Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Lisa Blaschke, CPP, New Braunfels, Tx, USA
The art of photography of breastfeeding: one mother’s development as an artist and photographer of breastfeeding mothers.
I remember my first experience of watching a photograph come through in the dark room. Fumbling in the dark with my roll of film, mixing chemicals, shaking, rinsing, and opening the canister to reveal my images in negative form. Then the excitement of transferring those images onto paper—big, bold, black and white, my cat’s face came through in the developer. I was hooked. I was studying photojournalism in college. I photographed my campus, my college friends, my cat. Within five years of discovering my passion for photography, I discovered an entirely new passion with the birth of my first daughter. All at once the universe came together for me and I found joy in photographing her. My cat now took the background in my photos as I focused on my baby. I took roll after roll of images. Her first cry, her first smile, her first tooth, her first steps. But those images were missing a very important part of my baby’s life—her mom. We spent so much time breastfeeding in those early months and I wanted to capture some of that special time on film. But how was I to do it myself?
I set up the tripod and positioned myself in front of the camera to nurse. That didn’t work out like I’d hoped. I really needed to see what I was photographing. I gave the camera to my husband, entered in the proper settings and told him how to work it. “Just push this button,” I said. But, no, he was no better than the tripod. I was left with a few badly composed, horribly lit images that did nothing to instill me with the sense of awe that I felt while nursing. I didn’t understand how the photos could look so bad when I felt as though I was doing something so beautiful and magical.
I studied the great artists who had painted breastfeeding moms. Picasso had it right. Leo Jansen could see it, as could the artists Andrea Solario, Leonardo DaVinci and Rembrandt. I soon realized that my study of photography did not include portraiture. I’d been trained and worked in photojournalism and I lacked the skills I needed to create the images I wanted. I tried to have my breastfeeding portrait done professionally. But the photographers at the major studios gasped when I told them the image I wanted. They had no desire to capture that and even found the idea repulsive. “You want a photo of what?!” they said. The early years passed too fast. I got busy with life as a working mom. I quit the life of the journalist and became a stay-at-home mom for the birth of my second baby. I didn’t even attempt the breastfeeding photos I wanted. I was too busy with two small children to find a willing photographer and, besides, I couldn’t afford a professional session.
Soon my son came along and my camera sat on a shelf for a few years as I busied myself with raising three children. I knew I’d go back to work someday but I didn’t know how. I was so far behind in all my marketable skills and was feeling uncreative. Then came the digital age. DSLRs were coming down in price. My husband put his new Canon Rebel in my skeptical hands and the feeling started to return. My husband enrolled in the photography program at the university where he worked and I dove into a series of training seminars. My husband supported me and shared the things he was learning along the way as well. For the next few years I spent every moment I could reading about and practicing the art of portrait photography. I set up a website and began the slow and arduous task of working my tail off photographing families to earn the money to get the gear I would need and the skills I would need to make a living as a photographer. Naptime and early bedtime were a blessing for me—the time I could spend editing images, promoting myself, practicing. I studied great photographers and artists. I gained an understanding of lighting and composition and was finally seeing my visions of breastfeeding portraiture becoming a reality.
I gained an understanding of lighting and composition and was finally seeing my visions of breastfeeding portraiture becoming a reality.
I had some of my early work published by La Leche League and was gaining a little attention in the LLL mothering community. Many of the mothers of newborns I photographed would pull me aside and whisper an almost embarrassed request to take a few pictures of their baby nursing. Stephanie Assisi, one of the moms I photographed told me, “I wanted pictures of me nursing Nelson because I knew that in a few months I would probably wean him and this was such a special, beautiful time in our lives. After giving birth to a child, a mother can do nothing more innate and lovely than feed her own child from her breast. It is something that links us to other creatures of this earth, and helps us to return to one of the most intimate and important bonds with our baby. I wanted to remember these simple, special moments through photography.” People were finally starting to appreciate the art of breastfeeding—breastfeeding as a beautiful image. Or so I thought.
Professional photography of breastfeeding
Last year I tackled the task of getting certified with the Professional Photographers of America. As part of the process, I was required to submit some of my work for review. One of the images I chose was a photo I’d taken of a baby breastfeeding. It was rejected as inappropriate subject matter. I was befuddled. I pulled the image and submitted another and was awarded my certification. Part of me wanted to argue with the original decision. Part of me felt the need to defend this photo. It had been 12 years since the birth of my first baby and breastfeeding photography was still considered controversial, inappropriate subject material! I still have a long way to go. Twenty years ago nobody had their portraits taken while they were pregnant. Today, women and professional photographers are embracing maternity photography and revealing those bellies. Perhaps tomorrow, they’ll accept breastfeeding photography for the art that it is. I’ll do whatever I can to make that happen.
Editor’s note: We certainly appreciate beautiful images on breastfeedingtoday! Please share yours with us at firstname.lastname@example.org