Interview: Breastfeeding 101
Peoples Post, Woodstock

What inspire the idea of putting together a book around the topic of breastfeeding?

This book really aims at supporting our society in supporting each other. Working with gender issues is my main interest as a photographer and in this case the topic of the controversy of the breast was super interesting considering how much controversial content there is currently on social media about breastfeeding! The breast represents two very important roles for a woman: sexual/beauty and nutritive/Motherhood. These two roles are not ones that society likes to put side by side and it is exactly this which makes this piece of our anatomy so interesting and such an exciting topic to work with.

What would you like to achieved through this book?

I would love to see the breastfeeding percentage rate in South Africa double. We currently have one of the worst globally. I was really shocked when I found this out! 2018 statistics of the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed that our country has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

Who is the target readership for this book? (only new mothers?)

The target readership for the book is definitely new mothers. The book makes the absolute ideal gift for any mother, especially a new one! I intend the book to be enjoyed by local and international readers alike. I’ve met with and photographed women from such diverse backgrounds (and locations) so I think the stories covered are more than just South African ones and the diversity is therefore interesting across many spectrums and for many people.

I think what makes breastfeeding 101 special is that it is a first-hand body of information – a hand book – directly from the women concerned about their breastfeeding experiences.

During the three-year project, what were your unique discoveries that most people do not know of?

Transcribing 101 interviews into their perfect mini, summarised versions of themselves while still trying to maintain the integrity and natural voice of each Mother was a really challenging process! And I’m relieved it’s behind me.

My favourite parts? Learning totally new and often verysurprising new facts about all of these women’s lives! And…so importantly: I loved working with the talented (and Woodstock local) book designer Gabrielle Guy. She did an outstanding job of putting this book into such a beautiful format.

Who did you work with in putting together the book? What did it take and how long  it took you to complete and publish it? How many pages is it? How are the sales doing  and response from readers since the launch?

I worked almost totally alone on this project for the first 2.5 years, thereafter I brought in Gabrielle Guy (Woodstock local as well) as my book designer. I had support from all the mothers, far and wide that I worked with through creating all 101 portraits. It was a long process putting this project together as I did it inbetween my normal commercial photographic work! I set up shoots and photographed mothers as often as I could and as far and wide as possible! I photographed mothers from Somalia, Germany, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Austria, Holland, Namibia, Malaysia, China, Portugal, South Africa and more!

The book is hardcover with 101 full colour portraits, 101 stories from mothers and it is 224 pages long. The launch of the book at The Book Lounge in Cape Towns CBD was a huge success, it was packed! The response has been outstanding. I’ve done multiple radio interviews, speeches and talks and articles and interviews. It’s been particularly well timed as I launched the book during World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August) and August itself is Women’s Month as well!

Please tell me about yourself professional and generally (outside work).

I’m a full time professional photographer and my main interest is working with gender issues and portraits of women and sharing women’s stories. During my time not photographing and retouching I love to enjoy our beautifully restored Woodstock home, ceramics, textile printing, painting and drawing. I love to socialise, entertain and cook at home and enjoy having sundowners while sitting on top of our roof overlooking Devils Peak and the Harbour (I think some of our neighbours think we’re crazy for doing this ;-)).

I’m very lucky: what I do is my absolute passion and I even do it in my spare time. I spend a lot of time working on pro-bono and interesting photographic projects which involve women and women’s issues.

Your general advice to members of the public?

That communication and support which can be shared and passed on between women is vital, it is our strength. It would be wonderful if more people showed their appreciation for breastfeeding instead of slandering it or giving mothers bad looks (this happens all the time sadly!).

It’s so important to remember to share knowledge and be open to cultural differences as well as to appreciate how hard of a job it is to be a breastfeeding mother.

The book is available nationwide at many book stores including Exclusive books. It is R385.00

For more info: Breastfeeding101.co.za

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Interview: Cape Times on Breastfeeding 101 by Leah Hawker

Cape Times Newspaper (full) Article

Newspaper article by Nontando Mposo, 26th August 2019

What drew you into photography?

I’m a creative, I can’t live happily without making, doing and creating and I just sort of fell into photography the moments after I finished Matric. I could have done many things I think but photography was a happenstance actually. My Dad called me up one morning and said it was enrolment day at Ruth Prowse School of Art (in Woodstock). I went immediately and that was that.
I loved it from the get-go. It’s the perfect creative and expressive format to bring across my feelings and ideas about life, about being a woman and what that means in this day and age.

Tell us about the story behind and inspiration behind you 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.

I’m always working on many self-motivated and pro-bono projects concurrently, I do this alongside my commercial, income generating photographic work.


How did you go about selecting the mothers you photographed? and is there a story behind the chosen backdrops?

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.

After connecting to each Mother I coordinated an interview and a photoshoot. We found diverse public locations; everywhere from a forest in Utrecht, Netherlands, to outside a neighbours’ house in Delft, Cape Town.
I shot as widely and diversely as possible. I photographed mothers from Somalia, Germany, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Austria, Holland, Namibia, Malaysia, China, Portugal, South Africa and more!

Is there a story behind each image?

Every Mother shared a unique story with me. The stories covered many variables depending on the mothers cultural and personal backgrounds. After the first 30-40 portraits I felt like I must, by then, have covered it all but the subject just kept unfolding. The contradictions, joys, pain, funny moments, struggles and diversities of women’s stories is like a never ending pit of information, I had no idea!
Now, after photographing 101 portraits, I realise there is still so much I don’t know about the subject and even about what women experience when they become mothers. It’s surprised many people that I’m myself not a mother; I’m a photographer that has a specific interest in dealing with women’s issues.

There is a story behind every image. I had numerous conversations over coffee, exchanged voice notes, text messages and emails and received questionnaires that were most likely typed out, one-handed, by mothers while the other cradled a baby at the breast. I tried to retain each woman’s voice through the transcribing process; the texts were, however, edited in places for clarity and understanding.The data incorporated on each page gives extra insight – the context of each mother’s location, age and that of her child or children serve as a further layer to the narrative.

What would you like the reader to take away from the photographs?

The title of the project is Breastfeeding 101 and even though it is not intended as a manual, it may serve as one. The term “101” refers to learning or knowing the basics of a subject. There is a discrepancy between experiential knowledge of breastfeeding and common beliefs, and it is these two elements which play through the stories and images. Some may argue about truth, about what is right or wrong, but that is not the point here. What is important is that these women stand for their owntruths. A truth each found through lived experience. It is also evidence of experiences that are collectively true for many women.

The photographs and the anecdotes are colourful, culturally diverse, enlightening, bizarre, painful, emotional, and surprising. They tell unique stories and reveal surprisingly uncommon knowledge which, I feel, underpins the project.The current influences and outside factors affecting women, breastfeeding and infant health are substantial. The stories told in this book are therefore important ones.

How do you get inspired? And what inspires you the most?

Working on exciting creative projects which investigate women’s issues excites and inspires me, always. I’d love to work on more big projects like this for large organisations who support women,- this is the dream.
The way we experience gender identity is a subject I’m so interested in. Women’s bodies and women’s identity is used very objectively in media and the effects this has on both men and women is fascinating. There are so many elements involved in making us who we are; from family traditions, cultural rites of passage, our experiences with our bodies, how marketing  portrays us, big pharma and politics.
For example in the case of this project, Breastfeeding 101, I was most interested in how one part of women’s anatomy is so controversially viewed and treated by both ourselves and by others.

Where can people purchase your book and for how much?

The book is available for R385.00 at Exclusive books nationwide, via orders on the website breastfeeding101.co.za and at numerous independent book stores in South Africa.

You can find more of my work on leahhawker.co.za and on Instagram: _breastfeeding_101

 

Link to the online article here

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An Interview: Breastfeeding101 – A portrayal of the pleasures & pains of breastfeeding

This is Joleen

South African, 34
Location The Pier, Simonstown, Cape Town, South Africa
Feeding her four-month-old child
Photographed August 2017

“Breastfeeding meant I got to see my son more often – during work hours. He just would not drink a bottle, even with breast milk in it. Fortunately, I live five minutes away from work. So, every day, every tea time and lunch time, I’d drive home and breastfeed. This allowed me to not feel so guilty about being at work. Breastfeeding has made me feel more connected to my sons in a deep, almost spiritual soul-touching type of way. My nine-month-old son has the habit of giving me a little bite on my nipple when he’s had enough and then giggling when I say ouch. That was our first communication; it made me realise this little one seems to have sense of humour. At the expense of my nipple of course [laughs].

I was breastfeeding at Spur one day and some of my students came past. I am in the navy, and juniors need to [salute] seniors as a mark of respect. The looks on their faces was priceless. I said to them afterwards that I may be a sailor and wear a uniform, but outside work I am a person and a mom just like any other mom.

My duties in the Defence Force can take me away from home. I had to write letters requesting to be excused from some of these. Sometimes seniors or male colleagues thought I was making excuses. I once had to ask my boss to be excused during an almost four-hour-long meeting to go and express: my breast pads were saturated and milk was starting to show through my shirt. A male in charge of a meeting does not understand that when a breastfeeding mom comes back fresh from maternity leave, the milk ducts don’t just get into the work routine immediately. I hope to get to a senior enough position to make changes for breastfeeding mothers in the military.

As I have small breasts I try to ignore the sexual way breasts are portrayed. When I became a mom, all of a sudden I got boobs. I was so proud, not because they were bigger, but because these small boobs have such a lot of milk. I had my baby at the military hospital where the nurses do not allow formula or discharge you from the hospital until baby latches well and breastfeeding is established. My son’s nanny always encouraged me to continue breastfeeding until he was at least two years old. She would make comments such as, “You are doing so well, this baby loves his tiettie.” It was like a reconfirmation for me, every day.”

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Exhibition: Point Blank
Women & Activism

PH Centre photographic gallery, exhibition space and book art store opens new show

 
Sharing the self-generated projects of nine women photographers, Point Blank, highlights the critical role of visual activism through photography. In each body of work, seen in an abridged format for this exhibition, we are directed to a larger series in which each photographer expresses in images, social landscapes in need of deeper public scrutiny and action.
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An Interview: Breastfeeding101 – A portrayal of the pleasures & pains of breastfeeding

This is Emma

South African, age 43
Location At work, Claremont, Cape Town, South Africa
Expressing breastmilk
Photographed September 2018

Emma donated 532litres of her own breast milk to South African breast milk bank Milk Matters over seven years.

Once I got my milk supply going, I became the mother cow. I probably started expressing milk around seven weeks after giving birth. Of course I always made sure that my boys got first chance breastfeed, but the majority of my additional expressed milk was for those premature babies. It all started when I went to Milk Matters and saw the abandoned babies there, weighing under a kilo. In other countries, babies that weigh up to two kilograms are given donated milk, but here in South Africa there isn’t enough, so it’s saved for babies who weigh under a kilo. I’d get tired and think ah, do I really want to give up another 25 minutes, up to five times a day? But their tummies are so small and some are abandoned; they are too sick to feed, or their moms have passed away. I just wanted to help; it was important. There are so many good things about breast milk that you can’t duplicate with formula.

I had happy times and difficult times expressing milk. I had to travel all over: Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Malawi and even further, the UK. Before I left home, I’d express and build up stock for my own baby. Sometimes he couldn’t come with me – you know, with the outbreaks of polio and ebola and stuff. Then while away, I had to keep my milk supply going or otherwise I’d have burst! I would express four to five times a day. To save time, I used two separate pumps at the same time: I’d express from both breasts in 25 minutes. Did you know that there was nowhere at O.R Tambo airport or Cape Town International other than the toilets to express milk? Sometimes I’d make a point and sit on the floor at check-in as they all have plug points. I didn’t want to be one of those women [makes sounds of pump expressing]; the point is there should be a place.

While travelling, there was the mission of trying to find hotels where I could put my milk in the freezer. I would have to go through health and safety [protocols] and avoid contamination and mark it carefully. Even when I did a psychology postdoc at Stellenbosch University, I would put milk in the refrigerator during the day and a few times people would steal it for their tea and coffee. After I labelled it “Please do not drink – Breast Milk”, it never got touched again. It is also important to keep [containers] sterile, especially when travelling. I would have to sit with a kettle and a microwave in the middle of rural Madagascar, sanitizing equipment.

When travelling through borders, I used to have to explain what the breast milk was – and then I’d be asked, “Where is the baby?” If the baby was with me, I wouldn’t need to carry the milk! Now, I actually grab my boob as the universal sign for breast milk. In a good number of countries, I have had to sip it, just so they can see it really is what I say it is.

I think three quarters of the luggage I took on my travels was to deal with my breast milk expressing and storing. I had a whole system in place to keep it frozen. I’d wrap my clothes around my ice bricks and ice packs to keep it frozen, then get it to Milk Matters as soon as possible.

Eventually I stopped when I had to go away to Dar es Salaam for ten days. I’d actually wondered whether I should take the job or not, but then I thought, “Emma, you have given years to this. It is okay. Other moms need to come to the party.” I can’t carry the world.

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An Interview: Breastfeeding101 – A portrayal of the pleasures & pains of breastfeeding

This is Elmarina

South African, age 33
Location Outside a house in Delft, Cape Town, South Africa
Feeding her three-year-old child
Photographed August 2018

Whenever you give a child a bottle [that contains formula], they get sicker, more quickly. It’s because you get moms who don’t close the bottles properly. Flies get attracted to them, and there are more germs.

I’ve got three children. I didn’t breastfeed the first two, the boys. I had very small nipples and it wasn’t easy for me. For the first week, my eldest did drink from my breasts, but he couldn’t really get a grip on the nipple because it was so small. And I used to struggle with him the whole time.

But when my girl here came along, my husband hadn’t had work for a few months, so we decided we were going try the breast again. I couldn’t afford to buy the formula that worked for my two boys. I told myself, “Now Elmarina, you have to think. You must rather put her on the breast or what are you going to do? There is no money for formula.” So I had to try, and just do it and even though it was painful, try not to panic. But I would panic sometimes because my daughter would cry you know, because the nipple was so small, nè[not so]? I went to the clinic to speak to one of the ladies who works there. She really tried to help me with technique.

It was still really, really hard to feed my daughter, and she is still underweight. I cried with that nurse, asking her to just help me try to figure something out, because I didn’t have the finances for the milk. She told me to come whenever I’m ready, like every day, I could go to her for help. She was a little old lady, but a very nice one. You know how older people are: They know how to explain things to you down to the last detail. That’s why I think she showed me those techniques with my finger. She knew about my situation, the money, that there wasno money to buy a breastfeeding pump, you understand.*I wish the hospitals or clinics would give us pumps, or pills to help with the milk. I have a friend who was offered help by the clinic in Bishops Lavis. She didn’t have milk but she really wanted to breastfeed and not put her child on a bottle, so they gave her pills [probably sulpiride, believed by some doctors to increase serum prolactin and aid milk supply]. But I didn’t get that in the hospital I was at. Nobody even asked me: Do you want a pill to help you breastfeed? Nothing like that. I had to find a way to breastfeed.

My daughter was born very small, so I was often at the clinic, trying to get her weight and her iron right the whole time. When she was two, the doctor said she could drink till she’s five. She loves it; she doesn’t want to give it up [laughs]. Sometimes I tease her and tell her that she’s getting too big now and she says, “No, no!” and shakes her head [laughs].

<sidebar note>

South African public hospitals do not supply mothers with breastfeeding pumps.

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A Body of work

 14 Minutes in Addis Ababa

14 Minutes in Addis Ababa was shot at dawn on an overnight layover in Ethiopia while flying from Mombasa to Cape Town. 
 


The 3 star hotel (with a piece of photocopied paper and tape masking a once-held fourth star in the vague hope that it could one day be recovered) was strangely lush and neglected in equal measures. 
 


Having missed the connecting bus to the airport, my travel companions and I found ourselves with 20 minutes to spare. Between capturing the first and the final image, only 14 minutes elapsed. In these moments, we entered the limbo space of the in-between: the distance between arrivals and departures, wakefulness and dreaming.


The shoot was somewhat unplanned, hasty and fortuitous. A chance occurrence that unfolded in a crease of a bygone era.

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A Conversation with Independent Midwife Natasha Stadler

_South-African-Independent-Midwife---Natasha-Stadler---001

Natasha Stadler is a midwife based in Somerset West, 30min out of Cape Town, we met at the Midwifery & Birth Conference hosted by Home Birth SA in 2015, when I photographed her portrait amongst many other South African midwives and doulas that were present. 

We chatted at the event and, a while later, in March 2016, I visited her home-based birthing and meeting space which is in a private cottage apartment in her peaceful  neighborhood. Natasha has been in her profession since 1990 and we spent quite some time chatting about her experiences with women.

Birth: a perfect process

Natasha spoke about the somewhat magical element of protection she observes taking place in the labouring mothers body and that of the birthing baby. Many of her observations and remarks where new to me and totally intriguing. For example, Natasha observed how, often, babies that were not receiving what they needed in utero  often arrived earlier than expected. She saw similarly aligned elements occurred when for instance, a knot was found in the umbilical cord, the labour had been far quicker and the contractions shorter , perhaps as an automatic protection of the life of the baby. 

Details from Natasha’s home birth space in Somerset West. The picture on the left is a capture from the Vietnam war,- a soldier assists a local giving birth.

We discussed how, very often, labor begins in a safe place, at night when we would naturally be in a sheltered environment. When potential problems occur or labour is not progressing as it should, it is often natures indication that something is wrong… and it gives time for the body to respond as best it can. 

Another intriguing observation,- Women seldom go into labour when they are ill or stressed. Generally when the process of labour is quietly observed and a pregnancy has been closely monitored, elements have the opportunity to fall into place, to align. 

I imagine midwives as the guardians and story-keepers of natural birth, the ones who allow the process to unfold, a womans wisdom to stay intact and she and her babe to be supported. 

Their personalized approach to midwifery, and astute observations, create space for birthing mothers to labour in their own way. It struck me how straight forward birth could be when not interfered with, a safe environment is created and when fear is eliminated from the process..

The power in sharing information and the changes happening in the birth arena:

Women are the source of life, the choices we make directly influence the generations to come”  

Interestingly, there has been much pro-natural birth talk in the last decade and thus, it seems, media has picked it up and past it on as well. Natasha has noticed a steady increase in requests for natural births in the last 4 years. I believe the sharing of stories, a very feminine characteristic, is responsible for carrying this information between women.

Details from Natasha’s home birth space in Somerset West.

Fact sharing and communication are shining light on topics women have not properly informed themselves about in the more recent past (so many alarming reasons for this). I like to think that the changes seen during birth and in early motherhood (such as immediate umbilical cord clamping and the value of breastmilk and breastfeeding) have started to shift (as a result of an increase in research and information available) after much more analysis has taken place about such practices.

50% of Natasha’s clients wanted home births in the past, now an incredible 95% of her mothers-to-be request this from the outset… 

Details from Natasha’s home birth space in Somerset West.

The empowering process of letting go- observations from a midwife:

“Never are life and death so close together than (as) during birth. The mother has two lives and the possibility of two deaths (her own and that of her child) at stake”, Natasha pointed out during our conversation , which I found  humbling.

Natasha spoke about how labour and birth can open up portals to any trauma a woman may have experienced up to that point in her life. It’s a well known fact that many women revisit past abuse or traumatic experiences during birth, coming face to face with their subconscious in these moments. It’s at these junctions that one leaves much of one’s past behind and steps into the new and compromising role as Mother.

We spoke about the healing elements  birth has brought to many of the women , in her care. In Natasha’s words,

“Because birth is a process of letting go and trusting, (yourself, your body, any higher powers you may believe in) it grossly effects a women’s experience of being, after the process of labour and birthing her baby”.

Being informed, prepared and incorporating the wisdom of a midwife or doula to investigate and prepare for the process is an obvious solution to my mind.  Thanks for your wisdom Natasha!

 

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Heidi Padoa


The Gate-Keepers: A Portraiture Project

This is a portraiture project, documenting the “gatekeepers” of a growing movement regarding positive birth experiences in our country.  My aim: to promote those who are enabling women to identify with their power and femininity and therefore normalize the processes before, during and after birth.

These are their stories / anecdotes / opinions about what they do and how they see it…accompanied by my portraits and some general information on each sitter.

Heidi is a doula based in the Garden Route area, Western Cape, South Africa. I met her at the Midwifery and Birth Conference in Cape Town in 2015. Heidi has been a doula for 6 years. She qualified as a professional labour and birth assistant through WOMBS in 2010 and has birthed 8 children herself (her own and surrogate), including; home, hospital, caesarean, breech and twin birth.

“I believe that the birth of a baby is a deeply sacred and miraculous event, filled with mystery, challenges, beauty, power, love and great joy which will affect women emotionally for as long as they live. It is divinely created to be a perfect, safe and strengthening process.
A woman is in her greatest power during childbirth, working with the co-creative forces of nature to allow the miracle of life to pass through her.”


“I most love to help women throughout their journey in pregnancy and birth, by providing emotional, informational and physical support, as I serve them as a doula.
I have attended many home, hospital and caesarean births, including the unassisted, undisturbed HBAC of twins and an amazing, unassisted HBA5C  (home waterbirth after 5 cesareans), amongst all the other miraculous births I have had the privilege to support”.

• (I invite more participants to join the project, you are welcome to email me for more information).

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The Collection: Panties
#158- #161

 (Please note: This is the “archive” of the collection of shoot props (generally lingerie/womens attire somehow) that I have gathered over the last 11 years of my career.
They are catalogued by number, and description for now as well as any other relevant information about their individual histories- how I came to have the items, what shoots they might have been used for, etc.
The style in which I document an item may vary according to the type of garment/object it is).

The-Collection---PANTIES---no.158---Catalogued-for-TheSofterSex

The-Collection---PANTIES-back---no.158---Catalogued-for-TheSofterSex

# 158 – Panties
Navy blue, synthetic, high-waisted, vintage panties from Woolworths. They have a lace front.

 

The-Collection---PANTIES---no.159---Catalogued-for-TheSofterSex

The-Collection---PANTIES-back---no.159---Catalogued-for-TheSofterSex

# 159 – Panties
The second of two identical pairs: hot pink, satin panties with stretch mesh front. Black edging and embroidery over the bum reading “Kiss me…”

 

The-Collection---PANTIES---no.160---Catalogued-for-TheSofterSex

The-Collection---PANTIES-back---no.160---Catalogued-for-TheSofterSex

# 160 – Panties
Black cotton/synthetic blend panties. These are supplied as “disposable” knickers when visiting some spa’s.

 

The-Collection---PANTIES---no.161---Catalogued-for-TheSofterSex

The-Collection---PANTIES-back---no.161---Catalogued-for-TheSofterSex

# 161 – Panties
Black, size small La Senza g-string. I bought these for a Playboy shoot in 2013 but they didn’t make it into the project in the end.

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