Category Archives: Women I’ve Shot

Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Nomvula Muriel Gxaka


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.

Nomvula is a doula and midwife-in-training at Busfare Babies in the Peddie District, Eastern Cape, South Africa. She’s been working with birthing for 5 years.

Nomvula Muriel Gxaka -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

 “What inspires me about my job is the way we do things here at Busfare Babies: I’m also so interested in helping others, supporting one another, especially as a midwife, here in the Eastern Cape.  I enjoy being there to support a  women in that hard process when she is scared and in pain, but we are there, watching and waiting respectfully, to make sure she is safe and to catch her innocent baby.”

“My experience is that as midwife you have to be someone whose got a passion for what you’re doing. Love and care is the best thing you can give a woman in birth, you have to be someone whose got a vision of a motherhood…”

• (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 Sian Williams


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.

Sian Williams is a prenatal Vinyasa yoga instructor, a doula, and a baby massage instructor at Glow Prenatal Yoga in Cape Town.

Sian Williams -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“My doula journey began with the birth of my divine son, North in 2013.  That was the moment I chose to support women during one of the most phenomenal phases of their life; pregnancy & birth.  I absolutely honor the gift of fully supporting and guiding women on their chosen journey to embrace the process of pregnancy and birth from a deeper, more meaningful place within.   This spiritual and sacred journey of pregnancy and birth that is bestowed upon women is an opportunity to tap into their profound and powerful wisdom nestled deep inside the layers of their existence, their minds, their hearts, and to truly follow their intuition for the birth that they desire.”

“I wish to see for every birthing woman
more trust, less rush
more confidence, less fear
more research, less doubt
more ‘how, why?’, less ‘okay’
more compassion, less external pressure
more voice, less silence
However, the ultimate wish for my birthing goddesses is the very wish of their own.”

• (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 Vania Truter


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.

Vania Truter is a doula. She works predominantly in the Northern suburbs and Belville. Vania has been a doula for just over 4 years now.

Vania Truter -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“These are things I’d like to see changing in South Africa:

  • gynaecologists to be more supportive of vaginal births,
  • newborns to always have skin-to-skin directly after birth,
  • women to be more empowered and supported to breastfeed,
  • gentler c-sections,
  • more home births and
  • more VBAC births!”

• (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. (2008)

(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).

I got a mail from D commissioning another shoot during 2008.
We had worked together one year previously when I shot her in Johannesburg after she’d heard my talk on TalkRadio 702 in Gauteng about the nude commissioned shoots I was doing in Cape Town.

About the 2008 shoot she said, "The inspiration was my husband's fantasies and having me, his wife, bring them to life"

About the 2008 shoot she said, “The inspiration was my husband’s fantasies and having me, his wife, bring them to life”

This time, the shoot was based solely on inspiration from her husband (it would be a gift to him again) and thus it differentiated hugely from any other shoots I had done in the past since most of my work was created from the feminine perspective and not from that of the male gaze.

The shoot we did together in 2007 had been mostly shot in a makeshift studio space set up in their home. There was only one look , a “strip tease” theme, wihc was shot using D’s home itself as the backdrop.
I think that the relationship created between the fantasy of seeing his wife in as the subject in the image and  having her placed in their own home, was what inspired most of the 2008 shoot.

My husband loved the first pictures we took and wanted more. He commissioned the shoot and even researched the poses we did. (Do not ask how!) Do you not remember we got a set of instructions from him!!

Boidoir Nudes Johannesburg South Africa 001

The whole shoot was styled around their home and the resulting images are definitely defined by her partners ideals or fantasies. We shot three “looks” during the day, one in the kitchen, one in the outside entertainment area and the last one in the pool.
The images are very voyeuristic and an interesting study in approaching the subject of femininity from the male perspective specifically.
They are not a style I ever shoot in actually and defining what sets my style apart from this one is a hard one. I can instinctively explain it as the difference between the male gaze and my approach to image making of women (which comes from a more feminist perspective). At the same time the images are also just simply intimate and belong to this couple and their relationship.

Boidoir Nudes Johannesburg South Africa 002

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Jill Bergman


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.

Jill Bergman is a doula, counsellor and skin-to-skin (previously known as kangaroo care) specialist, she writes and lectures on these subjects as well as developmental care for pre-term babies.. She’s been in developmental care for 10 years and working as a doula for 4 years. Jill works in the Southern suburbs and central suburbs around Cape Town

Jill Bergman -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“Parents are not properly informed on the negative impact of Inductions, Epidurals and Caesareans on the baby.”

“Statistics I would like to see changed? The caesarean Section rate to lower dramatically in South Africa (World Health organization says C/S should medically be between 15-20 %, in SA in private sector it is between 60- 90 % different in different areas and hospitals).”

• (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 Lana 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.

Lana Petersen has been a doula for 12 years and is currently an apprentice midwife. Lana works mostly in the Southern Suburbs.

Lana Peterson -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“Women don’t know enough about the various options around birth in this country. They don’t do enough research around those choices and they are losing touch with the very thing that makes them uniquely feminine….The learning from and supporting of each other around pregnancy and birth has been taken away from the home and the community and hence the deep seeded fear women have about their bodies and birth.”

• (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 Aneesa Rasool


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.

Aneesa Rasool is a a doula, an infant massage and a hypno-birthing practitioner. She’s been in the birth, maternity and newborn world as a professional for 4 years and works predominantly from Blouberg and the West Coast areas.

Aneesa Rasool -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“Most women have no knowledge or lack the knowledge of their maternity rights. Woman have the right to receive maternity care that is appropriate to her cultural and religious background, and to receive information in a language in which she can communicate. To receive all care in privacy.”

“Many women have an unrealistic expectations of their body postpartum and this is where they need better 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 Ruth Ehrhardt


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.

Ruth Ehrhardt is midwife and a doula, she’s been in working in birthing for 8 years now , and 4 years as a midwife. She specialises in out-of-hospital births. She works mainly in the South peninsula area.

Ruth Ehrhardt -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“The births are incredible and there are too many that stand out but one of the things I love is how time seems to suspend itself at a birth…how the world almost has to groan to a halt to make space for this woman and her baby.”

“I do feel that part of women’s disempowerment in this arena stems from a lack of a sense of autonomy and ownership of their own bodies. So we really need to begin work with young girls and women.”

• (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. (2007)

(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).

Sunday Times Article about Nude Boudoir Shoots in Cape Town

In July 2007 the Sunday Times published a story about the commercial nude or semi-nude shoots which I had been doing since 2005. The article, written by Lauren Cohen, was picked up by both a Cape Town and a Johannesburg radio station for whom both requested interviews. One of the spin offs was this Jo’burg based client, who we’ll call “D”, and who I returned to document for three years in a row…

Boudoir Photography Johannesburg 2007 - The Housewives - 005

This is how the first shoot came together for her:

My husband noticed an article on your work in the Sunday newspapers and casually asked me whether I would pose for photographs in the nude. I said that I would not have an issue with this. On my way home from work one afternoon I heard you being interviewed by Jenny Cruws Williams on Radio 702 and jotted your name down on a piece of paper. I gave the paper with your name on it to my husband and told him that if he could get your details I would think of doing a shoot for him. My husband gave me your details the very next day and the rest is history.

Boudoir Photography Johannesburg 2007 - The Housewives - 004

 I remember you arriving at my house and opening a suitcase full of lingerie which you laid out onto my dining room table. I was horrified as I had never worn lingerie before and had never posed naked for anyone let alone someone with a camera. I remember thinking that you were so young but also so confident in yourself. I was initially self-conscious and anxious but you soon put me at ease and I enjoyed the shoot. It is not often that you can fantasise about being a playboy model!

Boudoir Photography Johannesburg 2007 - The Housewives - 002

The intention for commissioning the shoot was for my husband as a Christmas present. I still remember that Christmas day he opened the gift…

Boudoir Photography Johannesburg 2007 - The Housewives - 003

…He had no idea I had actually contacted you.
This was my secret.

He was like a little boy the whole day following me around like a little puppy dog. His fantasy had come to life.  It was the best gift I have ever given him. I must admit the photos were beautiful.

Boudoir Photography Johannesburg 2007 - The Housewives - 006

We shot in “D”‘s home, using the space either as a location or setting up a more studio environment. We had discussed a few ideas and themes ahead of time which we spent the morning shooting. Her hubby was at work and had no idea what she was up to…a very sweet Christmas gift indeed!

This would be the first of three shoots with this client.

Boudoir Photography Johannesburg 2007 - The Housewives - 001

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Positive Birth in South Africa: This is Caitlyn Collins


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.

Caitlyn Collins is a doula and a midwife, and has been practicing for 10 years, she works in and around Cape Town and the peninsula.
I know Caitlyn from School times and always found her so serene, strong and beautiful.

Caitlyn Collins -Midwives & Doulas of South Africa - Portraits by Leah Hawker

“The first person a healthy women should see when she knows she is pregnant is a midwife. Pregnancy is not an illness.”

“Women should have their rights respected in pregnancy and childbirth – they should be provided with holistic information and be the leaders in their journey to becoming mothers with informed choice that is fully respected by care providers. Birth should not be ruled by fear of medical litigation.”

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

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