Eye Mama Project, the brain-child of filmmaker and photographer Karni Arieli, is an unprecedented undertaking. Created during the 2020 lockdown, the project itself is a global platform and collective that aims to highlight photographers that identify as mamas. With nearly 40,000 submissions from more than 50 countries worldwide, the images illustrate the wide range of experiences in motherhood. This month, Eye Mama invites mama photographers to submit their work to an open call on Picter with the goal of creating the first ever Eye Mama book.
Arieli says the project “revealed” itself to her during lockdown. She was suddenly seeing so much motherhood in images that her colleagues were posting to instagram and social media. “Photographer moms were suddenly at home in the pandemic in lockdown and they turned the lens on what was around them, which was their family and home,” Arieli says.
It was a narrative that Arieli felt was missing. “The dark and light, the unsaid truths, and the undercurrent of motherhood all over the world, that was speaking to me,” she explains. She realized there wasn’t a body of work that looked into the home, and from a woman’s perspective. Arieli saw the beginnings of an amazing portfolio, and she felt the pull to collect it, which she began doing on Instagram. She started by reaching out to 10 photographers, and let it grow organically from there. Eye Mama Project currently has 13,700 followers on Instagram.
Her goal with Eye Mama Project is to curate the true and multidimensional feeling of motherhood rather than the picture-perfect narrative we are so used to seeing. She describes the type of image we all know: a mother and her three children all dressed in matching whites and all smiling while baking an apple pie. As a society, if this is all we are looking at, we are going to be in for a big disappointment, she argues. “It is a myth, a fantasy. It is manufactured and we should be aware of that. I’m not saying it doesn’t have a place, but it should come with a warning: this is not real motherhood.”
Women want to reflect and tell their own stories. We want to be the teller’s of our own stories.Karni Arieli, Creator and Founder of Eye Mama Project
Arieli wants to show viewers the full complexity of motherhood through this profolio. There are beautiful and joyful parts of motherhood, just as there are parts of motherhood that are full of heartbreak, sorrow, and failure. “The two are intertwined and inseparable, and until we represent those two sides, we’ll never give a break to moms.”
Arieli often refers to the “mama gaze” when talking about the project. She would like the “mama gaze” to tell you, the viewer, what it is. Arieli points out, “women want to reflect and tell their own stories. We want to be the teller’s of our own stories.” She likes the word “gaze” because it is serious and photographic. At its core, this is a project about humanity. Care and motherhood are not exclusive to an audience of caregivers and mothers: this project for everyone. “This is a serious photographic portfolio: don’t undermine it because it’s on the topic of motherhood.”
As for who should submit to this open call, Arieli says that anyone who identifies as a photographer or professional artist with a set level of artistry and also identifies as a mama, should submit their work. All narratives are needed and wanted, and she stresses that the project is open to all kinds of mamas: non-binary and trans mamas, IVF mamas, adoption and foster mamas, mamas who have experienced abortion and miscarriage. She hopes to see narratives that are often overlooked and unseen. All of these stories are part of the larger narrative of mama-hood.
No doubt, it is in the diversity and range of images from all these different mamas that will make the book strong. “What’s fascinating about it in a way is we’re going to have 150 images in the book and they will all be different but they will all be the same, and that’s the incredible thing.”
Read Eye Mama Stories on National Geographic.