How does motherhood shape photographers? On this Mother’s Day, I asked six National Geographic photographers, who are also moms, to share images of their own children and write about their experiences balancing motherhood and their photographic careers. They shared intimate images and beautiful stories of love, adventure, ritual, and reunion. Happy Mother’s Day!
For so much of my life, I have associated photography with work, so ironically, I don’t photograph my own family very much. My husband takes most of our family photographs, and when I do shoot at home, it’s with my iPhone. So, this image is one of a handful of times when I have actually photographed Lukas with my professional 35mm Nikon camera. I shot it across the street from our house in London after Lukas came home from a birthday party at Sophie and Clara’s house. The life of a photojournalist doesn’t easily lend itself to a stable personal life, and for years, I told people who asked whether I had children that my Nikons were my kids, and my home was where my base was—Turkey, India, Mexico, or New York. For me, having children is really about building a home—not a physical structure of a home, but a base, a family, a life. Having Lukas has changed everything—my home is where my family is, and at the end of every assignment, I know where I need to be. Lukas is 3, and I’ve missed every Mother’s Day, but I like to pretend every day I am with him is my own special Mother’s Day. —Lynsey Addario
This image of my son Pauhlo was taken in Kautokeino, Norway. Kautokeino is a Sami village where I lived and worked with a family of reindeer herders for many years. The family has become as close to me as my own. When I visited this year I brought Pauhlo. I wanted to share with him the beauty and magic of the Arctic landscape and the Sami people that I have been so fortunate to experience. During his time there he got to see the reindeer, walk in the snow, attend a wedding, eat reindeer meat, stay in a lavvo, watch the northern lights, and be immersed in Sami language.
I am a photographer because I am a storyteller. I must live my stories to be able to tell them. As my son grows up, I hope to be able to bring him into situations where his own stories can be created, giving him memories and a wealth of experiences that reflect the world’s diversity. I also imagine that he will lead me to new frontiers and my work and life will become a reflection of those exposures. —Erika Larsen
Just before our son was born, we moved to a house with a beautiful cherry tree in the backyard. In spring, when he was just four months old, we put him on the freshly fallen cherry blossoms where I photographed him. That begin a tradition that we followed for each of the ten springs we lived in that house, photographing Will, who was soon joined by his sister Katie, lying on the soft pink petals.
Those rituals were important to our family. At the time, I was working almost nonstop for [National Geographic] magazine. But at the start of every trip, we’d all go to the airport together, so our children could see that I was leaving. When I came home, my husband would bring them to the airport so they could see I returned. That evening we’d have a little celebration. Those consistent rituals, where our children knew that I would leave yet always return, anchored all of our lives in the midst of my crazy career. My husband and I worked hard to give them stability and consistency—birthday parties and Boy Scouts, summer camps and soccer games. My life was nuts, but my children didn’t need to share in that chaos.
Motherhood added unexpected levels of stress to my life, arranging for child care when our babysitter abruptly returned to her home country or last-minute carpooling just as a deadline came due. Yet all that made me appreciate how much those without my resources must struggle to raise their families. Motherhood also made me more aware of what our actions are doing to our community and planet. I want to work harder to make this a better place. It’s not just a cliche for me but a reality that could affect my children, their children, and all the others I’ve met in the course of my work. —Karen Kasmauski
The truth is, it’s very difficult to be a mother and a photographer at the same time. I work with medium-format film, and while going through meters of negatives from both assignment and personal work, of images taken around the world and often of strangers’ children, I realized that I haven’t spent a single frame on my own daughter. Looking at this photograph of her, I have feelings of tenderness and guilt that I often experience as a mother in this profession, being away for long periods of time doing the job I love. I took this iPhone picture of my daughter, Runi, as she was about to doze off. She waited for me, much past her bedtime, to come back from a month-long assignment in India. I walked in and saw her on the couch; she was excited to see me, and quickly fell asleep ten minutes later. —Rena Effendi
Having my boy changed a lot of things for me. Life slowed down, and it forced me to look at the bigger picture. Breast-feeding time means he and I lie down in bed to share our gift. We touch, we play, we look at each other and wrap ourselves in our love. No one can take this from us, and nothing is more important. Being a mother has helped me prioritize in my work. I only shoot stories that truly matter to me, and I take my time to understand things better. I also feel it has given me a deeper understanding of who I am as an individual and of how resilient I can be. Being a mother is the hardest and most rewarding thing that has ever happened to me. —Karla Gachet
My children tolerate me. As their mother, they love me in a “I can’t ever ever get enough of you all the time and I must tell you this entire story two inches from your face as I hug you and hang on you and squeeze you!” But as the person who relentlessly documents their lives, they tolerate me. They have no qualms about telling me to put my camera down. Often, I should.
Photographing the people you love can be challenging. I sometimes feel like I’m never really able to convey the joy I see in their lives, or the moments that authentically represent their world. This motivates me to keep shooting them, seeking out those quiet in-between times when they take a break from their soccer game to rest against the fence, or press their faces against a window to see what’s happening on our street. This is what our lives really are. It’s not the special events that interest me as a photographer—it’s the day-to-day of who we are together that I want to capture. I think this is what I’ll miss most when they’re no longer little.
The image I chose isn’t just of my children, it’s of me. When I looked at the image later, I saw in my expression just what I was feeling at that moment—quiet love between mother and daughter. When I look at it now, I can almost feel her little arm tight around me. —Becky Hale