Imogen Freeland on pregnancy and motherhood

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“Nothing about the experience of motherhood is linear. It is complex, raw and messy,” says Freeland, one of the winners of Female in Focus 2021

Birth of a Mother by London-based photographer Imogen Freeland is an ongoing project exploring the varied experiences of motherhood. “I fantasised about becoming a mother for years. Long before I fell pregnant,” writes Freeland, in an opening statement to the work. “Though when it eventually came to me, pregnancy took me by surprise and challenged my expectations.”

Freeland sought to photograph women who’ve all experienced pregnancy differently: planned and unplanned, IVF, or through sperm donation. She also photographed women who’ve had terminations, experienced loss, or pre and post-natal depression. Her winning image from Female in Focus 2021 [above] is of twin sisters Tessa and Melanie while they were pregnant at the same time. “It felt like such an incredible privilege to be able to capture them both together just weeks before the first of the two gave birth,” says Freeland. “Their journeys to motherhood are both unique and yet miraculously in sync.”

Here, the artist discusses her work, what she learned through making it, and her hope to inspire more honest conversations. 

BJP: You photograph the pregnant body beautifully, but in a way that also feels natural and normal. What are your thoughts on the depiction of pregnant bodies in popular media? Was this something you wanted to challenge in your work?

Imogen Freeland: There is often an unrealistic example of the female body in popular media that makes women feel inadequate when they pursue and can’t achieve that impossible standard. 

Because of this, the postpartum body is often shrouded in shame instead of celebrated. And this brutally discounts the heroism of motherhood. 

I wanted to challenge that and capture the intimate and candid beauty of this physically transient and fragile time in a way that often goes unseen.

BJP: You connected with many other mothers while making this work. What did you learn from them?

IF: I learned a lot about the resilience of women. We all have different desires and challenges. Nothing about the experience of motherhood is linear. It is complex, raw and messy for everyone, yet there’s always someone that has experienced what you are going through. You are never the only one. 

I photographed women who’d had planned and unplanned pregnancies, IVF, used sperm donation, had terminations, experienced loss, pre and postnatal depression… Each of their experiences is unique. I met and photographed a lot of strong women.

 

BJP: Do you think enough conversations are being had about the varied experience of pregnancy and motherhood, and do you think society adequately prepares people to become mothers?

IF: I think we are having more of these conversations than ever before, but we still have a long way to go. Looking back to my school years, I remember the emphasis always being placed on safe sex. However, we were offered little to no insight into the maternal experience. I learned about the challenges of motherhood first-hand and through those closest to me.

Society often represents the maternal experience in an idealised way that can create unrealistic expectations and so when faced with a reality that doesn’t align with these it can lead to a feeling of inadequacy and personal failure. My hope is that my work can inspire a more honest conversation around motherhood to shape healthier expectations and reassure women that they are not alone in their experiences.

BJP: In a recent episode of The Messy Truth podcast, Gem Fletcher and Ying Ang talk about becoming mothers, and how they felt the need to hide their pregnancies at the beginning because they were scared to lose work. Has becoming a mother affected your career as a photographer?

IF: It’s sad how common this is. I’m certainly always very aware of this when it comes to discussions about work and how I navigate these conversations. I haven’t had any glaringly obvious experiences where it has lost me work, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it had. 

I personally find it incredibly naive when somebody presumes motherhood will be a hindrance when it comes to my capacity to work because there has never been a time where I have been more driven and multifaceted when it comes to my ability to multitask, rationalise, empathise and negotiate than since I became a mother.

imogenfreeland.com

Female in Focus 2022 is now open for entries, calling on photographers across the world to consider the many shapes and forms our sense of home can take. Enter now.