~ An Interview with Leah Hawker, Photographer ~
Portraits of 101 Breastfeeding Women & World Breastfeeding Awareness Week 2019
In celebration of her newly-completed book, Breastfeeding 101, I interviewed local Cape Town photographer, Leah Hawker. She is the author and photographer of this beautiful book which will be launched during World Breastfeeding Awareness Week (1 – 7 August 2019).
Breastfeeding 101 consists of portraits of 101 women, who also share their stories about the realities of breastfeeding – an act that’s often hidden from the public eye. The book explores personal truths, myths and attitudes towards the subject, inevitably raising topical questions about how women feel about themselves, how they are seen by others and how they are targeted by marketing. These candid accounts are accompanied by portraits of each woman standing tall, proudly feeding her child in public.
Purchase Breastfeeding 101 (before the 21st of July) for R310 https://www.thundafund.com/project/breastfeeding101
(Available from Exclusive Books for R385 thereafter)
A bit about Leah and her work
Leah Hawker is a South African, professional photographer. Her work covers birth, nudes, documentary features, art-based and editorial projects. We were thrilled to have her cover the Midwifery & Birth Conference in Cape Town a few years ago. She works mostly with women and loves shooting maternity, newborn and birth portraits around South Africa.
Her most recent diptych titled “60 days (Pen & Hlomla)”, a reflection on motherhood and infant mortality, showed at the 2018 Sasol New Signatures Awards in the Pretoria Art Museum. The images exhibited were created during her Breastfeeding 101 project, which has taken three years to complete. When she’s not working on location you’ll find her in her light-filled studio based in the old textile district of Woodstock, which enjoys views of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak.
We met when you were working on the portrait project with South African midwives and doulas at the Midwifery and Birth Conference in 2016, it seems like a lot has changed since then. You’ve been working on a huge project, your new book. It was so great to have played a part in helping it all come together.
Yes! Thank you so much for connecting me to mothers for the breastfeeding book, it’s been a really beautiful process of going back to the ‘oral tradition’ of passing information between women in order to gather all the Moms who stood for their portraits for the book, all 101 of them.
I think you directly connected me to three Mothers and they subsequently re-directed me to many, many more – like a web – it’s been great!
What sets this book apart from other parenting books out there?
It’s been hard to really find anything which directly ‘competes’ with the project actually. As far as I’ve looked there just isn’t another big research project out there like this, nothing which is all spoken directly from the mouths of mothers; you know – lived experiences and wisdom? Everything else I could find in terms of books and articles were parenting manuals. I suppose you could say this partially fits into that category but it’s also just a really beautiful, unusual and informative photographic coffee table book.
Yes, I’m sure this will be an ideal book for Moms to have and to gift!
Are you also shooting breastfeeding portraits to add to your portfolio then? I know you do maternity, birth and newborn photography amongst all the other women’s-related work you have on the go…
It might become an entirely new genre of photography actually! But to answer your question, yes, I’ll definitely be adding these portraits from the book to my portfolio, but I think I may add a new section just about Moms and breastfeeding.
I’ve been so surprised by how warmly and gratefully the Moms in this project have responded to receiving their prints from the breastfeeding shoots I’ve done with them. So many have framed them even! People forget how much time Mothers invest into breastfeeding and it’s just goes so underappreciated.
What are your favorite things about maternity and birth photography?
Gosh, there are just so many things about my job, overall, that I love. I get to capture, keep and present the most precious moments, the most precious times of people’s lives back to them. It’s the hugest honor, really. To be present at a birth, as I’m sure you’ll know, is an indescribable experience. Every single time I’m amazed by the process and perfection of the human body.
With maternity photography there is this sense that the mother and her child exist in a sort of bubble together still and photographing this therefore feels like an embrace, a kept memory of a time when one’s body was in a very different and very serene state.
Thank you so much for sharing your exciting new project with us. Your enthusiasm for encouraging and celebrating the empowerment of women is inspiring.
I always enjoy chatting to Leah. She has a way of making one feel completely at ease and balances friendliness with professionalism effortlessly. Her love, respect and understanding of women and their inherent power and beauty is evident in the subject choice and content of her work and her book is testimony to that.
You can also find out more about the project here:
For more on her maternity and birth photography, visit
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