Five Photographers Visualize The Stories and Struggles of Maternal Health and Reproductive Rights
Photography

Five Photographers Visualize The Stories and Struggles of Maternal Health and Reproductive Rights

Five Photographers Visualize The Stories and Struggles of Maternal Health and Reproductive Rights

by The Luupe
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From photojournalism to conceptual photography, collage, and documentary film, these artists address the ongoing struggles of maternal health and reproductive rights.

The Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in the United States has us fired up. While many were shocked by the ruling, reproductive rights, childbirth, healthcare, and maternal support around the world have been contentious for decades.
The following photographers have been visualizing the diverse stories of those affected.

Laia Abril: On Abortion

Barcelona-based Laia Abril is a Catalan artist whose work tells nuanced multimedia stories related to sexuality, eating disorders, and gender equality. Her 2018 book "On Abortion" - part of her ongoing series "The History of Misogyny" looks at the repercussions of abortion controls in different cultures.
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Abril researches and visualizes the impact of women’s limited access to safe, free and legal abortion worldwide. She uses found and original photographs, paired with insightful text to show the evolution and erosion of women's reproductive rights.
These images include methods of self-induced abortions, mug shots of early twentieth-century abortion providers, a drone that airlifts abortion pills into countries where they are outlawed, and a painful-to-look-at ultrasound from a rape victim denied an abortion.
Abril's work is a difficult and necessary reminder that certain basic rights should not be taken for granted, especially in the context of the recent Supreme Court ruling.

Kelly Marshall: Birthing of a Nation

Commercial and editorial photographer Kelly Marshall's feature documentary Birthing of A Nation follows the lives and work of today’s Black birth workers and activists.
Linda Jones, Post Partum Doula, Oakland CA. © Kelly Marshall
The project began in 2016 as a series of unconventional portraits of BIPOC birth workers and gradually evolved into Marshall's still-developing documentary film. For Marshall, it's vital to show the history of Black women’s radical self-care and healing through the birth justice movement and a healthcare system deeply rooted in the commodification of the Black body.
Kimberly Seals Allers - femtech founder, writer, speaker, and maternal and infant health strategist, Author of "The Big Let Down. 'Founder of the app IRTH- which is a Yelp-like review and rating app for Black and Brown women and birthing people to find and leave reviews of OB/GYNS, birthing hospitals, and pediatricians.© Kelly Marshall
"An Afro-futuristic account of the reproductive justice movement and the healing arts of Black women in America since 1619," the portraits and film reflect on the American maternal health care crisis.
Marshall invites viewers to experience an awakening in maternal health for and by Black women.
Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens, historian, author, and speaker. Author of ‘Medical Bondage’.Professor in the History of Medicine and Director of the new Humanities Program at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. In this position. Dr. Cooper Owens is one of two Black women in the US running a medical humanities program. She is also the director of the Program in African American history at the Library Company of Philadelphia- the country’s oldest cultural institution. © Kelly Marshall
"We are on a mission to bring the truth about maternal mortality and morbidity in America," says Marshall. "Women need to know what's happening and the Black community needs to be informed."
With a focus on the wide and evolving issues and histories surrounding maternal health, the documentary highlights the resilience and historical ability to survive despite having fewer resources.
"It is a remembrance of our power, connectivity, intuition," says Marshall, "and the incredible healing work Black women have been doing in this country since 1619." Here is a link on how to donate to the film's production.

Tara Todras-Whitehill and Jennifer Baumgardner: I Had an Abortion

Gloria Steinem, co-founder of MS. Magazine and Voters for Choice. She describes her abortion, which she had when she was 22, as the first time she acted in her own life. Steinem considers reproductive freedom the most significant contribution of 2nd wave feminism. © Tara Todras-Whitehill
In 2005, Luupe photographer Tara Todras-Whitehill collaborated with Jennifer Baumgardner on "I Had an Abortion", a series of portraits of women activists who had abortions. The series aimed to celebrate the humanity of these women, open discussion, and remove taboos.
Loretta Ross, co-author of Undivided Rights and organizer of the women of color for the 2004 March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C. She got pregnant in high school and had a son, losing a scholarship to Radcliffe in the process. As a student at Howard University in 1970, she found herself pregnant again. In D.C., abortion was legal, but Loretta needed her mother's signature in order to have the procedure. Her mother refused and Loretta ended up forging her signature and having a very late-term abortion. © Tara Todras-Whitehill
"I wanted the series to be straightforward so that the simplicity of the women’s portraits would stand out," says Todras-Whitehill. For Tara and Jennifer, it was important to show viewers that abortion rights are not a "faceless issue," and to bring forward each woman's stories and spark discussion and debate.
"This is an issue that is a part of us all," she adds. "And by speaking up, and telling our stories, we make abortion a less confrontational topic in American society."

Olivia Harris: Blessed Be The Fruit

Cassanras, Limerick. Giant figures representing Ireland’s dark treatment of women wait to parade through Limerick city in a silent appeal to residents to change the law against abortion. Artist Alice Maher put mirror-like discs on their heads ‘to reflect back to Irish society its own flagrant hypocrisy.’ © Olivia Harris
Olivia Harris' series "Blessed Be The Fruit" responds to the victorious overturn in 2018 of Ireland's 10th Amendment, one of the strictest abortion laws in the world.
In the series, Harris shows the many perspectives of the women and young girls, activists impacted by it, and religious figures surrounding it.
Katie, Wicklow Mountains. Eleven-year-old Katie is an altar server, traditionally a route to the priesthood for boys. ‘I would like to be a priest’, Katie said. ‘But I’ve never seen a woman giving mass, not even on the television.’ In 2010, the Vatican said it regards the full and equal participation of women in the church as ‘a grave sin.’ © Olivia Harris
Our Toil Doth Sweeten Others, Limerick. This embroidered trade union-style banner was created by artist Alice Maher. It reads ‘Our Toil Doth Sweeten Others’ and hangs at Eva International Art festival in Limerick. Throughout the campaign, women used art like this to express themselves. © Olivia Harris
The title, which comes from a line in the Hail Mary, is often repeated during Catholic prayers and was heard frequently in the background during much of Harris' time in Ireland.
It's also a line that appears in the Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Attwood's dystopian novel that has been a reality for those struggling for abortion rights for years.
The Red Nun, Dublin. The Catholic Church of Ireland called on followers to work actively to resist change to abortion laws.⁠ © Olivia Harris
What makes Harris' images so successful is their ability to balance hope, joy, and levity with struggle. Her photos often have warm inviting light, embrace humorous irony, and, while documentary in nature, have a cinematic vibe that highlights the complexity of each story.

Donna Ferrato

Operation Rescue. 1992/ 2019. © Donna Ferrato. Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NY.
For over 50 years, Donna Ferrato has used photography and collage to celebrate women's complex personal, professional, and political lives around the world. From heartbreaking images of domestic violence to rallies supporting abortion rights, her work sparks ongoing discussion on women's rights.
Holy, a new retrospective exhibition of her work (and the title of her acclaimed 2021 book), up through the end of July at NYC's Daniel Cooney Fine Art looks at her all-encompassing career.
Margaret Atwood. 1985/ 2019. © Donna Ferrato. Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NY.
Timed to the Supreme Court's ruling, the exhibition includes several collages Donna made in 2019 reexamining her documentary work from the 1980s. The photos feel urgent and full of energy on their own, but take on new fresh energy through Ferrato's collage and handwritten text.
While the exhibition comes at an uncertain time, for Ferrato and Coony, it's largely a celebration of women's defiance and spiritual liberation.
▲ Liberation Must Come From Within, 2015/ 2019. Unique Collage. © Donna Ferrato. Courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art

Further Reading:

Bethany Mollenkof photographs maternal health in the American South
Photos of reactions to Supreme Court abortion rulings across the United States
Men share their abortion stories
Meg Handler's 1990s photojournalism on abortion shows the present is like the past
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