Refracting the Maternal Gaze: Mirroring and Mothering in Contemporary Photographic Practices

By Eti Wade.

Published by The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Maternal subjectivity is largely absented from culture, obscured by representational idealisation. Photographic maternal art practices are opening up new ways to understand motherhood and account for a silenced female experience. Mothers photograph their children to record and hold on to memories from the fleeting years of childhood. These photographs are almost always private. Artist Mothers who photograph their children make images that expose a ‘Maternal Gaze’, images that are often contradictory to conventional maternal ideals. This ‘Maternal Gaze’ is understood to represent maternal subjectivity in unconventional images of children and the family. Often the public dissemination of ‘Maternal Gaze’ photographs attracts social unease and raises issues about familial power relations and parental authority, raising questions regarding the moral right of the mother to make the work as evidenced by the responses to Sally Mann’s Immediate Family exhibition in 1992, Tierney Gearon’s work exhibited in the ‘I am a Camera’ in 2001 and others. Analysing the perception of the mother-photographer’s exploitation of her maternal power and the possibility that the photographic maternal gaze disrupts Winnicotian mirroring, I discuss the work of Ana Casas Broda, Katharina Bosse and my own to propose an intersubjective interpretation in which the mother is allowed to articulate and come to terms with a socially denied maternal subjectivity at the same time as answering the child’s need to be seen (by the mother).

Keywords: Motherhood, Maternal Gaze, Maternal Subjectivity, Intersubjectivity, Photography

The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.29-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 7.863MB).

Eti Wade

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of the Arts, The University of West London, London, UK

Eti Wade is a visual artist specialising in photography, a Photography lecturer since 2000 she currently heads the Photography MA programme at The University of West London, UK. Her art practice and research activities center on representations of motherhood and the manifestations of the maternal gaze in photographic practice and she has an extensive photographic and performance based body of work relating to the subject. Her work sets to articulate maternal subjectivity and operates therapeutically and expressively. She is a mother of three boys and lives in London.