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Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared But Now I’m Back
Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared But Now I’m Backcourtesy of Andi Gáldi Vinkó

These photographs reveal the creative crisis of motherhood

Photographer Andi Gáldi Vinkó beautifully documents her attempts to take ‘control of the chaos’ as both a mother and artist

We’re familiar with idyllic images of content babies and fulfilled, loving mothers – the classical, the pastoral, and romantic vignettes from across art history of Madonna and child. We’re prepared for the joys of motherhood, but not necessarily for the potential trauma and periods of intense loneliness. Pregnancy and motherhood are universal experiences, but they’re also intensely personal and solitary. 

Andi Gáldi Vinkó’s new series of photographs, Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared But Now I’m Back, is an unflinching account of the photographer’s own experience of having a baby and all the devotion, bodily-trauma, joy, and lack of personal space that this entails. With her keen eye for humour, Gáldi Vinkó captures the beautiful, life-affirming moments of becoming a mother alongside the continuous struggle to “stay mysterious” despite the various indignities and peculiar excretions that giving birth involves.

Motherhood can register as an act of self-destruction: a total recalibration of your own priorities, habits, and daily practices; the annihilation of life as you know it, and of your body as you recognise it. Miranda July described this process so perceptively in The First Bad Man: “I began to understand that the sleeplessness and vigilance and constant feedings were a form of brainwashing, a process by which my old self was being molded, slowly but with a steady force, into a new shape: a mother. It hurt. I tried to be conscious while it happened, like watching my own surgery. I hoped to retain a tiny corner of the old me, just enough to warn other women with. But I knew this was unlikely; when the process was complete I wouldn’t have anything left to complain with, it wouldn’t hurt anymore, I wouldn’t remember.” 

In Gáldi Vinkó’s work, she asks what becomes of “our careers, our homes, our dishes, our laundries, our sexual desires. What happened to our freedom, our showers, our sleeping hours?” Here, we speak to the Hungarian-born photographer about “taking control of the chaos” and how, for her, motherhood has transformed the meaning and practice of making art.

Can you tell us a bit more about the project came to be? 

Andi Gáldi Vinkó: I guess it came instinctively. Photography always helped me understand situations, life-changing events in my life. I was very shocked at the beginning of motherhood/postpartum. I had a very easy pleasant pregnancy then suddenly everything changed and I had no idea how to handle it. So, from a chaotic photo diary, evolved a proper series with friends included and re-staged moments. Everything happened very genuinely.

How has having a baby changed your relationship with your body?

Andi Gáldi Vinkó: Immensely. I have been lucky with my figure my whole life but, like every girl, I always find something I hate about myself. I wish I had known how to appreciate it more before – I feel like this should be taught at school, like a class on self-confidence. I read about mothers who love their postpartum stretchmarks and empty falling breasts, and of course, I know now how my body has a whole different function than just being pretty, and I thank my body everyday for having nursed a child, but in reality, there is so much more than the words on Instagram posts that we would need to understand before we can really come to peace with a change like this.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child but we have no villages anymore” – Andi Gáldi Vinkó

You compare giving birth to ‘disappearing’. Can you tell us a bit more about this experience?

Andi Gáldi Vinkó: Just before I got pregnant, I was mentioned alongside names like Tyler Mitchell, Petra Collins, and praised as an emerging artist. I knew I had to calm down, travel less and focus on myself if I wanted a healthy pregnancy, but I had no idea that if I wanted to be a healthy mother I would also have to disappear a little. Like everything in my life, I wanted to live it, experience it fully. I wanted to understand with every piece of my heart what this elemental feeling meant to lose yourself to become something else. It’s like there was me before, and there was mother me, and now it’s this new me which if I succeed can be the best me. I don't know if this makes sense, but I knew you can either be a good artist or a good mother but ‘can you have it all?’ is a very valid question Hannah Watson (the director of TJ Boulting Gallery) asked me. I still can't answer. Especially if you are a freelance and a perfectionist. Because when you work you feel like you should be with your child but when you are with your child you want to work.

Motherhood can register as a sort of personal trauma. How did you reconstruct your sense of self after having a baby? 

Andi Gáldi Vinkó: Well, it's kind of what I said before. For me, the hardest is to accept that my child comes before anything else. My sense of self is getting to know herself every day, like after a coma. Tolerance and patience with myself are the two new feelings I am learning. And I keep repeating to myself that I did not cease existing I have just stopped being for a while. 

You draw parallels with the natural world, but also convey a sense of shock at some of the ‘natural’ bodily functions. Do you think we’ve become detached from nature and these so-called instinctual processes?

Andi Gáldi Vinkó: I love this question. Yes, this journey has made me look at nature in such a different way. Animals, lights, trees, everything resonates with what you feel, see. We just never stop anymore to contemplate and just observe. Everything is so ephemeral and fast. I loved rediscovering life through these lenses. And simultaneously came to the realisation that everything that surrounds motherhood’s first phases is wrapped in a myth. All visual references are beautiful – clean; shiny. We never see the reality – the messy; the funny. They say it takes a village to raise a child but we have no villages anymore. I didn’t really see anyone around me with a baby, my generation is having their first child in their late thirties and Google was my best friend when I was looking for an answer about anything related to postpartum. 

Does it still feel taboo to make work about the reality of pregnancy and motherhood?

Andi Gáldi Vinkó: I think so. A lot of people weren’t taking me seriously when I said I was working on a series about motherhood. They were like ‘yeah, this will pass’ and ‘don’t spend too much time on it’. Recently, a short article in the Hungarian online liberal news presented some of the photos from the series – I had a small exhibition at Feri, a small feminist project space in Budapest – and the amount of shares and comments on the article were insane. So many women loved it, and wanted to see more of it, but in a very politicised country like Hungary, where birth is a national obligation and the only true purpose of a woman, people felt insulted by my images, saying I should never show something so intimate, and how dare I show the dark side of something so sublime as motherhood. 

How do you ‘stay mysterious’ during the process of becoming a mother? 

Andi Gáldi Vinkó: My mantra! I have no idea. I guess after doing all the housework – I never knew there was so much of it – after taking care of your child, after your work/passion and a little bit of me-time, you manage to wash your hair before you fall asleep in the child's room on the floor. 

You can see more images from Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared But Now I’m Back, and Andi Gáldi Vinkó's other projects here