Category Archives: Women I’ve Shot

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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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Tarryn Walton


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 birth and the body.

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.

Tarryn Walton has been a professional doula for two years now. She works all over: Northern suburbs, Cape Town central, southern suburbs, Atlantic seaboard.
Tarryn is a  Satyananda yoga teacher and specialises in prenatal yoga as well.
.

Tarryn Walton Doula South Africa photographed by Leah Hawker

Giving birth to three children in the UK, has highlighted the stark difference between South Africa and England regarding the approach to childbirth.
My aim is to help educate women in terms of their choices in childbirth, encourage them to believe and trust in their ability to birth their babies with as little interference and medical intervention as possible.
In instances where a non-medicalised birth is not an option, I aim to work with the mother and her family towards optimising the chances of her having a positive experience.
A woman should feel safe, nurtured and empowered throughout pregnancy, labour and birth. She should own the experience and be able to congratulate herself on her achievement.
Helping facilitate this is an honour and a privilege.
• (I invite more participants to join the project, you are welcome to email me for more information).
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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Candice Petersen


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 birth and the body.

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.

Candice Petersen is a South African midwife working in the public sector. She’s an advanced midwife with a background in nursing. Candice worked at Mowbray Maternity Hospital for 7.5 years before she moved to Khayelitsha District Hospital where she stayed for 5 months. She is currently working at Mitchell’s Plain District Hospital.

Candice Petersen Midwife South Africa - Photographed by Leah Hawker

My journey to midwifery began after the birth of my daughter nearly 17 years ago. I had a negative experience during my labour. Despite this, the moment i gave birth, I was in awe. It was wonderful. It was then that I decided to become a midwife.

I completed my training as a professional nurse in 2007. I started working at a specialised obstetric hospital in the government sector. Much has changed over the years in this sector with regards to birthing. Most of the old practices have been stopped (shaving, enemas, routine episiotomies, etc). Most hospitals have become more baby and mother friendly.

However, I do still believe that birthing in S.A is largely medicalized. The caesarean section is amongst the highest in the world.

I am still often shocked by the lack of patient care I see around me, the protocols are just something I often can’t agree with,- there is just so much intervention!

It often seems to me that the system is setting patients (in labour) up for failure (caesarean). I have often just felt that patients were being treated like livestock and not people. Each place I have worked at has been quite different, some definitely have much more evident care and compassion for the labouring woman however some facilities are incredibly hard to work at, psychologically…

What it means to me to be a midwife in the dominant world of medicine is to be an advocate for the women who are in my care. To ensure that her experience during labour is positive and without fear, that she may birth as she intends with the least intervention. I have come to experience many times that a softer approach and reassurance to the mom yields far greater results than a strictly clinical approach.

To engage with my patients and gain their trust, to share in their joy, their sorrow and to help to dispel their fears means so much to me.

The statistics I would like to see is a decline in the Caesarean section rate in this country. I believe we can achieve this by adopting more natural approaches to birthing. Women need to be empowered. Empowerment through education. There is too much fear surrounding birth, which in its essence, should be a natural, instinctive and physiological event.

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

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Pictorials: “Macro” for Design Indaba Magazine, South Africa

In 2008 I shot and submitted an image for Design Indaba’s feature “Macro”. It was the first time I worked with the magazine and was super happy to have my image full print on page one. The Mag had invited creatives from South Africa to submit macro photography for a pictorial and for whatever reason this idea had occurred to me.

Design Indaba, 4th Quarter  2008 cover.

Design Indaba, 4th Quarter 2008 cover.

Design Indaba Macro Pictorial 005

I was still teaching part time at Ruth Prowse School of Art at this time and one of my students had contact with a beekeeper who I in turn contacted for some dead bees to use for this shoot.

Design Indaba Macro Pictorial 001

I asked a friend who obliging posed for the shot. The bees where not smelling so great by this time, but, the images where worth it. Ive only ever used the one file but here are a few more from the shoot that I like.

Design Indaba Macro Pictorial 002

Design Indaba Macro Pictorial 003

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Advertorials project for Design Indaba Magazine, South Africa

Design Indaba Advertorial Project 010

In 2010 I worked with Design Indaba on a concept which they ran over a period of months. We shot 4 images in studio which incorporated product from their designers.
Some of the images where used in print as double page spreads advertising their website and online shopping porthole which was newish at the time and some images where used more as landing pages with the visible products being clickable links to the designers pages.

Design Indaba Advertorial Project 011

Design Indaba Advertorial Project 007
The shoots took place at two separate sessions and with the assistance of Michelle Liao who was then with Design Indaba (now has her own stunning design brand Michl).

The final 4 images for their project below:

Design Indaba Advertorial Project 005

Design Indaba Advertorial Project 001

Design Indaba Advertorial Project 006

Design Indaba Advertorial Project 002

Design Indaba has since become an online publication only (as apposed to a print mag which they ran fem 2001 to 2011). It’s an amazing platform for local design and creativity, from their site:

Design Indaba inspires and empowers people to create a better future through design and creativity. We are an online publication (designindaba.com) with an annual Festival and social impact do tank.

Design Indaba has become a respected institution on the global creative landscape, based on the foundation of our annual Festival that has attracted and showcased the world’s brightest talent since 1995. We have broadened our through-the-year offering with our online design publication that features the best of the world’s creativity and attracts over half a million visitors each year. Through these channels we champion noteworthy design, facilitate and produce creative projects, support creative businesses and run educational initiatives.

Many of the local brands we worked with on these shoots were ones I had worked with on a previous fashion pictorial for DI in early 2010 called Sentient Cool which had had a similar but much sleeker showcase type theme to this project and where I had sourced all items directly off the Design Indaba Expo in February of 2010.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 9.26.20 AM
More from the advertorial project with them below.

Design Indaba Advertorial Project 009

Design Indaba Advertorial Project 008

Design Indaba Advertorial Project 004

I think these two magazines where from their last run before the brand stopped their quarterly print issue.

Design Indaba Advertorial Project 003

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Birth: This is Shakirah’s Story
The Birth of ‘Abd al-Matin, 6 October 2015

It was Lana Petersen who connected myself to Shakirah and Ya’eesh. I met with them in their home in Seekoeivlei and was immediately impressed with their sense of confidence and trust in each other, themselves and the process. We discussed their expectations and any concerns or ideas surrounding my presence and that of the camera in their birthing space. They were so open and trusting which left me feeling excited to be present in their process.

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The experience of witnessing and documenting them was such an honour and left me on an incredible high. The images, I believe, tell the story just as it was that morning. I asked Shakirah to share her ideas around birth as well as her experience with me, this makes up most of the text below in-between the photographs.

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I am an introvert and felt the potential threat to the progress of my labour, by unfamiliar surroundings and strangers in my personal space, to be a very real one. I did not want to birth my baby into the artificially lit, cold, clinical confines of a hospital ward, in a building housing sick and suffering people.

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I believe that the act of birthing a baby is a natural physiological process, that the body is intrinsically equipped for and that it is not a medical condition. I also did not want my brand new baby to be handled roughly by birth attendants who did not view the process as spiritual but merely as routine.

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I was also alarmed by the fact that the overwhelming majority of, otherwise healthy, young women I knew, were having their babies delivered by Caesarean section and not by choice. This made me very sceptical of the mainstream medical fraternity’s motivation for performing C-sections.

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I was afraid of possibly having to undergo major abdominal surgery because performing a C-section made more financial sense or because my labour was taking ‘too long’ to progress. I did not want to feel disempowered by having my right to choose encumbered.

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So when we found out that we were pregnant again, in January this year, I started doing research on the local homebirthing industry, birthing centres and MOU’s. I searched the web for information on local homebirths and found the site homebirth.org.za, which had a directory listing midwives, doulas, birthing centres and antenatal classes.

It was also through an online article that I discovered the concept of lotus birthing, where the placenta remains attached to the baby until the umbilical cord dries and detaches naturally, usually within 3 to 5 days. There are many health benefits associated with delaying cord clamping to allow the transfusion of blood from the placenta to the baby, to complete.

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It also tied in with the theory of birth without violence, where it is believed that our birth affects the rest of our lives and I wanted the birth experience to be as gentle, welcoming and reassuring for our baby as possible and therefore the decision for my husband to catch him was also a natural one.

If we could and hadn’t needed the reassurance of experienced birth attendants, with this being our first baby, we would have chosen to do an unassisted birth, as the baby was conceived with just the two of us and the birth was the culmination of that intensely private process.

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When I broke the news to my family that we wanted a homebirth, it was met with much resistance and judgment. They were concerned for mine and the baby’s safety, believing that hospitals were the safest places to birth. I initially succumbed to the pressure and booked with the local government MOU, where I went for most of my checkups. Every time I attended an appointment, a different midwife would perform my checkup. It felt very impersonal. With the large volumes of women attending, it would take most of the day and we would be herded through the hallways, to the various rooms, like cattle.

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Shakirah went into labour on Friday evening on 3rd October, a long and exhausting progress which lasted until her baby’s birth at dawn on the 6th. Lana Peterson, her birth attendant, arrived at 9:30pm on the 5th as labour began to become more and more intense.

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The night seemed to draw on forever with the pain intensifying and my back feeling like it was breaking and my tummy feeling like it was on fire, with each contraction. By 2am I started wailing, tearless, high pitched wails, while still rocking back and forth like a patient in a mental asylum, anticipating and dreading each contraction. I was doing the exact thing I was taught not to do. I started feeling fear and anxiety and it only increased my pain. Lana coached me to make low, guttural sounds but it was of no use. I was too far gone and started begging to be taken to hospital because I needed the pain to be numbed.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---011-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

Lana had made contact with Lydia (Sr. Lydia Du Toit is a Midwife), who arrived shortly, at just after 5am, Tuesday 6 October. They both checked the bath water with torches and confirmed that my waters had broken. Lydia then requested that I get out of the bath so she could check me. She then started coaching me to push, while I held onto Ya’eesh for dear life, first laying on the bed then squatting on the floor being supported under both my arms. She told me to push like I was sitting on the toilet. I was repeating that I couldn’t do it and squirming through the pain. She spoke with authority and demanded my attention and explained to me what it was she needed me to do and how she needed me to do it. I obliged and started feeling my baby move into the birth canal and started feeling the urge to bear down spontaneously which happened simultaneously me making a low guttural sound.

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Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---013-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

I arrived just before the break of dawn. Shakirah was drained and exhausted, rocking and groaning in the middle of the bed with Ya’eesh supporting her so lovingly through each contraction. The room was filled with warm intense colours and she was wearing a ing flowing robe. The whole scene was very intimate, and very beautiful. Light was slowly seeping into the room and with the suns rising, so she birthed her baby, it was surreal.

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Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---015-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

I reached in between my legs and felt his head, which felt unusually soft and squishy. I heard him make a sound too. Then a few more pushes and his body followed quite quickly.

I remember hearing, “Quickly, the baby’s coming!” Ya’eesh caught him and I heard him crying then I got told that he would be passed through my legs.

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The moment I saw him I was overcome with emotion and laughed and cried and kissed him at the same time. It felt as if everything disappeared for that second and it was just us. He was covered in slimy blood and I was kneeling in a puddle of blood and goo but none of that mattered.

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I looked over at Ya’eesh who was crying and kissed him and looked up and saw my mom, who it seemed, had appeared out of nowhere and she was crying too. It was a beautiful and emotional moment and it made the pain disappear in an instant and breathed new life into me.

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I am totally satisfied with the whole experience and believe it couldn’t have happened any other way. I got my natural homebirth, with the support of two phenomenal, experienced women, whom I could not have done it without and my husband got to support me and catch our baby and my mom got to see her grandson as soon as he was born and this amazing event was documented for us to share with our beautiful boy one day.

Birth-Photography-Cape-Town---020-Newborn-birth-maternity-photography-Leah-Hawker

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Marianne Littlejohn


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 birth and the body.

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.

Marianne Littlejohn has been a midwife for 34 years (actively practicing for 25 years). Marianne runs the platform Spiritual Birth which encourages women to have more empowered and profound birthing experiences. She is also the founder and director of the Mtwana Birth Centre in Muizenberg and specialises in natural births for which she is a fierce advocate.

Based in Cape Town, Marianne runs Antenatal Clinics in Rondebosch and Muizenberg, but travels to the northern suburbs for mothers who want homebirths.

Marianne Littlejohn Indipendent South African Midwife portrait by Leah Hawker

 “I have witnessed a lot of changes during my time as an active midwife and seen how birth has become more medicalized over the years in both the private and public sectors for different reasons.

In the public sector, the sheer numbers of women needing assistance and the decrease in the number of midwives, results in less one-on-one midwifery care for mothers.
Ideally midwifery care should be one midwife per each mother.
My approach is to educate and empower the mother to surrender to the physiological process of birth (yes, this innate knowledge is part of how we are made) and become conscious of the opportunity for growth and empowerment in the process of becoming a parent.”

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

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“The Housewives”, Private Commissions:
This is D.B. (2009)

(Please note: “The Housewives” was a term I fondly coined in 2006 after I started getting shoot requests from private individual women. The folder in my archives is still called this and so I’ve stuck to it, in part just for the irony. Most of these women are not “housewives” at all, but strong independent and forward thinking women who I have had the honour of documenting. All are private commissions, some I’m still in contact with, others I’ve totally lost contact with, some have become friends, some may wish not to have their real names used, others don’t mind, some may have their faces obscured for privacy reasons, others have generously shared their experiences of being photographed. When posting under “The Housewives” it means I am choosing some of my favourite images from one of these shoots publishing them here along with my and or her  experiences and memories).

In 2009 I photographed DB for the third (and last time). I flew up to Johannesburg and spent the day shooting with her and was back in Cape Town by the evening.

Nudes-2009-South-Africa-003

Compared to our first shoot which had been initiated by D herself, this shoot and the one in 2008 were both designed and inspired by her partner’s fantasies and therefore the male perspective.

The shoots were interesting for me because of this. The style and content was shifted to encompass a different kind of voyeurism, a  more intimate and private peek into sexuality as apposed to the more  playful images of the first shoot we did together.

Nudes-2009-South-Africa-004

The references for D’s 2nd and 3rd shoots had a soft-porn-foreplay feel, the kind of imagery which pervades the internet in masses. It’s removed from the more stereotypical, tongue-in-cheek kind of content I had been working with in her first shoots.

It was very much around this time that boudoir photographers started popping up all over in SA. I was slowly sidling out of shooting private commissions after I began to feel I was participating in producing images which had no shelf life, a kind of disposable and repeatable mass of content, something that I think many photographers have started to feel since digital photography has made image production so prolific.

Nudes-2009-South-Africa-002

I returned to my conceptual as well as more commercial photography and later redefined my own style and personality when shooting private work.

I asked D to share a bit about her experience on the 2009 shoot we did together:

This shot was also commissioned by my husband and was shot just months after I had given birth to my baby girl who is now 6 years old.  After having worked with you on two occasions I was a lot more relaxed. We were also more adventurous, the photos in the shower coming to mind.

I have always had a strong identity as a woman. My motivation for the project was to give the man I love pictures of me in a “Fantasy World”: A surreal world that only exists in the pictures. A world he has exclusive entry into where he can fantasise about his wife being something other than a spouse, cook, mother and lover.

What I took out of the 3 shoots is greater awareness of the love and adoration my husband has for me and that he loves me regardless of the fact that I am not perfect. What I loved about the photos is that I too can look like a Playboy model even after two pregnancies.

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Sydney Grove


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 birth and the body.

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.

Sydney Grove is an advanced midwife , specialises in neonatel nursing science, has a degree in nursing, education and health. Sydney has been in his profession for 40 years and has delivered too many babies to count. He now works in the birthing industry in service management and covers the whole CBD and peninsula.

Sydney Grove -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“I am a male feminist doing advocacy for women in labour.
I believe that women should not be indoctrinated into intervention in labour unless strongly indicated.
I believe in informed consent and pro-active informed decision making.
Any women in labour and even during pregnancy should feel special and made to feel sacred.”

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

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Lynne Groenewald


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 birth and the body.

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.

Lynne Groenewald is a birth educator, trained Mama Bamba Antenatal Facilitator and yoga teacher who focuses on prenatal yoga. Lynne has a background in fine arts, clothing and surface design and decided to follow her passion into the birthing arena.
She’s based in Woodstock where she shares suites with midwife Caitlyn Collins and Homeopath/GP Daphne Lyell but also travels all over for her clients.

Lynne Groenewald Doula and yoga south africa COMPRESSED

“It is time that we take responsibility for ourselves, our births and our families.   As a mother, the three things that I feel will support this are:

  • learning to trust our bodies, ourselves and our processes;
  • empowering ourselves through information;
  • and being supported by midwifes as a matter of course.

We have the power to find out all the information we need, so that we can make informed decisions…  We have information at our fingertips, and there are passionate people wanting to share their knowledge and experiences.  We cannot base our choices on ‘the way things are’, or the expected norm.”

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

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