Isolation and loneliness: A striking portrayal of unexpected pregnancy

All images © Jade Carr-Daley
This article appears in our 2023 Ones to Watch issue. Secure your copy via the BJP Shop, limited stock available

Ones To Watch winner Jade Carr-Daley’s intimate and open work explores the reality of motherhood as a young Black woman

When Jade Carr-Daley arrived at the University of the West of England in Bristol for a master’s degree in photography in autumn 2021, she planned to develop a project exploring her British-Jamaican heritage. Two weeks into her first academic term, she received the unexpected news that she was pregnant, and her photographic focus shifted. 

“Suddenly I had to be there for someone other than myself,” explains Carr-Daley. Advised by her tutors to photograph prolifically, she documented all aspects of her pregnancy, including doctors’ appointments, her partner and intimate self-portraits.

Not Ready Not Steady GO! is a series in which Carr-Daley reconciles her youth with motherhood’s caregiving expectations – “to become more comfortable in my new role,” she says. The mostly black-and-white photographs are diaristic, combining pregnancy’s familiar motifs – breast pumps, ultrasound scans – with the distinct vulnerability she felt as a young mother, balancing family and university.

“Loneliness was the main theme throughout the pregnancy,” she says. “It was a weird experience; you can’t relate to anyone. Even those that have been pregnant before saying ‘I’ve been there’ doesn’t always help. Because they’re not there right now.” In her self-portraits, Carr-Daley often obscures her body (sometimes with everyday objects like pillows), creating partial or concealed images to convey the sense of isolation. 

Carr-Daley’s British-Jamaican heritage flows into the series. One photograph is an archival image of her family members wearing pin-striped suits, a motif the artist associates with Jamaica. During the pregnancy, her close relationships with her mother and grandmother created a strong network of intergenerational support, with its Caribbean influence. 

Race informed the project in other ways, particularly the young mother’s experience in healthcare. Only once during the pregnancy did she see a Black nurse. “I was constantly having tests done because of my ethnic background,” Carr-Daley says. In hospitals, the implication seemed to be that by not getting invasive tests done, she was increasing the potential of risk to her unborn child. “I felt bad for being a Black pregnant woman. I didn’t get to enjoy it all the time, especially compared with white expectant mothers.”

Not Ready Not Steady GO! became a vehicle for conversations between Carr-Daley and her partner, a prompt for empathy and understanding. Her images show him smiling generously or doing his hair in the bathroom; a young life continuing alongside tremendous change. “Taking the photographs enabled us to have conversations about how he felt,” Carr-Daley says. She invites the viewer to share her perspective – to feel her emotion, to share the load. “Even though it’s my journey, pregnancy also affects everyone else around you.”

“Loneliness was the main theme throughout the pregnancy. It was a weird experience; you can’t relate to anyone. Even those that have been pregnant before saying ‘I’ve been there’ doesn’t always help. Because they’re not there right now”

Carr-Daley was nominated for Ones to Watch by photographer, writer and educator Aaron Schuman, who describes her as “a remarkable artist who – with genuine openness, thoughtfulness, sincerity and clarity – uses the photographic medium to both explore and convey her own life and experiences with incredible intimacy, and at the same time provides complex and valuable insights into the lives and experiences of so many others. Her work is deeply personal and profoundly universal.” 

Artist, designer and educator Alejandro Acín also nominated the photographer. “Jade’s work is constantly growing,” he says. “In her latest work, she shows her commitment, development and versatility exploring one of the most intimate and challenging periods of her life. I cannot wait to see what she does next.” 

Not Ready Not Steady GO! will continue until her son’s first birthday. The series has started to include her postpartum experience and has lightened in tone. A pair of side-by-side close-ups show an image of stretch marks on the skin coupled with the texture of a pancake, a craving Carr-Daley had shortly after giving birth. 

She creates familiar reference points while staying true to her own experience. “I want other women to be able to see my work and think, ‘I know how she felt’,” she says. “When I was pregnant, I would have loved to have seen photography work from a woman of colour: more images of Black bodies.”

Ravi Ghosh

Ravi Ghosh is the deputy editor at British Journal of Photography. Previously, he was an editor at Elephant magazine and worked on the Life & Arts supplement at the Financial Times. He writes on arts and culture for The Guardian, Prospect, Tribune, i-D, Bandcamp, RA Magazine and more. He has also written photobook introductions for Tony Mak and Portrait of Humanity.