When it comes to motherhood and work, everyone has an opinion.
And at this point, it feels like I’ve read all of them. I know the numbers on paid maternity leave. I know why it’s OK to have one, multiple or no kids. I know why it’s important for all women, including mothers, to lean in, and also the flaws with that concept; that stopping women with families from dropping out of the workforce must involve paying them more; and why we should stop calling women “Mommy.” I am a female, mid-twenties millennial with an Internet connection, after all.
But no one who I have read, heard or watched has approached the topic quite like Alice Proujansky.
When Proujansky, a documentary photographer, had her first child several years ago, she knew her work was going to change. “I wasn’t going to be traveling as much for awhile,” she told me. “These concerns were so overwhelming my mind — questions about work, motherhood and identity, and the way that they can inform each other and support each other but also really conflict.”
So she began seeking out the people all around her who were dealing with the same questions — mothers with careers outside the home who she knew personally, or who were friends of friends. She started asking questions and taking photos.
“Just by watching them and talking to them, I could feel that what I was doing wasn’t crazy, it wasn’t insane,” she said. “It was hard, but it was important and doable.”
The result was “Women’s Work,” her series profiling working mothers. Her subjects range from an Assistant District Attorney arguing a murder case in court to a nurse who assists with abortions at the same health center where she gave birth.
“I wanted to make photos that showed the way I thought, the people I knew who reflected my own experience with it. We love our children and we are engaged with them but we are also engaged with the world. Those things can inform each other,” she said.
By making a wide range of mothers’ work more visible, Proujansky hopes to add more depth to the conversation around parenting, which she said often oversimplifies the role of mothers.
“I think our culture tends to sort mothers into strange and conflicting categories, where we’re expected to be self-sacrificing and put on a pedestal … but at the same time we aren’t supported, we aren’t given paid maternity leave, [and] there is derision in the way people talk about motherhood,” she said. “There are all these conflicting stereotypes about it.”
Proujansky has tackled similar subjects before, including in a previous series that focused on birth culture. People are eager for the more complex story about mothers in America, Proujansky said.
“I think it’s really important to see women and our bodies in a way that’s multifaceted and honest,” she said. “I think that most of the images that we see of women don’t depict us in this wide variety of roles, where we are being physical in our jobs as we’re mothering, and then we’re also exploring our intellectual and creative self. It’s really important to me to present a multifaceted image of women because I don’t see enough of that.”
You can see more of Proujansky’s work below.
The word “parallax” describes the camera error that occurs when an image looks different through a viewfinder than how it is recorded by a sensor; when one camera gives two perspectives. Parallax is a blog where photographers offer the unexpected sides and stories of their work. Tell us yours or share on Instagram at #PBSParallax.