There are some photographs and exhibitions that are taken and put together for one purpose only, to shock their audience. Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity at The Photographers’ Gallery, is one of them.
Spread over two floors, it showcases works by artists such as Elinor Carucci, Leigh Ledare, Elina Brotherus and five other contemporary photographers, and aims to challenge stereotypes of motherhood and reveal the different truths behind parenting. Ranging from self-portraits to small videos, the exhibition is mainly autobiographical, and the series of photographs by each artist can be seen as documentaries of their lives as mothers / son, with the projects spreading over many years and many topics.
While in her series Mother (2004-2013) Israeli-American artist Elinor Carucci focuses on her pregnancy and the intimate relationship with her family, especially her two children, Finnish artist Elina Brotherus records herself during the long years of failed IVF treatments. Although called Annunciation, the series portraits the artist faced with the reality that motherhood is getting more and more impossible as the months go on and, unlike the Virgin Mary, feelings of hope are quickly replaced by sorrow and loss.
…which contrast her aggressive sexual behaviour with an extremely fragile psyche…
Addressing the question of motherhood and parenting through photographs of his mother, artist Leigh Ledare’s project Pretend You’re Actually Alive (2002-2008) is definitely the most explicit of the whole exhibition. Formerly a model and ballerina, Ledare’s mother Tina Peterson later worked in amateur pornography. Her profession is key in the series of photographs displayed, which contrast her aggressive sexual behaviour with an extremely fragile psyche, and allows a thorough study into the taboos and boundaries of mother/son relationships.
Taking the topic of motherhood in the opposite direction, Austrian artist Hanna Putz takes the focus away from the figure of the mother or the child, but instead brings them together as a single unit, without exposing either of them. Capturing simple moments of everyday life, her photographs create a feeling of intimacy and closeness.
…the reason why the exhibition is not advised for under 16s…
The photographs of Spanish-born artist Ana Casas Broda, making up her project Kinderwunsch, shock the viewers as they enter the second room of the exhibition, with their size and content. Completely exposing the female body, they are, together with Leigh Ledare’s photographs of his mother, the reason why the exhibition is not advised for under 16s.
Although the photographs of Elinor Carucci and Hanna Putz give a true and honest insight into motherhood and the relationship between mother and child, the other series of images shock the audience so much that it seems to be their only aim, and while a few of the photographs are beautiful in their simplicity, in general there is too much photography to take it all in one go.
The exhibition continues until 5 January 2014
Image courtesy of Fred Hüning, Untitled (Lake), 2011 © Fred Hüning