Jen Ervin on Motherhood

1. What's something about photographing children you wish more people knew?

Photographing children requires a substantial amount of idle time. Sometimes photographs of children reveal more about the photographer than they do the subject.

2. Has your view of childhood changed through raising three children of your own?

Yes, the minds of young children are deceptively simple. Their sensory perception is high which enables them to make very astute observations and profound connections.

3. Who photographs children and/or motherhood well?

Justine Kurland, “Of Woman Born”. The images of her son Caspar in “Highway Kind”.

Emmet Gowin, Family portraits (of his wife Edith with his sons; Nancy, Barry & Dwayne)

Rineke Dijkstra, “After Birth”

Sally Mann, “Immediate Family”

Amy Powell, “Erica and I”

4. What’s something people don’t appreciate about motherhood?

Motherhood requires practice in the art of selflessness. It relentlessly brings your attention to both your strengths and your weaknesses.

5. Why is making art about children/childhood important?

Photographs of children evoke joy, and a sense of wonder. They trigger nostalgia, offer hope, and remind us to remain open about our world.

Making photographs with my children offers me a deep sense of calm while simultaneously igniting a joyful curiosity about my relationships to the people I know and love. It also awakens a mysterious sense of awe of nature and childhood.

6. When do you feel its time to start taking photos of your children? Is it a planned or spontaneous thing?

I would say it is cultivated out of an unformulated combination of careful observation and chance. When I am in the field photographing, my intuition is my guide.

7. Your photography seems very rooted in summer, what is it about summer that makes for great photos?

Summer is a season that is synonymous with freedom. It offers us a considerable amount of time to spend together at our cabin, swimming in the river, connecting with nature. Nature is so vibrant during the summer months that it’s hard not to feel inspired.

8. Are you similar as a parent and a photographer?

Yes, I tend to have a “less is more” approach with both. I prefer minimal structure to allow for spontaneity, growth and experimentation. I’m a bit of an existentialist. I typically prefer to work with limited amount of equipment and a small set of parameters (used as flexible guides), reevaluating their benefits as I go. If something isn’t working, I make necessary adjustments. The same applies with my parenting style.

9. Did becoming a mother change your relationship with yourself?

Yes, most definitely. I’m becoming less critical of myself. Motherhood initiates compassion, not just for others, for oneself, too.

10. How do your children respond to being photographed? Do they each have different reactions?

The camera is part of our daily life – all three of my daughters are very comfortable with the camera. They are also very interested in making art and storytelling.

My oldest is a teenager now. Naturally, she is starting to pull away from opportunities to be in front of the camera in pursuit of her own artistic adventures. The twins, however, are as eager and as imaginative as ever to continue our photographic journey together.

11. How did you come to use Polaroid for your project?

I have a tendency towards overthinking. Working with Polaroid helped me to work fast, develop my intuition, and begin to trust myself more. It also brought a certain level and quality of intimacy that I was seeking to incorporate into my work. The more I worked with Polaroid, the more I came to appreciate its imperfections, vulnerability and tactile qualities. These tiny objects of experience triggered nostalgia for my own childhood. Over time the pictures have become just as much about my children as they are about me.