F-Stop Magazine: The current issue of F-Stop Magazine includes images from your project “Ordinary Devotion,” can you tell us about this project? What led to this work?
Martha Fleming-Ives: “Ordinary Devotion” follows a trajectory from earlier work I made on my immediate family. In this series, for the first time, however, I have turned the camera on myself to depict my experience of motherhood within the first year of my daughter’s life. The first year of life is a unique time period within the mother/child relationship where the child is in absolute dependence and a woman must quickly learn, invent, and perform the role of mother. The images were all taken inside my apartment and thus, the subject matter reflects the limited field of available materials–my body, my baby, domestic objects and the outside world as seen through our apartment windows. These images act as a negotiation between the mundane daily tasks of tending to a newborn and the blissful, often spiritual sensuality that can exists between a mother and child.
F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images or your creative process more generally?
MFI: In the weeks leading up to the birth of my daughter, I felt increasingly concerned about my practice as an artist and if/how I would be able to maintain making work after my daughter was born. Thus, the work grew out of a challenge I presented to myself to produce one image every day, no matter how good or bad, how considered or rushed, in order to keep creating. I only had a very limited amount of time each day to actually make work so in the beginning I shot instinctively, following the coincidences of light and the actions of my daughter while also creating a list of shots I knew I wanted to make in the future whenever more time would permit. This process was not too distant from my previous work; I begin by shooting freely and then while reviewing the initial images, I am caught by emerging themes, ideas, gestures, or moods. With those images in mind, I then formulate a more cohesive idea and go back and photograph images I feel are missing from supporting this idea.
F-Stop: Why do you photograph? What compels you to make the images you create?
MFI: I have always felt most inspired to make photographs of the people and places that surround me, the fabric of everyday life that comes closest to defining a sense of home. Often, the desire to create a new body of work stems from a curiosity to better understand who or what I’m looking at. In his 1942 lecture entitled “Noble Rider and the Sound of Words,” Wallace Stevens argued that the role of the artist in society is to “help people to live their lives.” This declaration has always moved and inspired me. For at its best, art teaches us how to embody the world, how to feel our life as a home.
F-Stop: What do you hope people experience or feel when they look at your photographs?
MFI: I hope people feel some type of kinship with the images. And that however beautiful or challenging an image may be, they feel called upon to reflect on what it means to be human.
F-Stop: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most?
MFI: One of my favorite moments in this series is the image of my daughter in her crib. I love how the camera catches her gaze in-between two bars. Here, her crib resembles a prison cell, a weighted metaphor for the constriction I often felt in her time as a newborn and my role as round-the-clock care-taker. This theme also builds on the presence of window light at the top of the image. As in many other pictures within the series, the window light serves as an index to the outside world, which I felt isolated from at this time.
F-Stop: Are you working on any other projects currently?
MFI: I’m planning to keep working on this project through my daughter’s first birthday. After that we’ll see. I have a few ideas in mind, but they are sketches really.
F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?
MFI: Perhaps like many artists who make work on their family I have always been inspired by Emmet Gowin. His family images are testaments to the great value inherent in making work on the people and places that you love. Similarly, I never fail to learn from Wolfgang Tillmans and the beauty and freedom present in his images of the everyday. When constructing my images, I study images by artists such as Andrea Modica and Saul Leiter, who are masters of gesture and light. However, I have always been committed to and deeply curious by artists working outside of photography such as Eva Hesse, Chantal Akerman, Ana Mendieta, Alice Neel and Pierre Bonnard. Literature remains a huge source of inspiration for my photography as well, most especially the work of Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver and Alice Munro. For this project specifically I am indebted to the great artists and mothers Mary Kelly, Adrienne Rich and Maggie Nelson.
For more of Martha Fleming-Ives’ work: www.marthaflemingives.com
Also published on Medium.