Sophie Harris-Taylor’s recent series reveals the realities and complexities of breastfeeding
The photographer started the series soon after giving birth to her son as she felt there was a lack of imagery honestly depicting what can be a difficult time for many women.
- Ruby Boddington
- 14 July 2020
Sophie Harris-Taylor is a photographer who has always used her lens to initiate conversation or raise the profile of an issue which needs attention. One previous series of Sophie’s in particular, titled Epidermis, tackled body positivity, depicting those with varying skin conditions. Since we covered that series in May 2018, Sophie went on to exhibit that series, had a baby, got new commercial representation and “worked on some lovely commissions,” she tells us. Now, Sophie is back with a new body of work, this time revealing the realities of breastfeeding.
The series titled Milk began soon after Sophie gave birth, with her telling us “I think I found those first few months kind of boring if I’m being completely honest.” A period of time that not many women talk about with candour, Sophie remarks how “it can make you feel a bit lost, you’ve suddenly got this new identity as a mum and despite loving that side of things, I felt a bit lost in myself.” Like many, she had idealised this experience and the imagery she had even confronted with in the past “tended to represent breastfeeding in quite a generic and non-informative way.” This, coupled with her itch to start a new project led Sophie to wanting to open up the conversation around breastfeeding, reflecting on her experiences, as well as the experiences of other women.
A major facet of the Milk is the testimonies that sit alongside the intimate and revelling images Sophie has taken. “When photographing the women, although I was looking to capture something truthful, an image from my perspective can really only give you a glimpse into something that they’re pretty much doing round the clock (quite literally),” Sophie adds on this point. “I wanted to create something which showed a range of women’s experiences and also just how differently these experiences can be and how complex too. Adding their voice alongside the images has hopefully enabled me to do this.”
The subjects in Milk are all friends of friends, or mums Sophie met through social media: “I put out a few casting calls and when I started to share some images from initial shoots more women came forward and seemed to want to be part of the project.” Clearly, something about the concept of the series resonated with these women who came forward. “With some much more open and honest discussion around the role of women’s bodies at the moment, now feels like the right time to discuss one its most basic functions in a truthful and refreshing way,” says Sophie, hinting to reason so many were keen to get involved.
Aesthetically, the series is unembellished and raw, a direct response to Sophie’s want to “achieve something a bit more real and current than a lot of the breastfeeding images out there.” Rather than depicting it as a passive act, she wanted it to be seen as active, as well as reveal the range of emotions in both mothers and their babies. While the imagery is warm in its depiction of these mother and child relationships, there is a starkness to the images that removes the usual filter associate with images of breastfeeding. “I love to work in strong natural daylight, giving the sort of mundane moments a bit more gravitas,“ Sophie continues. “I think it’s less contrived than my previous series, working with babies meant there was that bit more spontaneity, which I liked the challenge of.
The fact that each shoot involved a baby meant Sophie had to adapt her working style – each shoot was completely different from the last and impossible to plan for. In turn, she learned to go with flow, responding to how comfortable the mother was in front of the camera as well as the feeding habits of the baby. On how she managed to create a safe space for each shoot and ensure everyone felt as ease, she tells us: “For most of the shoots I actually had my baby in the room too (I think this kind of helped build that rapport with the mothers). I was entering their environment, so being in their own personal space helped. Making sure they felt comfortable with me, getting to know each other a little and being able to share our experiences with one another sort of meant that they’re already opening up and letting their guard down.”
Finally, Sophie impresses that this “isn’t a guide to breastfeeding in any way” but that she hopes women who have breastfed or in particular who are currently breastfeeding can “realise they aren’t alone and it is a minefield that for many brings up lots of emotions both positive and negative.” Milk, with its incredible personal imagery and stories most certainly achieves Sophie’s intention of providing a “more rounded understanding of the ins and outs” of breastfeeding, concluding that “For some people, they find it kind of gross… I guess women’s breasts have become so sexualised, that actually what they were originally for has almost been forgotten. So maybe it’s just about showing something that’s so natural in a bit more detail than what we might be used to seeing.”
Milk is now available as a book via Sophie’s website.
GallerySophie Harris-Taylor: Milk
Sophie Harris-Taylor: Milk, Emma
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.