Before Jenny Lewis had her first child, the only stories she heard about giving birth were terrifying. “It was like ‘Oh, God, how am I going to get through this?’ ” she recalled.
But Lewis’ experience turned out to be a positive one, so she decided to begin a project that captured the emotions of new motherhood, 24 hours in. This month, she published One Day Young (Hoxton Mini Press), which includes 40 of the 150 portraits she took in the homes of new mothers with their babies.
Lewis began the series by hanging leaflets around the London borough of Hackney where she lives, offering a free print to anyone willing to pose for her should she happen to be home a day after delivering her baby. She wanted the work to be as organic as possible so she didn’t pre screen anyone.
“I didn’t want to persuade people or impose myself on them,” Lewis said. “It had to come from them: If you fancy doing it just call me when the contractions start and I’ll plan on it. If you don’t fancy it just let me know.”
Once Lewis had finished with the portrait, she would post it online.
“What got them to do it was seeing the other women,” she said about the growing gallery of images. “They could see it was comfortable and not intrusive, that the people were happy and by seeing the other people they could feel empowered and then they wanted to be a part of it, to pass that message on, and it just sort of snowballed.”
Although Lewis was meeting strangers, she said entering the room with the new mothers and their children was a profound experience, something most people might only experience with close friends or relatives.
“To be welcomed in by strangers and have that warmth, it really changed my perspective on humanity. You assume people have a distance but in that moment all of these barriers dissolved and I was welcomed in and shown such openness. It was amazing.”
Editing One Day Young from 150 to 40 images was tough. She was, however, drawn mostly to images wherein the mothers are looking at the camera.
“It was that confidence in their gaze that I found fascinating. … It just has so much strength and not how maybe you would think of a mother who just had a baby a few hours earlier. These women are so fierce they won’t drop their gaze, they stare out at you and make you look back at them and I found that amazing; that gaze was right at me: piercing, protective, full of love, no self consciousness. Letting a stranger in to their own home at that moment but they still have that strength in their gaze I thought wow, that’s incredible.”
Previously on Behold: