Image taken from Midnight Milk
The photographer, Marie Sjøvold

Mother-of-two Marie Sjøvold explores themes of family and time in her work. For her latest project ‘Midnight Milk’ the Oslo-based photographer explores the impact of motherhood on her own identity. Here, she reflects on shifting priorities, slowing down, and facing the realities – good and bad – of becoming a mother…

Your latest project ‘Midnight Milk’ tells the story of how motherhood changed your state of mind… Tell us more.
I try to translate my thoughts, feelings and experiences into images. Both images I see in front of my eyes and pictures that I make in my mind before creating them into photography. Becoming a mother was a big change in my life, and it did affect the way I see the world around me.

I discovered how the road to finding out what kind of mother I am, or wanted to be, slowly changed me. These changes were very subtle, but important. I tried to recognise them in an attempt to capture them with the camera, without the need to understand what it was, there and then. That is the great thing about photography: collecting these pictures and mind-states, and then using time to understand what they are or what they mean in the bigger picture.

 

Image taken from Midnight Milk

Artistically, was there a shift?
I have always been interested in themes such as the home, time, identity and how we perceive reality in different stages of life. Ever since I was a kid and picked up a camera for the first time I have been interested in the people and stories close to my life. When I became a mother, it became natural to explore motherhood through photography.

The biggest shift for me artistically has been my perspective of time. When the child grows, the passing of time becomes visible. At the same time my perspective expanded. Before becoming a mother, I would work on my projects for some months. Now, my last two books has been made over a time period of four years each. I think the passing of time is important for the project to mature and for me to go deep into the theme.

Practically, how do you negotiate motherhood and work?
It is about hard prioritising. Now I prioritise my work and being with my family. I do not have much time being social outside of the family. After having my first child, I had an idea that everything would be the same, with a child on our journey. She came with me everywhere, and it worked out fine, but in the long run it took more energy than I could generate. So I think differently now. The first years the children were adjusting to our life, now it is the opposite. Growing older, they have different needs and more routine has entered our life now with two children.

I like the new life with the routines, it is a good thing for my work. I have the time they are at school and in kindergarden to work. And when I am travelling with my books or exhibitions, I find space to go deeper into thoughts or concepts I have started in my “everyday-life”. I have also noticed that the hour I am lying quiet next to them, putting them to bed, is a wonderful space to think of new concepts or text.

Although I photograph my family in my books, I am not the kind of photographer who photographs everything all the time. I only pick up the camera when I have an idea for a image. That is how I separate my work from my private life. When I work I photograph motherhood. Privately, I am a mother for my children.

 

How did the reality of motherhood compare to your expectations?
When I was pregnant, I heard and read all kinds of stories of what a pregnancy could be like, good and bad. But it felt like this openness ended at birth. In Norway you get a brochure with information about postnatal depression at the health station before birth. Ten per cent of women experience birth depression, but talking about it still is a kind of taboo. For a mother to talk about the more difficult sides of motherhood should not equal being a bad mother or feeling like one. I think it is helpful sharing these thoughts. In Norway I can see this has changed the last five years. People are more open, and the media’s focus, too.

The roles of being a mother is in constant flux. We are under the influence of society’s expectations, the requirements we set for ourselves, the developments in the female role, our biology and the cultural values ​​we carry with us from our ancestors. In my story I wanted to stop and take a look at my own life after I had children. Focus on the little things that one can easily overlook in everyday life. Trying to see them from the eyes of the child and the eyes of the mother.

Family life is an ongoing theme in your work: tell us about your previous project ‘Dust Catches Light’
After living many years in Berlin I came back to Norway, pregnant with my first child. I tried to orientate myself in my new situation in old surroundings. Expecting things to be the same, but much had changed.

My grandparents’ health was getting worse and they had moved out of their house. Both my grandmothers were suffering from dementia, and I experienced it in many ways as if they had gone back to childhood. It was very sad, but at the same time there was something beautiful in their childish behaviour. Photography became a way for us to communicate, and a way to be together in a new way. I wanted to create images that were affected by this playfulness/childishness, and intertwined the weight of their situation with my new situation and transformation.

During this period I experienced that time stood still. A time of waiting. I started photographing to explore, to explain and try to understand what was happening. All of the memories from the past, the present and the future blurred into one, as I tried to understand what was about to happen. The last seven weeks of my pregnancy, I tried to capture all the thought, the dreams, the fears and the joy of this new situation. The physical change, the intimacy and the exhaustion of transforming from a single individual into a mother.

The images and short films of the project is mainly photographed in my grandparents’ empty house and in our new home in Oslo. I made ​​cardboard figures of my grandparents in their natural size in order to place them back into their house and put them into my story.

 

Image taken from Midnight Milk

How would you describe your experience of childhood in the part of Norway where you grew up?
When I grew up, I could see Oslo on the other side of the fjord, looking out my window. I had the forest to play in and the cold fjord to swim in every summer. I had the great privilege of growing up feeling safe in my home and in my country.

What is next for you?
I am always working on one or more longterm projects, and in parallel exhibiting my previous work. Next week I am part of the group exhibition “Dust Crystals” at Gallery F15 in Norway. An exhibition about dementia and Alzheimers curated by Christine Hansen. The exhibition presents the camera based projects of Bente Geving, Viktor Micka, Laila Kongevold, Marie Sjøvold and Christine Hansen. Using our own family experiences as points of departure, the artists all explore subjects related to dementia and Alzheimers. This is one of the first art-exhibitions in Norway that deals with such an important issue.

For more information on the exhibition visit punkto.no; and for information on the book Midnight Milk visit photobookstore.co.ukmariesjovold.no

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