Jena Love: The Absurdity of Pregnancy and Motherhood
When asked to curate a week of posts leading up to Mother’s Day, I wanted to show artists whose work had not been shown before on Lenscratch. Because of my own endeavors and interest in family photographs, I chose artists whose work evolved from being a mother or a daughter.
Jena Love was introduced to me through Aline Smithson, who had met Jena at the Los Angeles Center of Photography Portfolio Reviews. I am charmed by her honest humor and in awe of her wit as she takes us through her own pregnancy and start of motherhood. I am impressed that she had the wherewithal to make these photographs during those first sleep-deprived months of new motherhood.
The Absurdity of Pregnancy and Motherhood
In my project, The Absurdity of Pregnancy and Motherhood, I am questioning the implicit societal, materialist, and gender norms that broadly shape the lives of women within an American consumerist context. Employing the languages of conceptual, documentary, and typological photography, I have created docu-stages scenes within my own home to craft a personal narrative of maternity and parenthood that holds widespread implications for families. My work peels back the romanticism that surrounds pregnancy and motherhood to reveal the abject – the messiness and physicality of human life, often considered private and unmentionable.
Woven through the overarching narrative of this project, which begins with a birth announcement and continues through the “fourth” trimester (the 12-week period immediately following the birth), I interspersed investigative vignettes among a series of self-portraits and still life images. These typological studies act as markers, reminding the viewer of the realities of daily life with a new child, and include manifestations of spit-up on clothing, the diverse shapes of filled diapers, and the countless iterations of commercial products manufactured for babies. Implied within the series are my own observations of the ways in which the expectations of pregnancy and motherhood – formed through exposure to social media and parenting groups, to advertising campaigns, and to culture at large – do not prepare one for the realities, and absurdities of pregnancy and motherhood.
Throughout the project, using farce and exaggeration, I satirize and name these absurdities and norms, presenting them as obstacles that occupy the physical and mental space required for human life, activity, and identification of self. My work makes the implied explicit. Within otherwise typical domestic scenes and spaces, based in the reality of daily life, I introduce elements of the surreal to highlight and exaggerate the typically unspoken expectations of consumerism, gender, and social conformance and performance. The surrealist tropes include an over-abundance of consumer goods filling a home, and the comical disparity between the amount of space occupied by a new baby and that occupied by all of its things. I have strategically included clinical language and imagery regarding gender to reflect and call out society’s reductionist use of color – blue and pink – to signify the complexity of gender identities. Through my work, I allow the viewer to engage directly and openly with the imposed structures, rhythms, and expectations that are typically unconsidered and unseen. The viewer is led to question their own complicity and reinforcement within these systems, and to consider how much mental and physical space these absurdities have unconsciously taken up in their own life. – Jena Love
Jena Love is an artist and educator who lives and works in Sullivan County, NY. Though her background is in drawing and painting, she is currently focused on expanding her body of conceptual photography work. In her art, Love explores the complexities, ironies, challenges, humor, and beauty of motherhood. A mother of three, Love often captures herself and her family as the primary models for her images, set within the context of domestic spaces. She uses elements of documentary and typological photography, along with aspects of surrealism and farce to craft images that critically engage with the quotidian nature of family life, finding humor in the mundane. Though approached through the lens of a personal narrative, Love’s art speaks more broadly to the universal and shared experiences of mothers, parents, and children, particularly as situated within an American consumerist culture. Her work has been exhibited in various exhibitions virtually, within the United States as well as internationally. Her work has been featured in numerous publications such as Feature Shoot, F-stop magazine, WE ARE magazine and Clan Magazine. She was named one of the 100 female photographers to watch in 2021 by Click Magazine and included in Photolucida’s Critical Mass top 50 of 2022.
Follow Jena Love on Instagram: @jenalovetakesphotos
DD: Has your photography project changed your relationship with your children in any way?
JL: Prior to creating this project my children were typically my subjects. After I became a mother it became obvious that making art was not going to happen the same way it did. This led my artistic practice towards photography while leaning into my family and my life as a mother as subjects. This did completely change my relationship with art and my children as I never would have seen the themes that have inspired my work had it not been for my children.
DD: I know from my experience that editing such personal family photographs can be a challenge. So I’m curious about how you choose which images to show as your artwork.
JL: This project evolved as I was pregnant with my third child. From my previous experiences of pregnancy, labor, birth and motherhood I knew what concepts I wanted to include in the image set of this project. Every image was planned to some extent, whether that was creating and gathering props for specific scenes I wanted to create or knowing the images I wanted to include that needed to happen organically- but to be prepared for when that moment came; such as the pictures taken in the hospital or the set of “Reflux” images.
Overall I really try to not approach my artwork as a mother taking family photographs. Part of my process is identifying the gratuitous pictures OF my family from the intentional images ABOUT my family. To me there is a big distinction between those images.
DD: What question are you most often asked about your work?
JL: Not so much a question, but much of the feedback I have received has been from other mothers and caregivers who have told me how much my project resonates with them, agreeing that pregnancy and motherhood is really absurd yet they have not seen photographs pinpoint in the way before and how much they laughed while looking through the project. Which is the best feedback I could ever hope to receive since every mother knows- if you can’t laugh at it then you’re probably crying.
Deanna Dikeman has photographed her parents and relatives in Iowa and Nebraska for over 30 years. She was recently named a 2023 Guggenheim Fellow.
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