My father was a phenomenal photographer. He took his camera everywhere and documented the ordinary. He took photos of relatives, neighbors, door-to-door salesmen and anyone else that crossed his path or entered our home. He had a way of drawing people out and making photographs that revealed their personality, quirks and all. I used to look at his photos in magazines and newspapers and his boxes and albums of photos over and over, the way a child does with a favorite storybook. Everyone that came to our home did the same thing. They would pick up an album and reminisce about the people and places they knew and ask for the story behind those they didn’t know.
When I was 14, I asked to use my father’s camera so I could make my own photo albums full of the people, places and stories that meant something to me. He wasn’t partial to me handling his equipment, so he bought a camera for me and taught me how to expose, compose, develop film and print. I’ve been documenting the ordinary ever since.
I’m drawn to the sights, ideas and experiences that most people readily dismiss as insignificant. Things that are so common or second nature that they are not noticed. In my mind, these are the things that define a person, place and time and tell a story. These are the nuances of life that fade and disappear with the passing of time. These are the things I want to remember with photographs.
In my late teens and early twenties, I thought I needed to document exotic places and exciting events. The resulting photographs rarely interested me unless people were in them doing something very ordinary. The scenic postcard type of photo does not resonate with me. I need human or animal interaction to hold my interest. I need to tell a story.
The best way for me to tell a story is in a series. I usually work on two or three concurrently, with one on the front burner and the others simmering in back. Elements from one series segue into the next. The “Mama Love” series is currently on the front burner. It’s an offshoot of a pregnancy series that began several years ago. As a thank you gift, I invited the women to return to my studio for portraits after they had their babies. During the photo sessions, the new mothers expressed amazement at the magnitude of the feelings they experienced after giving birth. I felt that their casual, seemingly insignificant expressions and the resulting images were far more moving and powerful than the series of pregnancy photographs I was working on, so I switched gears and began inviting women to the studio to be photographed with their infants and to comment on their feelings about motherhood. This series aspires to give the viewer a glimpse into the special bond between mothers and their children. The women are not portrayed as madonnas or mother goddesses to be idolized. They are fully human, expressing the complexities of parenthood.
While photographing women for “Mama Love” the related series “Nurture” emerged. Many crying babies were bottle and breastfed during the photo sessions. This was a great relief to me since a happy baby resulted. Most of the breastfeeding moms gave permission to continue photographing while they fed. The images reveal an even deeper connection between mother and child. The calm contentment of both mother and child is heartwarming and powerful. Several of the breastfeeding images have been used by national and international health organizations to raise awareness of the health, psychological and financial benefits of breastfeeding. As health care becomes less available and affordable, breastfeeding is one way to give a child a healthy advantage. “Nurture” will be used to advocate breastfeeding, particularly in low-income communities with high rates of formula fed babies.
Further development and promotion of the “Nurture” series is on the back burner for now along with the pregnancy series. “Mama Love” will be self published in book form in the near future. What pleases me most is that the book has the same effect effect on me as my father’s photo albums. I look at the images over and over, remembering the ordinary stories and conversations with extraordinary people.
Camille Mosley-Pasley studied Commercial Photography at Penn Career Center, a vocational high school in Washington, DC and earned a BFA in Fine Art from the Corcoran College of Art & Design with an emphasis on sculpture and photography. For many years she served as director for two DC area galleries. Currently, she owns and operates a photography studio, serves as chair of Market 5 Gallery, a non-profit alternative arts organization, is an art consultant and independent curator. Through her ongoing documentary series Transcendence and Mama Love, she preserves the small, often ignored details of daily life that define her culture.
Edited by Ellyn Weiss