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Malin Westermann
Mother Stories

Malin Westermann: Portraits of Motherhood

Malin Westermann

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Malin Westermann

A stunning series of portraits that ruminate on the concept of Matrescence—the physical, emotional, hormonal, and social transition to becoming a mother.

The photos in your project, Matrescence, are striking. They are so tender and intimate. How did this project came to be?

"That is exactly what I hope my photos will do—that they will move people. After becoming a mother at 25, I felt an urgent need to document how very multi-faceted motherhood can be. My pregnancy was unplanned, and I had no clue what to expect. Eventually, it became a tool to help me reflect on my own journey of Matrescence, as well as a way to connect with other mothers."

"Throughout this artistic journey, I have had the opportunity to explore and talk about some of the more difficult and less discussed parts of becoming a mother—things like hair loss, postpartum bodies, leaking milk, or the unexpected trails of vomit down your back."

"Many have confided in me about how it can feel almost impossible for a mother to be her own self outside of this role. It is a role that contains so many layers and parallels, intoxicating highs and lows. But one thing that’s for sure is that it completely changes you."   

You had a traumatic birth after which your son had to be in the NICU. How did photography help you move through this time?

"Indeed, I had a traumatic birth that completely changed my life. I gave birth in week 40+3 and everything was totally fine when I went to the hospital. Unfortunately, how the birth unfolded wasn’t how I’ve always envisioned, and it turned out that I had a blood clot in my umbilical cord. Gabriel didn’t breath and he had to be under treatment for ten days afterwards. It was the hardest experience I’ve had to face in my life thus far."

"I brought my own camera with me because I wanted to capture my own birth and the moments after, as most families do. Since I’d experienced such a dramatic birth with the outcome as bad as it was, my camera became my safe space."

“Motherhood is a role that contains so many layers and parallels, intoxicating highs and lows. It completely changes you.” 

We spoke with Karni Arieli last spring to learn more about the Eye Mama project. How did you get involved with Eye Mama?

"I posted one of my favorite photos of Jacob (Gabriel’s father) and Gabriel ten days after his birth. Later, Karni reposted it on the Eye Mama project profile. This was in 2021 and I already followed the account because of all the inspiration I found there. After that, I got more and more involved, and to see how much of an impact it had was truly amazing."

"I was so happy to be a part of the book and included in the talk at the PhotoVogue festival in November. It has really impacted my career, to have a community with other mothers—which was why I started my own photo project. It is incredible to see how the butterfly effect of it all has worked on my life."

What have you learned while shooting Matrescence?

"I’ve dedicated almost two and a half years to this project, and it is still an ongoing one. While shooting Matrescence, I’ve had to trust my intuition and focus on finding the stories that I wanted to tell. I was happy and surprised that so many showed interest and told me about their personal experiences with Matrescence. There are so many layers to it, and everyone I talked to while working on the project."  

"Before I gave birth, I only had a shallow impression on what parenthood really is, but after becoming a parent and listening to so many different stories, it always surprises me how much of an impact it has on all of us. It is, really, the biggest transformation that a human being can go through."

How do you find and connect with other mothers to photograph?

"Usually through my Instagram feed when I post something about my project. Then they reach out and we start talking. I hear them out and create a space where they can talk about their story, and then we arrange a session at their place, where I often spend almost an entire day with them. I absolutely love it!"

Tell us about your transition to freelance work.

"I was combining photography with a job as a communication advisor for an organization, while also raising Gabriel, who was only 1.5 at the time. I was beyond exhausted, and it was necessary to decide about the future. I was then offered the opportunity to move into GEM Studio, which is the perfect location for me to work at. Good vibes, surrounded by other photographers and a studio space that looks like a home."

"It was also easy for me to accept that offer and quit my current job. It was one of those things that just felt completely right. But while making that decision I got a lot of questions such as, 'How can you live with such an unstable income and support your family?' I chose to trust myself, and I am so happy that I did. It gave me freedom. I finally had the chance to breathe and reflect between projects and tasks. However, I must also be very structured with the little time I have."

"I’ve recently worked on a group exhibition here in Oslo, called MOM/WOW/MOM, and a soon-to-be-published fanzine that will contain more from the Matrescence project. I also do a lot of newborn and pregnancy sessions, and I love it!"

Where do you find inspiration?

"I find my inspiration through other photographers who work with motherhood as their focus. I also like to spend time alone and write to get inspired, and just see where my curiosity takes me." 

"As a mother, I feel like I’m constantly at work somehow, and to find some time to just be is vital for me to find inspiration. I keep my alone time sacred, which I think a lot of mothers can relate to."

 "I don’t shoot daily, but weekly. Photography is extremely emotional for me, so I normally take some time to just sit with it before starting to edit the photos. What I capture is very personal and I need time to process it."

What do you hope to express through your work?

"Through my photos, I want to show motherhood from a diverse range of perspectives, and I aim to represent the different ways in which this journey can play out for people. Motherhood started with me searching for answers through channels that didn't serve me, and I knew that I had to use my own camera to communicate my own perspective, as well as the untold stories of other mothers."

"Looking back at the photos now, I'm happy that I followed my gut and documented the first couple of months of the intense, chaotic, and tender beauty of early parenthood. Not only my own experience, but several other ones too. "

“After becoming a parent and listening to so many different stories, it always surprises me how much of an impact it has on all of us. It is, really, the biggest transformation that a human being can go through.”

How has motherhood changed you as a person?

"Motherhood has been a transformative experience for me. I look at life from a whole new perspective. All emotions seem to have intensified since, and I have learned so much more about myself, what I’m capable of doing, and about love. To also see the world through my son’s eyes and to observe how he navigates himself through the beginning of his life has been a real eye-opener for me."  

Has it changed you as an artist?

"Motherhood also changed what I focus on as an artist. I wouldn’t mainly focus on motherhood in my work if I didn’t become a mother myself and had not felt the need to document all the important, yet unseen, work that caretakers do. The urge to make people appreciate caretaking more in their everyday life was suddenly important to me, which it wasn’t pre-birth."

What’s next for you?

"I have so many exciting things coming up. In April I attended an event at Hos Arne, a cultural venue here in Oslo, to talk about motherhood and announce the motherhood circles that are an extension of my Matrescence project. I’m super excited that I’m finally able to make a community in person for mothers to find each other!"

"And from April until May 26th, I will be a part of a group exhibition called MOM/WOW/MOM that contains three different photographers' perspectives on parenthood at Fotografiens Hus here in Oslo. So, a lot of good things are coming, and I’m excited for what the future holds."

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