Photography records a moment in time. It leaves a mental footprint and can shape the way we think and feel about the world.
I have been thinking a lot about how street and documentary photography can shape the way we feel about certain social norms. The more a certain topic gets covered, the more it becomes a part of our everyday life. I think photography certainly has its place in promoting positive (and negative) attitudes towards everyday subjects.
In this piece, I am going to focus on breastfeeding as an example. After coming across the work of Ali Kate Cherkis on her Instagram, I was inspired by the message she was promoting through her photographic work.
She shares images of a mother breastfeeding her child, taking advantage of Instagram’s policy on the topic.
“Yes. We agree that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful, and we understand that it's important for mothers to be able to share their experiences on Instagram. The vast majority of these kinds of posts are following our policies”. (Instagram policy on breastfeeding)
I commend Instagram for taking this stance and think it is great Cherkis is using it to produce work that will help push breastfeeding into the social norm.
Breastfeeding, if not done in the privacy of somebody’s home, still gathers quite a negative response. People feel the process of a child feeding on their mother’s breast is offensive and rude.
One can only suspect this is because they are unable to remove the sexualisation of a woman’s breast. The result of this is they feel uncomfortable when they see them exposed in public.
When I was traveling through Central America, breastfeeding in public was here there and everywhere! It was not even considered a topic of conversation. If the baby needs to feed they will be fed.
This is where we need to be in terms of our overall stance on breastfeeding. It should not be up for debate, it should just be what it is - a connection between mother and child, celebrated not scorned.
The power of social media
Today we don’t have to stand in the street shouting our opinions in the hope someone will listen. We can just load up our device and reach a global audience in a matter of seconds. Sharing such images on social media, whilst spreading a positive message, works towards normalising certain actions.
The response to Cherkis work has been mainly positive, but not without rejection. I asked her about the story behind the images...
“Breastfeeding and motherhood are themes that run through my work. I've been ruminating for a while now on how I can expand them into a larger project about womanhood and the transition into motherhood. Most of my friends (in those images) have been harassed for breastfeeding in public at some point, and so while I'm naturally drawn to making images of the deep primal connection between mother and child, I also feel it's important to use the platform of social media to show these images in order to normalise them. I've had all sorts of trolls come after me when I've posted these images, and it only fuels my fire”.
What are you passionate about?
Breastfeeding is just one of the topics that divide certain cultures. If there is something you are passionate about promoting or an ideology you feel needs challenging, then use the power of your photography to spread your message.
A small collection of images can go a long way to making a big difference.
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