

11 is the most recent installment in a series of books that the photographer has been creating since 2008. Bound in clean, white parchment-like paper, the A5 volumes comprise diaristic images that reflect Scheynius’ emotions and her frame of mind at the time of making. “They feel like sketchbooks to me,” says Scheynius, who tacks each image onto the walls of her living room, which also doubles as her studio, before arranging them into book form. The photographs are united by Scheynius’ distinct approach — everyday moments cast in hazy light; intimate scenes revealed with bold directness. 

© Lina Scheynius

Scheynius’ previous 10 editions were largely autobiographical. Book 11 is different. It is the first publication that does not feature Scheynius; instead, it traces the final month of Amanda’s pregnancy and the birth of her daughter, Ruby. “Originally we were just discussing whether or not I should be in the room,” says Scheynius. “It was only later that we had the idea to make a book out of the experience.” The photographer remained with the couple for the entire delivery, which lasted 36 hours. 

Scheynius was particularly struck by the amount of waiting involved. “I did not realise that there is all this time in between when the body is just preparing to push,” she says. “And the photos are emotional”. In some, Amanda lazes around the house and garden, her swollen belly dappled in sun or spattered with bubble bath, in others, she struggles through labor — her body contorted and weary.

© Lina Scheynius

“They feel like sketchbooks to me”

© Lina Scheynius

“I have never taken so long to make a book,” says Scheynius. “Amanda was really involved. She looked at the layout and there was a lot of back and forth, which made it a much longer process.” Scheynius also had to rapidly remove the images from her living-room wall. “It was just too emotional,” she explains. “I just thought, I can’t have these on my walls, they are too much.” The resulting images present a nuanced depiction of birth; embodying the intimate and complex journey of childbirth. 

“I like the idea of giving viewers a window into something, which they are not used to seeing,“ says Scheynius, who was inspired by Nobuyoshi Araki’s monograph The Sentimental Journey, which captured private moments from the photographer’s wedding and honeymoon. “Giving birth is most associated with pain,” continues Scheynius, “but actually there are so many different moments and emotions.” 

Book 11 is self-published by Lina Scheynius. 

© Lina Scheynius
Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she was Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.