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Sunday, 27 March 2011


It is not possible to embark on a subject of this nature without considering the ethics behind it. Is it helpful to those who are suffering this condition to advertise this suffering in bold technicolour or are we creating something that is purely voyeuristic?
Susan Sontag argues in her book, 'Regarding the Pain of Others', states that the reaction to human suffering can range from voyeurism or indifference to sympathy. She believes that sympathy can be a negative reaction as it can lead to passivity and apathy. It can dull the senses and lead to a lack of response. She believes that if we feel sympathy we can make ourselves believe that we are not part of anything uncomfortable and so we are not accomplices. in our culture of being the spectator we are no longer shocked by anything we see.
She is talking about images of war in this instance but the ethics behind any kind of images of suffering are the same.
Sontag believes that it is not so much overexposure to such images that makes us more immune to them but the nature in which such images are use in television. This lack of attention and concentration caused by constant channel hopping ensures that we never give enough time to any one image.Our senses therefore become impaired. She believes that to have any impact images have to be displayed in context with a caption so that the viewer can awaken the correct responses.
I think that parts of this particular essay come across as quite condescending to the general public at large. It suggests that we believe that if we show feelings of sympathy we will be absolved of any guilt and we will therefore not attempt to help. This is a very simplistic view. In many instances of human suffering we are not able to change things in any way eg. a death or natural disaster, but it does not stop us feeling immense sympathy for those that have been affected.
 I can however agree that we have become slightly desensitised to images on television due to the fleeting glimpses that we have of these images of horror, but also due to overexposure that we have. I also think that she makes  a valid  point that if we have mass sympathy there is more possibility of changing things.

I have been conscious during this project of not overstepping the mark and sensationalising this medical condition or exploiting the people involved. I hope that having the interviews with the Medical professionals brings a certain gravitas to the project. There has to be a fine balance of reporting and illustrating the condition in an interesting manner without making it something that it is not.
I hope that by presenting this photographic project to a wider audience that it will be informative to the extent that it may help someone now or at a later point in their lives recognise the symptoms of PND. I also hope that by increasing awareness of this condition it may help to get people talking about it and make it less of a taboo subject, make sufferers feel less alone. Photographs and film can be powerful mediums of education not just voyeuristic pieces.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Family Photograph

We retain memories of our past  lives in fragments, through our photographs. In the Victorian times the photograph would have depicted a very stern group of people in stiff, upright, controlled positions. This was partly to do with the fact that long exposure times required the subjects to remain completely still during the duration of the exposure, but also because there was a certain gravity about having your image recorded.

The stereotypical family portrait often follows the same rules of grouping as we see in this Gainsborough painting, painted in 1784. Family images are often taken to show unity, maybe a record of happy times, an important event. This particular portrait portrays harmony, difference, the social standing of the family. The new baby is the centre of the painting been shown off proudly. The father is leaning against the chair, slightly detached from the group.
Snapshot photography allows for a more relaxed depiction of family life. There can now be more spontaneity and therefore the images produced appear more relaxed, however there may be a subconscious effort nowadays to create a favourable reflection of domestic life. Snapshots can mirror family life as we would wish it to be. We can edit our lives to be as we would wish to remember them.

Dorothea Lange   Ronald Barthes

Barthes notes that the fleeting nature of the moment captured on film combined with informed ways of thinking and looking at things,  plus the limited knowledge of the specific content content and reason for taking the photograph all combine to make us very unreliable witnesses.
To make sense of other peoples photographs we have to read the photographic and cultural codes.
Family pictures may appear as just  a social document but on closer examination it may be possible to see many different layers of scandal or trauma underneath.
In Liz Wells book; Photography: A Critical Introduction, there is a wonderful montage of photographs called
Eve, Karen and Nick. It looks at first light like your  average family set up with mother, father and baby enjoying normal family day to day existence. The mother,Father and child are in fact all disabled and the parents are no longer together as a family but are still active parents to the child.It would have been virtually impossible to surmise this fact from the photograph itself with out additional knowledge.

Migrant mother - Dorothea Lange
The family has also always been the perfect channel for the expression of social angst. Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother,was taken during the Depression in 1936. It was taken when she was working on a project for the Farm Security Association(FSA).  This was a most iconic photograph of a mother and child and was a reworking in a way of Madonna and Child. This particular photograph has been contextualised and used in many different ways since. The close cropping of the image creates an even greater feeling of unity, protection and feminine nurturing. It became a contentious image due to the fact that it was a documentary photograph that had been retouched. In the original photograph the mothers thumb was evident in the right hand corner of the photograph and the image has also been cropped from the this way the photograph is no longer a true representation of reality.The image has been tampered with.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Fatherhood and Feminism

Fatherhood has received increasing attention in social policy, social scientific writings, medical and public health literature and forums. There are many debates nowadays about how to raise our children,our rights and responsibilities. In contemporary western societies men often see fatherhood as a way of expressing their nurturing instincts that their own fathers were unable to do in their generation. This often shows itself by taking on equal parenting roles.This 'new man' theory is seen by some to challenge the traditional notions of masculinity, especially those of a different generation but there is evidence that such fathering creates a 'strength' to families.This shift in parenting partly came about due to the second wave feminism movement in the 1970's  and due to the recession at this time. This led  in part to a reduction in the size of families and  huge numbers of mothers returning to the workforce after having children.Men used to be thought of as the providers for families but this is at odds with the number of women who go back to work after childbirth and the number of women who in fact are the higher earners in the relationship. With this and the fact that their are many more separations and divorces than ever before the role of the father has altered more than in any other generation.

Fathers Rights Groups

Fathers Rights groups have evolved in recent years and they have taken up the fatherless family arguments to rail against what they see as harsh demands of 'radical feminism' and to request greater access to their children.These fathers are also concerned that their is a move away from the nuclear family where there are two biological parents of different genders.
With many more marriages and partnerships failing nowadays the role of the father, and the importance of his involvement in childrearing has been highlighted.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The Father

The Key

During this period of recovery David  would notice that his wife would appear almost back to normal then would suddenly pull out of any involvement with family life again. This he discovered was caused by his wife storing medication then taking it all at one time. There was a real risk of overdosing and so David has had to resort to wearing a key around his neck to prevent his wife having access to the medicine cabinet.

  On one side of the room stood a large pile of brightly coloured plastic toys which were at odds with the  dark brown leather sofa  on the other side of the room which was free from clutter,  devoid of colour, lacking any personal touches. In the corner stood a guitar. James sat hunched at the edge of the sofa tightly clutching a cup of coffee and recalled his experiences. He often paused, taking a deep breath in  to compose himself when memories became too vivid. He very rarely referred to his wife by name.

James s Story

His wife had a normal delivery but did not sleep well before the birth and afterwards she was breastfeeding and so was up through the night. She showed the usual signs of depression but everyone thought it was just baby-blues and that it would eventually go away. There appeared to be constant rows and tensions in the house. Two months down the line however she just walked out one day and took the baby with her to her parents home where she stayed for a number of months. James was devastated but he had a six year old son to look after and so had to try and carry on a life with as much normality as possible.  He managed to keep working and  rearranged his working hours to fit around school times. Life became a juggling act of looking after his son, working and trying to keep his marriage together. His young son seemed to be coping with the situation of his mother being away. He had not been witness to the arguments but the teachers picked up on the fact that he has stopped talking about his Mum and had effectively tried to block her out. He was encouraged from then on to bring her into the conversation  as much as possible and to keep her within the family grouping. Luckily the baby would be too young to be directly affected.

I had sat behind the camera and just nodded encouragements from time to time during the filming of the piece. It was extremely difficult not to get involved and commiserate with him as his story unfurled. He came across as very sincere and articulate. He obviously loves his wife and family very much but he has been pushed to the very edge of despair. I do think that many men would have walked out on the situation long before reaching this point.

I was worried that James may have found the whole experience of recounting everything again too depressing but he actually said that it had been a very cathartic experience.
We arranged to meet the following week to do some more interviews and take some photographs to accompany this piece.

Picking Up the Pieces

Once the medication had stabilised his wife was persuaded to come back to the family home but things did not go back to normal by any manner of means. Family wise depression devastates families. Normal family life is put on hold. It was not possible for James to take the children out to the park for the afternoon or go for a jog. Someone had to be with his wife at all times. His wife wouldn't get out of bed for days on end as she just wanted to hide away from the world in a dark room. She often stayed in her pyjamas for weeks at a time. She became incredibly isolated and insular which had the rebound affect of isolating James and the children too. Post Natal Depression is a subject that is difficult enough for women to discuss but for men it was an even more taboo subject as most people just expected him to pick up the pieces and get on with things. He did not really have anyone that he could talk to about the situation and this again led to tremendous isolation for him.
Normal life had to be built up again very slowly. One day they would get in the car and drive for 5 minutes and eventually they would work up to her actually being able to go into a shop and ask for something. She had to be slowly rebuilt as a person.

The Key

During this period of recovery James  would notice that his wife would appear almost back to normal then would suddenly pull out of any involvement with family life again. This he discovered was caused by his wife storing medication then taking it all at one time. There was a real risk of overdosing and so james has had to resort to wearing a key around his neck to prevent his wife having access to the medicine Relapse
I turned up  as planned to find all the curtains in the house closed and no answer at the door. Unfortunately James s wife has had another major relapse 18 months after her first episode. She had had problems over the Christmas period, but they were resolved fairly quickly. This however is once again full blown depression and will take weeks of treatment if not months to resolve. My heart goes out to them all.
I had hoped to upload the video to the blog but I have found that I would have to upload the video first to youtube or vimeo. I think under the circumstances that James would not want this video to be advertised to such a massive audience due to the very sensitive nature of the recording. Getting the information to a wider audience is one thing but putting your family in the public arena is another . I have decided therefore to use the video in a flash context , more as a voiceover to the images. In this way James 'voice' will still be heard but his family will not be put in the spotlight.

Feminism and Motherhood

  In Renaissance Italy childbirth was something that was encouraged, celebrated and commemorated with gifts. At this time procreation was essential to survival of communities as so many had died due to the Black Plague. Lineage was the underlying principal of political, social and economic identity and so it was essential to carry on the family name. Birthing gave rise to high mortality rates for both the mother and the child, so every effort was put into conception,pregnancy and parturition. Women were rewarded for engendering offspring. It was considered a role of immense importance.

'Give me a child or I will die' 

Rachel-  Genesis

Women for many generations relied on their bodies to 'earn' their position of power in the male dominated world by producing heirs. Motherhood was considered to be our sole duty and aim in life. Motherhood has been seen as naturally rewarding and the childcare has been left to the mother because of her 'biological programming' which makes her the natural childcarer. Any other arrangement was deemed to be unnatural and could be even be believed to harm the child.
 There is a general history of women being in the subservient position of submitting to the male of the species and producing children without any will of their own. Procreation has always been seen as an important role.
Hopkin.s (et al 1984) suggests that women with strong emotional conflict with  idea of being a mother of who has feminine identity issues are at a higher risk of developing PND. Anxiety, hostile thoughts and self critical patterns all indicate an increased risk .

Firestones Controversial Views

Feminists have long seen reproduction as oppressing and motherhood as a burden especially during the second wave of feminism in the 1970's. Shulamith Firestone, a well known first group feminist, argues that sexual difference is apparent but only in a biological sense, and that this difference can be overcome by advances in reproductive technology. She believes strongly that  women do not have  any inherent desire or duty to reproduce. She believes that any instinct for pregnancy is only the product of the social construction of femininity and would therefore be superfluous once human science had mastered reproduction. She believes that in this utopia childrearing would be equally shared by men and women.
If we also look at the latter comment comment on childrearing, although it is still a predominately feminine role it is becoming more of a joint venture between the sexes, even with the fathers taking the role of house-husband/carer, so we don't need to go to such drastic measures as she has suggested to get there.
Her extreme views on reproduction and women's attitude to it are generally not in line with those held by many.   Most women, it has to be said do not hold such views or aspirations, however they do agree with the idea of being able to have control over their reproduction and their choice to do so and the majority will admit to the ticking of their biological clocks as far as desire to reproduce goes.
 Feminist activity has often been concerned with ways therefore of giving women control over their bodies and ways of preventing pregnancy through contraception and abortion.  In the case of abortion however it is still seen to be a particularly contentious subject even nowadays in certain circles due to religious grounds.  If Firestone is to be believed women would give up the right and desire for motherhood if given a choice because she believes there is no such thing as natural maternal instinct. It is unlikely that every women's desire to reproduce would disappear once another means to reproduction was discovered, as today there are many women whose choice has been taken away from them on medical grounds and they are still desperate to reproduce by whatever means possible. Women nowadays with fertility problems  find ways  of reproducing or nurture a child whether by IVF, surrogacy or adoption. Obviously some women do indeed choose not to have children for a variety of reasons.
 Psychoanalysts  believe that females are born with this instinctive wish to be mothers (Blaint 1949).There is also this connection made between femininity and motherhood. In Ann Phoenix's research(1991) it was shown that teenage girls still believe that they can only achieve adult, feminine status through becoming mothers. Psychological theory views maternity as 'the culmination of a woman's psychosexual development. It is seen as a self-fulfilment of natural urges. This belief is related to the patriarchal idealisation of women as mothers which is believed to be part of women's subordination (Bleier,1984). Basically it suits men for women to mother.

The Myth of Femininity

The myth of femininity is that women's role is encapsulated by the idea of the 'maternal', that all women have this biological drive to reproduce, that once born they will have this instant desire and knowledge to nurture without any kind of training. The preconceptions of motherhood have always been attached to the belief that woman all naturally have this 'nurturing instinct' that automatically surfaces .This instinct is first expected to show itself in the 'desire' to have a child, and then to care for it. Most women expect it to be automatic and instant. For these instincts not to surface most women are felt to be failures.

Positives of Motherhood
So many accounts of feminist literature seems to concentrate on the negative aspects of motherhood but, for a great number of women do indeed find that there is an unexplained bonding that takes place during pregnancy. I am myself am a mother of three, and I personally felt an overwhelming sense of wholeness when I gave birth to my children. A feeling of being complete. Even after a difficult third birth the bonding with my baby was instantaneous. Some feminists argue that motherhood is indeed an empowering and pleasurable experience. Adrienne Rich argues in1976 that ' it is medicine and technology  and specifically male control of this technology, that has made reproduction an area of oppression'. She states that men have written the rules on how  women should look after themselves as far as nutrition and exercise are concerned .She believes that the predominately male doctors take over from the midwives thus reasserting their power and disempowering the women during the birthing process using forceps and caesareans. Motherhood is caught between two paradigms of medical science on one hand and pressure from feminists to be in charge of their own bodies on the other.
These views seem very outdated now. Subordination of women was key to the feminist beliefs of the 1970,s. Women have so much more say and control in their own and their child's destiny nowadays. Paramount to decisions made medically, are the mothers and child's safety. Often it is the women who opt for caesarean births for convenience or cosmetic reasons.
Women are much more aware of their freedoms and rights today than ever before. For the first time they can choose whether to become mothers or not and to a great extent are in control of the process. For many it is a daunting position to have the choice. It can be a very major and difficult decision.To have a child requires a complete change of lifestyle, a frightening responsibility, a total and complete emotional commitment for the duration of the child's formative years and beyond. Some couples now feel ambivalent and are torn between the decision to further their careers or have children. The choice of having children or being childless. The possibility of evolutionary survival  is often a consideration.

The Bonding process
 By the time the child arrives there can be an evolution of empathy.  There evolves this continuity of 'mutuality' of needs of  interests between mother and child which are both biological and social. The mother and child give gratification to each other. For this to happen though there must be a basic capacity to relate to others.

Effect of bad parenting
During early stages of motherhood it is seen as natural to relive your experiences of your own mother-child relationship .This can result in reactivation of conflicts and anxieties developed in the early years of their own childhood. It may be possible that she will act out her own frustrations on her own baby to get back at her own mother (Chodorow 1978) . Most women do however manage to resolve these conflicts. Psychoanalysts believing that mothering gives women the opportunity to master old anxieties by mastering new ones(Deutsch 1945).

Mental Health Interview and Fathers issues

I was fortunate to make contact with the lady in charge of MIND.Emily is the mental health officer who deals with postnatal depression issues in Lincoln.She has set up a mothers group who meet regularly to discuss their various issues and to provide support for each other. During her interview she brought up some very interesting points about men and how Postnatal Depression effected them.Women who are going through this condition are given help in coping but often the effect on the women's partners can be just as devastating. It can lead to what could be termed 'Male Postpartum Depression'
Having a new baby creates lots of strain on family life especially on the male partner if he is still going out to work each morning. Not many men can sleep through the cries of a new baby, even if they are not physically having to get up in the middle of the night and feed them and so they can feel exhausted all the time. This can cause friction with their partners who are also sleep deprived. If their partners have PND the implications and practicalities of this can be overwhelming. A lot of men also feel great guilt about missing the milestones in a baby's life due to them being at work.
The man can feel stigmatised and isolated. There are still lots of traditional stereotypical beliefs that the man is the male protector, the provider and therefore he sees himself as failing if he cannot create this perfect family unit. This can all lead to a physical depression.
There is also the idea that some men are 'hard' and they don't talk about their feelings.These men find it difficult to get any support. Most men feel unable to talk about their partners problems as they don't really understand what is going on themselves. 
The physical changes in a man's lifestyle can also lead to depression. If a man is used to having hobbies and playing sport a number of times a week and this is suddenly replaced by nappies and teething it can lead to a very stressful situation. 
If the man's partner is suffering from PND all of the above effects can be multiplied tenfold.
When there are other children needing to be looked after when a woman is suffering from depression it can have dramatic and disastrous affects on the family dynamics and the financial stability of the family too. Often the partner will have to give up his job to act as a carer, even if this is a temporary situation.
 I think that this is quite unexplored territory and it would be interesting to look at Postnatal Depression from the male perspective.