Woman Crush Wednesday: Megan Jacobs
Interview by Anna Robertson
Your inspiration for this series were old portraits of infants sitting on their hidden mother’s laps to keep still for a long photograph. Now, hiding the mother in your images has a heavier symbolism. What made you want to pursue this series?
Throughout my career, my work has explored delicate relationships—one’s existence as material and concept and the interweaving between two partners in love. When I became a mother, it seemed natural to explore the bond of parent and child. The series Hidden Mothers references the early usages of photography, during the Victorian era, when exposure times were long. During this time, mothers who wanted a photograph of their child would commonly be hidden under a piece of fabric in order to hold their child, thus ensuring a sharp image. These historic images are commonly referred to as “hidden mother” photographs. The absence of mothers in these images perhaps says something about women’s position in Victorian culture. I came across the book, The Hidden Mother, by Linda Fregni Nagler which is comprised of hundreds of vintage hidden mother images which inspired me to create formally similar images in contemporary times, as a metaphor for the unrecognized work that mothers do to support, provide for and nurture their children. In my work each mother is wrapped in a floral bed linen that elicits traditional notions of femininity and domestic spaces. There is a tension between hiding and revealing: the mothers’ identities are obscured, yet the vibrant sheets accentuate their presence, while in other instances aspects of their identities are exposed. This interplay explores the complexities of motherhood and functions as a kind of erasure of self.
What are your thoughts on motherhood in the modern world?
I think motherhood in the modern world is extremely complicated. In the wake of recent literary investigations such as Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, more than ever our culture is grappling with what it means to balance personal and professional identities. Many women in the US are financially penalized upon becoming a mother while their male counterparts are not. Identity in our culture is linked to what we do at work and mothers are navigating a world where their roles as a nurturer can feel sidelined and invisible. If mothering matters in our culture then we need to recognize the important, rewarding, exhausting, complex work that it is parenthood by supporting mothers (and fathers!) by allowing them to parent in a sane, supported way. Mothers, many of whom work “second shifts”, are left bifurcated: guilty for leaving their children while at work and longing to get back to work while in their children's presence. There is a tension for mothers to parent in a system which heralds productivity and consumption over the act of nurturing. In an era when mothers are experiencing statistically increased parental time commitments, rising childcare costs, and pressures to be a “helicopter” parent, mothering is not only personal, but political.
You have written phrases to correspond to your portraits. A few of them read “Longing to be free of responsibility” “An invisible thread pulled taut between us”. How do you connect these phrases to motherhood?
The textual pieces that accompany the photographs are comprised of words that have been laser cut into the sheets that cloak each mother in the photographs. These phrases are excerpts from feminist scholars on motherhood such as Audre Lorde and Maya Angelo. The phrases capture the complexities of motherhood—a role that is equal parts joyful, rewarding, demanding and draining. Text panels such as “To Drink From a Woman Who Smells Like Love” alludes to the intimacy of breastfeeding and the pride a mother feels in physically supporting her child. Other panels such as “Longing To Be Free of Responsibility”look at aspects of motherhood in which one’s own identity can feel as though it’s consumed by the role of being a mother. These textual panels seek to explore the complex, and at times conflicting, emotions of motherhood.
In a few images, parts of the mother can still be seen, in one particular instance where a baby is breastfeeding, a small part of the mother’s breast can be seen. Would you say this is symbolic of a loss of body autonomy when a woman becomes a mother?
The images in the series explore methods of representation and in turn identity. In some instances, the mothers are completely covered and melt into the background becoming secondary to their children. In this way yes, I’d say they becomes a symbol of a loss of autonomy. In other images, aspects of a mother’s identity is revealed---a breast (while breastfeeding), locks of hair, and tattooed arms—which explores aspects of the mother’s unique identity while also exploring social expectations of who and what a mother is. It is baffling that in 2019 we’re still dealing with issues around where a mother can breastfeed her child—the most basic act of nurturing!
Describe your creative process in one word.
If you could teach a one-hour class on anything, what would it be?
That would be such a treat! I think it’d be three-way tie either 1) a class on photography and identity 2) one on infographics/data visualizations or 3) sustainability practices and innovations.
What was the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you?
I absolutely adored the book Braiding Sweetgrassby Robin Wall Kimmerer. It made me rethink my relationship with the natural world and the relationship I want my children to have. The film Romaby Alfonso Cuaron is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in a long time. The introductory shot is absolutely gorgeous.
What is the most played song in your music library?
It’s probably a tie between “My baby Just Cares for Me”, performed by Nina Simone for me and “Baby Shark” for my kids.
How do you take your coffee?
No coffee for this mama but I love a cup of rooibos tea with a splash of cream and sugar.
To see more of Megan’s work, visit her website here