Living in a caravan, surrounded by nature, Wood turns the lens on herself for the first time in I Wake To Listen, in her new life as a mother
“I was quite shaken up that morning,” recalls Naomi Wood of the day she gave birth. “It’s such a huge process to go through. And I couldn’t really grasp what had just happened.” She had packed her camera in her hospital bag and, that morning, at the end of a three-day labour, she took it out. “The first thing I did was start to take pictures in the little hospital bay we were in,” she describes. “I think that’s quite often my reaction to things: to take images to make sense of what I’m feeling.”
Her ongoing work, I Wake To Listen, is a continuation of the work that began with the birth of her son, Charlie, and her first experiences of motherhood. Living in a static caravan with her partner while they save money to buy a house, Wood found her world small and close, filled with the daily rhythm of child-rearing, and the constant refrain of its various bodily fluids. “It’s such a fundamental process; it’s so universal,” she says, “but also I found it quite shocking. So having the images does help me; it’s about controlling that [shock] a little, because I’m documenting it.”
Wood began to turn the camera on herself, a new photographic territory for her. “I knew that I wanted [the self-portraits] to be honest, and it’s hard looking at them because they’re not the way I would like to be seen by the world,” she explains. The work portrays the photographer in pyjamas, breastfeeding, her expression often weary. “The initial self-portraits were a lot harsher, and that reflected how I felt at the time: everything was so raw,” she says. “But then there’s a kind of reconciliation. We all have these different stages in our lives; we’re all very nuanced. The therapeutic part is being able to reconcile those different sides of myself.”
“Nature is so beautiful, and I do think mothering can be a little over-romanticised sometimes; sometimes I’m unsure about whether I should be linking the two together so much.”
This reconciliation is embodied particularly by the rich presence of nature within the work. Wood’s caravan is surrounded by it on all sides, and she looks out onto an oak tree, which we watch cycle through bareness and into the full flourish of summer through her lens, the windows misted with dew. “Nature is so beautiful, and I do think mothering can be a little over-romanticised sometimes; sometimes I’m unsure about whether I should be linking the two together so much,” she reflects. “But then, also, nature can be very harsh and brutal.” Mice nest beneath the caravan, and in the summer the surrounding bramble bushes grow so large that they twist through the gaps in the windows. “It’s constantly encroaching on us; it’s all-consuming,” Wood says. “The very early stages of becoming a mother were like that… In a way, nature was reflecting that for me.”
Wood is dedicated to reflecting this kind of duality: that such a primal experience can be as gorgeous as it is challenging. The kitchen sink overfills; the laundry hangs quietly in the light; her son has porridge on his face, and the oak tree comes into bud outside. Wood continues to use photography to make sense of her world. “It’ll keep changing, because our family will change as we go through different stages. I’m always going to be taking photographs of us all,” she says. Will the project ever be concluded? “I believe in feeling things out, so I’ll know as I move through it. I think it’s really important to remain curious.”
Alice Zoo is a photographer and writer based in London. She is interested in the processes by which people construct meaning for themselves, often focussing on its expression in ritual, celebration, and recounted memory. Her work has been exhibited in public institutions such as the National Portrait Gallery, Royal Photographic Society, and Royal Albert Hall, and published in British Journal of Photography, FT Weekend Magazine, The New Yorker, and elsewhere.