‘Motherhood really is indescribable, so deeply multi-faceted,’ says the photographer, whose images shed light on the beautiful yet chaotic realities of early parenthood
Australian photographer Amy Woodward uses her camera to document the early realities of motherhood. With deep sensitivity, her images explore what it means to be a mum and, in doing so, challenge the very definition of the word itself. Set against various backdrops along Australia’s Sunshine Coast – inside quiet corners of the home, garden and pockets of nature – parents and children pose for the camera. Through these pictures, Woodward highlights motherhood as a role that extends beyond space, time and definition – as she puts it herself, “it’s indescribable”.
“I probably took my first photograph on what I vaguely remember as an old red 110 Instamatic my mother used. I have memories of her setting me up on a garden bench with a bunch of daffodils to take my portrait” she recalls of her first foray into image-making. And while “most other interests and hobbies had fallen by the wayside”, photography endured.
“I ran the little photo lab in the local pharmacy in my mid-teens for a year or so, and ended up with a couple of warnings for spending half of each shift just developing my own film. When I first left home, I moved back to the town of my birth and lived alone in a small apartment for a couple of years. I spent most of my days around town shooting strangers, my grandparents, and cousins, having them developed on the same day at the local camera shop”. She then decided to do a degree in photography and, after finishing, took up work as a commercial photographer before refocusing on more personal projects.
Which brings us to this series. After giving birth to her son, Woodward experienced a period of joy, grief and confusion, which she began to document with her camera. “All of this really awakened a new desire in me to document these seemingly ordinary or everyday moments that are so very worthy of elevation and witnessing,” she says. “It’s a modern norm to encourage the separation of mother and child, and the return to your old self. Eventually, I started documenting other mothers, families and motherhood experiences – for both my personal investigations and commissions.”
“I often use photography as a way to pose questions to myself, to help me to reflect on my own journey of matrescence, to interrogate the way that I show up as a mother to my children, as well as using it to form a wider narrative that includes other mothers, families and their own complex, messy, beautiful worlds,” she continues.
Through her work, Woodward hopes to “elevate and explore some of the more difficult and less discussed parts of motherhood” – things like hair loss, postpartum bodies, leaking milk, or “a stealth vomit down a mother’s back”. In capturing these moments, she advocates for a greater understanding of motherhood and the female body. “The way we frame or expect mothers to show up in society, makes it almost impossible for a mother to be her own human outside of this role – and there is of course the exhaustion, frustration, loneliness, apathy, feelings of being touched out, the sensory overwhelm,” she says.
In all her curiosity, Woodward connects her photographic practice to the biological process of birth. “It shares a lot of parallels, I’ve come to understand,” she explains. “I work best undisturbed, quietly, intuitively and with minimal people around. I need an emotional connection with those I photograph, the same way I need emotional connection with those present during my births. There’s an element of the unknown, unpredictability, surrender, trust – so many parallels.”
As she continues her work behind the lens, Woodward hopes to investigate a “wider spectrum of parenthood experiences” and shed light on the rites of passage that are often overlooked – from platonic co-parenting, parenting through neurodivergence and expanding families. “I really hope photography can continue its path in becoming more accessible and widely utilised by those who wish to tell their stories in an empowered way. I think it is so important to elevate image makers from diverse backgrounds that are telling deeply important but often overlooked stories. I hope to stay curious and open, and to keep following the many tendrils that grow out from the tree of motherhood and women’s lives.”