So much has been said about the way photography serves as therapy, do you feel that is accurate?
I recently took a class from Michelle Gardella who said “art not only heals, it empowers…” and I feel those words deeply in my bones. Photography has been an incredible tool for me to get to know myself again. I’ve paid attention to a lot of important people and issues and jobs over the years, but I had never developed a practice for checking in with myself to name my emotions and hold those feelings worthy. I started my business to capture the essence of motherhood, which has been a gift I never anticipated would give me so much in return. I find myself endlessly curious to learn about how other mothers are navigating work and life and their shifting identities, and the camera has become my favorite tool for exploring this deeply personal topic. But my most therapeutic and empowering artistic push has been making time to get in front of the lens each week. Somehow, in seeing my body reflected back to me, I’ve been able to really own the complex emotions I’ve felt this year.
How hard was it to portray much more vulnerable parts of you for the camera?
Well, when I started taking the photos, I knew I’d be sharing them online, so I started really safe. But as time went on, I wanted to dig even deeper and push past the superficial. I started taking more frames just for me, and they quickly grew to become more and more intimate and raw. I took on this personal project of self-portraiture when I was coming to terms with learning I was pregnant for the third time and having to recalibrate my life. I knew I had some really deep feelings to work through, even if I couldn’t name them fully yet.
Some weeks throughout this year, I clicked the shutter feeling like a goddess. Others, with tears streaming down my cheeks from the physical weight and emotional heaviness of it all. I began to crave this outlet. I needed to make these frames to see my vulnerabilities so I could fall in love with those parts of me, too, and then reframe them as my strength. And now I am steeped in the process of re-learning myself again as a mother of three, and it feels even more critical to name the layers of me so I don’t get lost among the maternal responsibilities I love but do not wholly define who I am.
Technically speaking, I keep my self-portraits really simple. I don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to self-portraiture and I want to get to the point in the most direct approach possible so the frames feel honest and true. Taking the images week after week has helped me feel braver and surer than ever that I’m in control of my own story. I get to decide what I reveal and what I hold private, and that has been really empowering for me to explore.
Do you think people should invest in personal projects?
I think photography can be an incredibly empowering outlet for finding and speaking your truths, especially when you are your own audience. I’ve grown and strengthened my voice simply by developing a new habit of photographing and editing frames of myself, for myself, each week, regardless of whether I think I have something to share or not. Because it turns out I always do.
I love to share this personal work as a way of connecting with others on a real, human level. Holding that space for me each week has been a critical element of mothering, too. I’ve said before that I feel like I might just disappear without it. Given this, even if you don’t choose to share your personal projects with others, I think self-portraiture, in particular, is a ritual as healing as meditation, or walking in nature, or writing poetry.
What other personal projects do you have in mind for the future?
I plan to continue my self-portrait series through these formative years of motherhood. I’ve found this body of work particularly powerful because it captured my transition to and through birth with my last baby, details that could have easily gotten lost in our busy days otherwise. I’m really interested in offering postpartum portraits to others to see how this transition to motherhood translates on camera. And I hope to help other mamas develop their own self-portrait practice as they process this incredible life change and begin to own their own stories.
What is your favorite aspect of these images?
When I look at these images, I can see my power. I see the wonder and beauty of what my body is capable of, and I feel a deep sense of pride in portraying my experience with grace and dignity that will someday be shared with my three daughters. This series feels really honest – I have visceral memories of capturing many of these frames – and I feel like they represent the wholeness of me and my experiences this year.
What do you hope the viewer takes away from it?
Well, I hope you view this as an invitation to continue the conversation. Our experiences are all so unique and delicate that I hope you are inspired to capture your own personal story right now. Or to think of someone who might benefit from hearing they are wonderful and worthy, too. And to hold on the idea that women are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. And if any of this resonates at all, to find me and say hi so I can learn your story and encourage your journey.
ABOUT THE ARTIST :
Shea is the owner and principal photographer of True Mama Photography, a growing collective of women working to support and empower mothers to reflect their beautiful, real lives and build a beloved community. Her work is focused on naturally unposed photography as a method for storytelling and healing. She is deeply inspired by black and white images that speak to the heartbeat of our richly complicated yet connected motherhood journeys. Shea lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and three young daughters; their happy places are hiking, camping and traveling together