By Seth Kushner
I’d been photographing artists, actors and pop culture-figures for various projects for some time, and last spring I was assigned a campaign to shoot 24 “real” people, and that brought me back to earlier works like my 2007 book, The Brooklynites for which I photographed over 300 people from Brooklyn, and it reminded me of how much I loved working with regular ‘ol folks.
I decided I’d take a break from some of my long-term projects to work on something utilizing “real” people. In thinking about what kind of project I might create, I looked at my life, and as the father of a nearly three year-old, I’m surrounded by families and from that I had to notion to photograph mothers.
From the time my son was born, I realized there was something special about mothers. My wife immediately took on the role of “mom” and it was the most natural thing in the world. I had to learn how to be a dad. My theory has been, there’s something special and inborn in women who become mothers, perhaps passed down through their genetic coding and it gives them the strength and wisdom and patience needed for the vital role of caring for their baby.
I challenged myself to do a series of close-up portraits which would show this unexplained, almost magical thing. My natural instinct as a long-time editorial photographer would be to show them with their children, or in their children’s rooms, but wanting to do something against my usual inclinations, I decided I would scale back and shoot without showing much environment or propping or styling and allow their faces to tell the story. I would give little direction and work very casually, in order to put my subjects at ease.
In choosing my subjects I picked mothers who I admired, starting with my wife, who is the best mother I’ve ever seen. I also photographed my 92 year-old aunt who is not just a mother, but a great-great grandmother, my wife’s best friend and her mother, and even the actress who played Charlie’s mom in the classic film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, because when I was a kid I thought she was a great mom.
This short-term project took me longer to complete than I had initially expected. Moms are busy! A few were even more difficult to nail down for a session than some celebrities! But in the end, I think I present a good cross-section of the face of motherhood.
Happy Mother’s Day!