Jadwiga Brontē challenges stereotypes about maternity in prison with therapeutic photography
Photographing mothers in the maternity wards of two prisons in Moldova, the series challenges perceptions while investigating our relationship with memory.
- Lucy Bourton
- 2 October 2020
As both a photographer and mother, Jadwiga Brontē’s work utilises social documentary as visual therapy. In projects such as Invisible People of Belarus, a book which tells the story of Belarusian government institutions, Jadwiga cemented her position as a creative who uses her lens to investigate. Most recently, the photographer has continued this approach through The Good Memories, a series which challenges stereotypes about maternity in prison by using “therapeutic photography to strengthen parent-child relations,” Jadwiga tells It’s Nice That.
Originally from Krakow, Poland, Jadwiga moved to London in 2005, studying a BA in photography at Kingston and later an MA in documentary photography and photojournalism at LCC. Describing herself as someone always fascinated with the act of taking photos, she says: “Since I was a little girl I’ve liked photography. I remember using my dad’s Zenit as a young teenager. At the time I didn’t look at photography as a future profession, it was only a tool to capture the memories of the future.”
Memory in turn plays an important role in Jadwiga’s love for photography, and is the central theme in the aptly named The Good Memories. While discussing the parts of the medium she enjoys most, for instance, the power of a photograph to capture but also shift memory is one that endlessly fascinates Jadwiga. Referencing how Roland Barthes “explores photography’s complicated relationship with the truth, including how it can potentially change the meaning of our memories,” it is this method of thinking, and the “plasticity of our memories,” which inspired the photographer to specifically look back at imagery from childhood.
“Each of us has childhood photographs. In a world where smartphones are the norm, parents take photos of almost every aspect of their child’s life; first day, first smile, first tooth and so on,” the photographer says about the beginnings of this project. “We may not remember these situations, but the images are there for us to learn about our lives.” Yet through her research, Jadwiga discovered that children who spend up to the first three years of their life raised in prison, will have no memories of this time and, “Through my project I wanted to fill this gap in their photo-life.”
Jadwiga’s aim for the series was to specifically “investigate if it is possible to capture, despite the challenging circumstance, good memories and moments of happiness and save them for the future,” she tells us. Academic research suggests that capturing these fond memories “can help in the process of re-socialisation” for each prisoner, and aid the individual in developing “self-identity as a responsible and caring mother, and not a criminal”.
Taking the photographs over ten months in two prisons in Moldova, Jadwiga also worked with each mother to create their own baby album to keep. These albums will hopefully act as “physical reminders” of these good memories with the photographer hoping “that, as a result of this, I will be able to replace the image of challenging life in prison with a new one,” she says.
Within the resulting project itself, viewers get to know each of the mothers and their children through candid Polaroid shots and intimate digital photographs. Centred around the individuals themselves, it was also important to Jadwiga for it to never be obvious to outside observers that the images were taken inside a prison.
It is an intimate, thoroughly researched and arguably life-changing project for those involved. Jadwiga explains that, most of all, the creation of The Good Memories led her to “learn how powerful therapeutic photography is”. She is now planning on heading back to Moldova to create a book on the series with the mothers originally involved.
Jadwiga Brontē: The Good Memories (Copyright © Jadwiga Brontē, 2020)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.