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6 Photographers On What Motherhood Means To Them

This weekend, we’re celebrating mothers in all their forms — funny, caring, overwhelmed, overbearing. We also stopped to ask ourselves, what’s the meaning of motherhood to a family, whether that’s a mother, grandmother, older sister, friend?

We worked with the group Black Women Photographers to pay tribute to the mother figure in families, whether they are mothers lost, mothers present or another figure entirely.

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Tiffany Sutton — St. Louis, Missouri

“While at Washington University in St. Louis for photography, I was very into masks. The idea was that we all wear one to cover up our true selves. In this photo, you see my mom sweeping fall leaves off our patio. She did this mundane task because she liked a clean and clear patio, even though she never used it other than having a place to sit while smoking. Initially, I wore the mask for a self-portrait and then gave it to her to put on; she didn’t object at all. Mom is who she is either with or without a mask; during the beginning of this series, I was attempting to show how powerful and strong and overwhelmed and heartbroken she was while her husband (my dad) was sick.

My mom has become my favorite muse and model. I photograph her in a more conceptual way than she used to photograph me as a child. We’ve essentially switched roles — although she very much remains the mom, she has accepted me as more than her daughter; we are friends. Three days a week, we walk for 2 miles in the local park, and I stop her to take her portrait among the trees. Don’t mistake her for an old lady! She is 74 going on 30; we laugh constantly at each other’s nonsense.”

Dee Williams— Los Angeles, California

“This collection is from a Mother’s Day photo shoot I did with Suhaly Bautista-Carolina and Naiema Carolina and their daughter, Luna, in 2019. As a fellow queer Black woman, I wanted to show the beauty within a two-mother household. I met Suhaly through an interview and photo project via the Girl Mob in 2018. I was instantly drawn to her calm and healing energy. She is one of those people who leave a lasting impression on you after meeting for just five minutes. I love to create imagery in people’s safe spaces, which are usually their homes. They invited me into their home, and it was such a beautiful moment in time that I will always look back on.

Suhaly told me at that time, “Being a mama to Luna has brought out the absolute best in me. I am capable of love, patience, and devotion beyond my wildest dreams. I thank my ancestors each day for my inherited gifts that allow me to love Luna the way I do. I am grateful for a partner who loves as deeply and truly as I do and who is the perfect best friend to our babe. Now I understand why my mother couldn’t sleep until the moment she heard us come through the door at night. It takes serious courage to have a child in this world.”

Sade Fasanya — New York

I photographed my paternal grandmother, Dorcas Abimbola Fasanya. She’s known in our family as Olobi (“one who sells kola nut”). Olobi has lived in Nigeria her whole life. At 100 years young, she is the eldest matriarch of our family. Because I live in the US and my grandmother lives in Nigeria, I don’t get to see her often. When we speak on the phone, her prayers lift me up and encourage me to strive for all the great things in life that she tells me I deserve. When I go back home to Nigeria to visit, the way her face lights up when she sees me is magical. It may take her a little longer to get out of her chair these days, but she always makes sure we’re comfortable and well fed when we’re around. Her kindness, cheerful spirit, and warm heart push me to channel joy and love no matter what I’m going through.

On the day I made this portrait of her, I was visiting home in Nigeria and hadn’t seen her in person in 10 years. When I first told her I wanted to take her portraits, she refused. She told me she wanted to dress up for the portraits and would be ready for me the next day. I returned the next morning and captured some timeless photos of her.

After ripping the bandage off of the 10-year gap for which I was unable to physically be in her presence, I vowed to go back home to visit her at least once a year. She’d always say to me in Yoruba, her native tongue, “Make sure you come and see me in person — and not for my funeral.” The pandemic made me unable to travel to Nigeria to see her last year, and that was a difficult pill to swallow. Thankfully, her resilience carried her through the height of the pandemic. Now in 2021, I’m hopeful I’ll be able to travel and see her in person again.”

Iko-Ojo Mercy Haruna — Kent, United Kingdom

I took this photo of my cousin Grace styling my daughter Amara’s hair during a recent visit to our home country, Nigeria. It reminded me of when I used to plait Grace’s hair when she was little. Capturing this bonding moment and expression of love and care is even more special because we live in a different country and it may be a while until we see each other again. I’m glad that my children got to experience a bit of being mothered by the other women in my family.”

Anastassia Whitty — New York

My mom, Magda, is a teacher and has been a hardworking city employee for over 30 years now. Since COVID, she’s been working and teaching remotely even though she has been diagnosed with cancer twice and recovered from surgeries all within the year. She’s worked hard all her life — from her upbringing in Haiti to coming to the US as a migrant — to provide for her family as a single mother so that my sister and I can actualize our own dreams.

When I shot this photo of my mother, it was the day she found out she was diagnosed with cancer after going in for a routine check-up. I had no idea what she was going through; she was afraid to let me know the news. My mom hated taking pictures, especially after her chemotherapy in 2020. She felt as if she weren’t beautiful or herself anymore, and I wanted to show her that there’s more to beauty than her appearance. It is her strength that makes her beautiful.

I really commend her for showing up and being there for us and those in the classroom, despite feeling tired going back and forth through doctors’ visits. My mom really doesn’t know how much of a light and strong woman she is. It is only right to call her my hero.”

Gwenaëlle Sachet — Paris

I met Kumpi Lo when I was 26 years old. I was a friend of her Argentine boyfriend at the time, and he introduced us in Paris. We lost sight of each other until one day in the street, 11 years later, she recognized me. We were very happy to meet again. Although we didn’t know each other very well, there was a friendship between us. We grew closer from then on. She had had a baby girl with a new French boyfriend. She lived in Paris alone with her daughter and had started working as a chef. In 2019, she opened her own flexitarian restaurant, Persil, right next to her house, and I visited her quite regularly.

Today, we are both 42 years old. I photographed her at her house casually dressed with her daughter Neïla on the sofa one day when I was sorting out clothes from her wardrobe that she wanted to donate. I’m 42, and I don’t have children, but I would like to have one someday. I always enjoy seeing Kumpi and her daughter, who is mixed race like me.”

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