Has this ever happened to you? Sometimes... and this is quite rare actually... when I am asleep, I experience dreams of epic proportions. So big and wonderful and emursive, that when I awake, I truly feel like I had physically been somewhere else I desperately want to hold on to the story and as I run to my computer or notebook to write it all down, with every step I take, I can feel the dream slipping away. I end up sitting there, looking at the page or screen before me, feeling dazed and disoriented, with only faded minced up images left over.... and a headache of a time trying to piece it all back together again. That is how I felt when the film came to an end. My mind had been cracked open with ideas and thoughts and feelings, and I desperately needed to get back home to write it all out. This is my attempt to piece all those thoughts and ideas together again. I wish the mind was not so deceptive. Yet, that is the very beauty of it, isn't it?
I just saw the new film Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins. It tells the origins of Princess Diana of Themyscira. A super hero character that was created in the 1940s and was inspired by feminist ideals. Well, this story hits home for me, as I am sure it has for many, many people out there - in particular, women. Most poignantly, in the following 3 ways. Firstly, it hit home for me as a woman who was subjected to years of gender-based abuse and disrespect like so many other girls and women I know, living in (what often feels like) a man's world. Secondly, as a feminist, wanting very badly to see the power of feminism manifesting progressive change in societies all over the world, namely, promoting equality for women and seeing them treated fairly and respected alongside their male counterparts. And thirdly, as a mother - and not only a mother - but a mother to 3 girls and I am itching with excitement to show my girls this film, just as soon as I feel they would be ready to watch a film about war and violence and innocent lives lost. Several times during the film, I noticed mothers walking down the steps and out of the theatre, holding the hands of and guiding their young girls out, who were clearly under the age of 6... (it's really really not a film for the very young!)
Now, I want to share the one moment that really grabbed me by the heart and cracked me wide open with a powerful epiphany about who I am. There are no spoilers here, so please relax, and read on. After a critical battle was won and a small village rescued, thanks to Wonder Woman and her small but fierce band of comrades, she is met with grateful villagers thanking her for what she did for them, and then, she and her friends stand shoulder to shoulder and pose for a photo, her standing in the middle, faces solemn.
As the photographer takes the photo, he tells them:
“Please, stay very, very still for me, my friends, it's so important.
Thank you very much. This has been SUCH an honour, taking your photograph.
Thank you so much. “
The image he took:
That was it. His words had such reverence to them… he sounded so genuinely grateful and honoured. The moment was over quickly, and they turned and went on with the scene...the film carried on… but I just sat there and started sobbing. I could not stop crying. His words, that moment in time captured forever, after such an important time in history… their faces imprinted onto that paper; a marker in time, evidence of this moment having happened... And an image that, later on, became extremely precious to Wonder Woman (without giving anything away).
I was able to relate to this man who took their photo, so so so well. That reverence, and gratitude, and respect that he had for them, for standing before him and allowing him to capture them in that moment. This is how I feel when I get to photograph every single new mother with her newborn baby. When I photograph a woman’s breastfeeding journey. When I photograph raw, unposed moments in the lives of my clients. When I spend time in people's homes, capturing their lives, their relationships, their emotions. When I spend that time with people, I see their lives as epic storylines… and here I am, inserting myself into those storylines for a brief second along the way, and I capture them right here right now… and I see their strength, the massive hearts swelling in their chests. I see their love for their children. And for one another. The way she gazes at her newborn. The way he places his hand on her waist. The way the children nestle into the curvature of their mother, as the safest, most comforting place on earth.
Every woman I photograph is like a Wonder Woman to me. In that brief moment in time, as I peer at her and study her from behind my lens, she is, at times: Brave. Strong. Fearless. Vulnerable. Persistent. Tough. Resilient. Uncertain. Powerful. Oblivious. Magnificent. Primal. Fundamental. Critical. Beautiful. Things aren’t easy for people in front of my lens. Kids don’t like to do what they’re instructed to do in most cases. Kids don’t necessarily snuggle on command. Especially when a brand new person enters their home with a camera that goes ‘click click!’. Babies fall over and get hurt and cry. There may have been an argument just before I arrived leaving everyone feeling grumpy and ‘off’. I take photos of intimate moments but intimacy is a spectrum and not all aspects of family life are free for the viewing. It is a delicate space, being in someone’s home, aiming a camera at their every movement, every blink of an eye, every sniffle of the nose. I am always respectful and congnizant of how vulnerable my subjects are. Which is also why I admire them so much, for being so brave and letting me into their worlds, and handling difficult moments with such grace and maturity.
This is why, when I say every mother is like a Wonder Woman to me, I really mean it - the courage and fierce love that flows from each woman I photograph is truly inspiring. And as a mother myself, I really do understand how these seemingly small things can be so complex and so frustrating and challenging when they come up. And I love to capture those moments and elevate each woman I photograph to a place of honour and reverence. I find each woman I photograph to be entirely beautiful and powerful, in her own unique way - and my images endeavour to showcase that natural pure uninhibited beauty.
Back to the film - when the photo was taken of her and her comrades, she was feeling burdened, troubled and deeply sad. She was not feeling victorious. Not in any jubilant kind of way, anyway. She had accomplished something, but was in no mood for fanfare. She had done a job she felt only she could do. Which is very often the story that comes up over and over again with the women I photograph. There are childhood squabbles only a mother can defuse. Cuts that only a mother can sooth. Hungers and thirsts only a mother can quell. Hugs and kisses only a mother can provide. Emotional outbursts only a mother can de-escalate. In every family, there are just some things that fall on the mothers. The same goes for my home. My children look to me in ways they do not look to their father. And I see those things, sometimes, as a job. Sometimes, I see those things as an annoyance, because I have to run out, or get something done, and I would very much like their father to be the go-to person in that moment but - no - the kids come running after me because only I can take care of their issues at that moment, they decree.
So, having said that, when I have my camera aimed at mothers doing their job, performing their tasks, tending to their children's needs... it's not always jolly and joyful and pleasureful. It can be exhausting, annoying, painful, boring, and frustrating. But you know... the special thing about the images I try to capture is in their long-term value. What they will mean to mothers (and fathers and families) down the road, when life has changed a thousands times over, and stages will have come and gone, and yet, they still will have these snapshots of a time in their lives when they were like Super Heroes to their young ones. When only they could save the day. Back when the touch of their hands yielded healing magic, and the temperature and feel of their bosom lifted away all worry and pain. Back when the sound of their voice resonating through skin-to-skin contact could sedate a teething toddler and lull them to sleep with a simple murmur.
That's right. You mothers out there. You are Super Heroes. There was a poignant line in the film, when someone important to Wonder Woman told her... "The world of men does not deserve you.", and later in the story, she realized that, "it is not about what they deserve. It is about what YOU believe." And that line also weighed on me as a photographer of women, primarily. When I look at you amazing women, I don't see your role as being one that is based on your children deserving a certain type of mother. Or when I shoot boudoir, I don't see you as the woman your husband deserves to see in a boudoir photobook. Not at all. I see you as the person you believe yourself to be. I see you as whom I believe you are. I see you as being whatever you need to be because you believe that this is what you need to be for your children. And that YOU are what THEY need. And so many women often forget that, in their day to day life. They are incredible mothers, incredible women and partners and they are Wonder Women. Yet they still often return to the flaws, and the problem areas, and the things they need to fix and the extra weight or the messy home or worrying about how others view them. In my work as photographer and documenter of life events, my job is to remind you Today and Forevermore - or for as long as my images exist in the universe after I am long gone.... that you, that day, were a Wonder Woman.
You are a Wonder Woman.
Here is a miniscule sampling of some of the
Wonder Women I have had the privilege of photographing: