Why Breastfeeding Photography Is a Work of Art
By Kim Seidel
Australian photographer Dez Murad wants to challenge beliefs, educate, and inspire with her stunning photographs of mothers breastfeeding. “My goal is to raise the standard of a breastfeeding image to at least be as equally acceptable as that of a bottle feeding image,” she says. “I’m interested in raising the appeal and acceptance in our society, so a mother can breastfeed in peace knowing her community accepts her choice.”
“It’s not all about seeing nipples and breasts.”
Murad, the mother of two daughters, ages 5 and 3, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, started taking an interest in breastfeeding mothers as a photography subject about two years ago. “I found the images that were around were all of newborns and mothers who are still in the hospital,” says Murad, who is expecting another baby in June. “There was very little of older children breastfeeding.”
Through her photography, she says she wants to glamorize and normalize breastfeeding. In many of her photos, breastfeeding isn’t the total focus of the photo. “I wanted to show that you can have an active life, still breastfeed and look good doing it,” she says. “It’s not all about seeing nipples and breasts. A lot of my photos you can’t see them, but you can tell the woman is feeding.” Murad hopes her photographs help to popularize the images, “so that young girls can grow up seeing them and be just as influenced as they are from magazine photos.”
Redefining the Breastfeeding Woman
Murad doesn’t want to stereotype the kind of women she photographs. “I want to show that it’s women of all ages, stages, sizes and color, that you can feed no matter who you are,” she says. “There is no pretending to feed in my photos, so all the women are the mothers of the children in their arms.”
Many of her photos challenge a lot of people, which is exactly what she wants. One such example is of a 4-year-old child breastfeeding. “It wasn’t too long ago that mini skirts caused a big issue about modesty and caused controversy; now we accept it,” Murad says. “I’d like to see the same with breastfeeding women.”
While Murad strives to redefine the breastfeeding woman and raise her profile to be accepted in the larger community, it’s a big challenge. Recently she took a bikini shoot of a beautiful woman breastfeeding her second child. “I was surprised to be challenged by the very community that supports breastfeeding about this photo,” she says. People remarked that she was “too good-looking” to be a mother breastfeeding.
Murad replied that the woman was a “real woman” who was “very confident about her body,” so why not take the photo? “After all, we don’t lose our sensuality once we become mothers,” Murad says. “If anything, I think we are more powerful and more sensual for being mothers. I don’t want to pigeon-hole what a woman should be or look like to feed, and this I find the most challenging aspect.”
Changing Perspectives on Breastfeeding
For five years, Murad has worked as a professional photographer, taking wedding pictures, portraits, and motherhood photos at her home studio or on location. Her models for breastfeeding photos volunteer their time. Many of Murad’s photos are used by breastfeeding associations; the Australian Breastfeeding Association is one of her biggest clients.
“I would like to see an exhibition and a book of the finest examples of my work to challenge, educate and desensitize the public,” Murad says. “My work, I feel, will be done when the public is no longer shocked or affected by seeing images of breastfeeding images. Perhaps it’s fair to say that this may be a lifelong project; there is no end date in mind.”
Before Murad had her first daughter, she strongly believed that she would not breastfeed her child past four months. “I don’t know how I came up with that figure, but I felt that after that I ‘wanted my body back,’” she says. “[It's] amusing to see where I am now when I look back.”
Nothing helped Murad’s acceptance of breastfeeding more than “sexy, strong and powerful” role models who were still breastfeeding. “They made me feel more confident in my ability and reassured me that giving the breast to my child didn’t mean I didn’t have my body back at all,” she says. “It just meant I was accepting the next phase of my life. In short, nothing changed except my perspective.” And now, through her photographs, she’s working to change the perspectives of others throughout the world.
Taking a Shot
With a few practical tips, mothers can capture their nursing relationship on film. Murad offers these suggestions:
- First, make sure the baby is ready to nurse before trying to take photographs of the baby breastfeeding.
- At home, soft lighting works very well. The best way to achieve that is to stand by a window and have the sunlight softly bath you and your child.
- Interaction with the baby during breastfeeding always works for photographs. Hold your baby’s hand. If you can get one with eye contact, that makes for a beautiful photo.
- If you are looking for a professional photographer in your area to take a photo, contact someone who specializes in either pregnancy photos or baby portraits.
- A professional photographer should offer a quiet and warm studio for the mother and baby breastfeeding. It’s even better if the photographer comes to your home.
- Sessions at home or in a studio shouldn’t be rushed.
- Some women tell Murad they are comfortable with her taking the photo because she’s a female. If you are shy, it may suit you to find a female photographer. The photo can be as modest as you prefer. The point is to capture the experience and moment on film.