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Breastfeeding Photography Project Encourages Social Acceptance

By Tanya Goodall Smith on September 30th 2013

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Excuse me while I get up on my soap box for a moment. This post is about a breastfeeding photography project. If the word breastfeeding makes you feel uncomfortable, then you should definitely keep reading because this post is for you. Yes you.

My own experience breastfeeding three babies has been met with many challenges, one of the greatest being how to make it work while out and about in public. Here in America (at least in my neck of the woods) we’re expected to cover up, find a private room or “just stay home” to breastfeed. Seeing a mother openly breastfeed in public (or even in a private room or home) seems to be shocking to most people around here.

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So often I’ve wished that breastfeeding was not such a hush-hush, closed door activity so I wouldn’t have to go out to my mini-van to feed the baby in order to avoid scrutiny while in public. That’s why I really love Stacie Turner’s Breastfeeding Photography Project. These are not stylized photo shoots of moms feeding their babies in an ideal park-like setting. Her photos show the realities, good and bad, of this most natural activity.

I was curious to know a little bit more about the project and Stacie was good enough to answer a few questions for me. Here are her thoughts.

How long have you been a photographer? What got you started?

I assume you’d rather I not set my “start date” at the Brownie pin-hole project in early elementary school; I can reasonably say I started as a photographer either at about age 10 or 11 when my step-father gave me a Konica SLR with a 70-200 lens, the heaviest camera you’ve ever seen a kid wield, or after my children were born when I “upgraded” to a DSLR. I wanted to easily be able to post pictures on the internet and my daughter pointed and threw my point and shoot one two many times. I opened shop and started taking paying portrait clients in 2008.

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What gear do you use?

I have a lot of cameras. Digitally I work with a Canon 5D classic. With film I use a Canon EOS3, which is a film SLR, a variety of Holga 120Ns, which are toy medium format film cameras, and a Minolta Autocord, which is a medium format twin lens reflex film camera from the 1960s. I’ve also got a couple of things that I don’t use, like that old Konica and a broken Rolliecord. I have a really dull kit, to be honest. I think you could replace the whole thing for under $2,500. I’m technically a really unsophisticated shooter. Simple tools, natural light.

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What gave you the idea for the breastfeeding project?

I nursed my own twins until they were three and for those years breastfeeding was an incredibly dominant part of my life. Advice given to writers is generally “write what you know” and as a photographer I turned it to “shoot what you know.” Plus, most of my friends were breastfeeding and they made easy models.

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Breastfeeding in public is quite taboo in America. Has your project been met with any criticism?

Only a minute amount. I’ve had a couple of people say things on pictures posted on Facebook along the lines of “she’s only interested in getting attention, doing that” and I THINK I’ve had a pumping picture quietly removed. I had one of my favorite pictures removed and I announced that if you weren’t comfortable with nursing pictures you probably shouldn’t be a fan of my page. That got a lot of comments but none of them were critical of breastfeeding or breastfeeding photography; they were fairly critical of Facebook.

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Your breastfeeding photos stood out to me over any others I’ve seen because they seem “real”. Not posed and stylized. It seems like you just showed up unannounced and captured women nursing during their every day lives. How did you arrange the shoots with the women? Were any of them reluctant to be photographed or to have their images shared online?

A lot of the breastfeeding pictures I do are “rest times” during portrait sessions. They aren’t that posed because the mom just settles down wherever we are shooting and puts babe to breast and starts feeding and I move around and photograph them. The pumping pictures are scheduled model shoots; they are all of women who volunteered to pump for the camera. I started doing those because I HATED pumping and for so many women it’s this huge part of their life as the mother of a newborn and yet no one talks about it, no one honors it. It’s taboo in a way I think breastfeeding is not (though I live in a VERY progressive area and my sense of what are social norms about public breastfeeding and general acceptance of women feeding their babies and toddlers via breast in public is probably somewhat slanted by that.) I’ve had women tell me that it made them cry to see that part of their lives held up as photographable.

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Plus, well, I do marketing to La Leche League at conferences and have a lot of leaders as clients. It’s not a crowd that’s shy about public breastfeeding. I do always ask whether the model release extends to breastfeeding shots. Most people say, “Yes, of course!” but some say they’d prefer those remain private and of course I respect that.

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Do you think the project has initiated and/or contributed to social change regarding attitudes about breastfeeding? Was this your intention?

I hope so. I think normalizing breastfeeding is hugely important. The perception that breastfeeding is something kind of unsavory that should be done privately creates a barrier for women. It’s HARD to do something people around you think is weird, or that you shouldn’t do when you go out. The more breastfeeding is seen as unremarkable the easier it will be I think, for women to do it.

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Anything else you want to share?

I do some teaching and one thing I always tell people is that you HAVE to have a personal project going on, or more than one. If you shoot what you love and what interests you the passion for photography won’t die away.

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Great advice! Sadly, after looking through Stacie’s portfolio I realized I don’t have a single photo of myself breastfeeding. Perhaps because it’s so much a part of my every day life with a baby around that it has indeed become “unremarkable”. I hope images like these will encourage women to forego using a “nursing cover” and perhaps make breastfeeding in general more socially acceptable. You can see more of Stacie’s work on her website and connect with her on Facebook.

CREDITS: All images and interview excerpts have been provided by the artist. Photographs by Stacie Turner are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

9 Comments

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  1. Rafaelle R

    Beautiful pictures. I nursed my children as long as I could. Because it felt so natural to me, I also don’t have many pictures of myself breastfeeding. But after losing both breasts to cancer, I cherish those pictures and have framed two : they remind me that my breasts had done their job – both their seducing job, and their nurturing job. Somehow it makes it easier to ‘let them go’.

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  2. Dee

    Loved these photos We cannot get enough of these images out to the public. We have to make this act of wholesome nourishment one that every child can benefit from. My grandson who has epilepsy and cerebral palsy just stopped his nursing this past week at age 38 months and I fully credit this for his mostly healthy development in spite of birth outcomes.

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  3. Nicole M

    This was such a gorgeous post. I wish there were more photos. You should publish a photo book. I’d totally get it. :-)

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  4. Jen

    I love that pumping photos are included! I had to exclusively pump (EP) because my baby had feeding issues and never learned to nurse. I feel like the general public is slowly gaining more awareness and acceptance of breast feeding, but not many people talk about pumping! I never knew how to answer people when they asked if I was breast feeding — “kind of?” Pumping, whether for EP or with nursing, is something more people need to see and discuss :)

    Of course the breast feeding photos are lovely too! I just wanted to comment because I’ve never seen pumping photos included in a breast feeding shoot :)

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  5. Annamarie Stepney

    Great project…I think there is nothing more natural than breastfeeding your baby and it’s so very sad that it’s so taboo! I’d love some shots of me breastfeeding my little one…the only ones I have so far are those I’ve taken one handed with my iPhone hehe It’s such a special time for baby and mama…and one that merits documenting for sure. Good on Stacie for the project and to you Tanya for featuring it on SLR Lounge – go girls! :) x

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  6. roni

    i have been a huge supporter of breastfeeding for over 35 years. i worked as a visiting nurse in a maternal and childhealth program. i started to photograph the women i worked with, getting consents to use their photos. i have a breastfeeding slide show that was marketed to lactation consultants and childbirth educators around the world.
    i still feel very strongly about breastfeeding!
    http://www.nursingbabies.com/

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  7. Ashley Hudgens

    Some of your photos in this article truly brought tears to my eyes simply because they are so real. The bond between mother and child is so visible while nursing and it is so beautiful. Like snapping a photo of an emotion. You are very talented to be able to capture so much.

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  8. tammie

    its a beautiful natural thing to do, and is the healthiest option for you child!
    I really don’t understand why it is so disgusting!?
    really it use to happen everywhere back In the 40’s-50’s and now its wrong?

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  9. Chelsea

    Wonderful photos. It’s hard to imagine something so natural can be seen as so taboo.

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