Breastfeeding is a natural way of feeding your baby, yet, it remains one of the most contested acts . Stories of mothers being shamed for breastfeeding in public are a regular feature in media. As August is breastfeeding awareness month and also women's month, South African specialist photographer Leah Hawker has launched her book titled “Breastfeeding 101” to celebrate breastfeeding moms from around the world. She talks to us about the book.
Tell us about the story behind and inspiration behind your book "Breastfeeding 101"? Amongst other things I work with a lot of birth, new-born and maternity photography and my connections to local midwives and doulas meant my social media feed was saturated in the frenetic current debates surrounding the controversial nature of how women are treated when breastfeeding. I was intrigued that this part of our anatomy was such a contentious issue for so many. The breast is both sexual and nutritive and I think this is a very uncomfortable idea for people to sit with. I loved the idea of exploring the subject as a large scale portrait series and so I started working on it, intuitively, alongside many other self-motivated projects.
How did you go about selecting the mothers you photographed? I felt it was important to re-ignite, conceptually, the oral traditions of passing information between people. It is a strength women share: the act of passing on information and knowledge from generation to generation: between families, friends and support groups. This is an age old concept which benefits us all and which is often lost in the buzz and tech of modern living. So I reached out to two of my cousins who were new mothers and told them about the project. I asked them to share the concept with the women they knew and thus the project unfolded organically: from one mother to the next so that almost all of the mothers in this project are interconnected in some way.
There are only 4 mothers in the entire project of 101 portraits that I actually approached directly.