For The Eye of Photography, photographic books are as important as an exhibition or a portfolio. They make the history and the actuality of the medium. Our correspondent Zoé Isle de Beauchaine has a tirelessly curious and informed look at the latest releases.
About the belly button by Ieva Stankutė has a special place among recent photographic publications on motherhood. An artist’s book more than a photographic one, blending photographs, texts and drawings, it delivers both a personal and universal account of this time in a woman’s life.
Recently published by Kaunas Photography Gallery, About the belly button was originally the graduation project of Lithuanian photographer, illustrator and graphic designer Ieva Stankutė, shortlisted for the Dummy Book Awards of the Rencontres d’Arles 2020. Largely inspired by children’s books, it is a very elaborate object, from its cover, evoking a navel, to its cut out, folded or flying pages, its different types of paper and its play on transparency.
Each chapter opens a new story about motherhood told through a variety of pictures : patterns of children’s blankets passed down from generation to generation, images stolen from Google Maps of « moments of care » from mother for child, a museum of symbolic objects of motherhood, a repertoire of statuettes dedicated to the cult of motherhood… Ieva Stankutė also experimented with photography pouring samples of her life as a mother — mother’s milk, tears, Smecta, jam, lipstick — onto negatives, creating poetic images, akin to micrographs.
The author included cut-out or drawn pages, describing, through a reference to children’s games and literature, the daily life of a family. For Ieva Stankutė, mixing genres was important when making this book: « I didn’t want to just put pictures of me and my children because many things from our experience cannot only be expressed by straightforward pictures. For me it was interesting to express it with pictures but not only. Various elements had to come into play. »
These images dialogue with a number of texts in which Ieva Stankutė shared memories of the mother figure that she has collected from her entourage, a poem written with words gleaned from childbirth stories read on the internet, and sometimes songs and rhymes noted down on random pieces of paper. Further on, on a few pages sealed in a Japanese-style binding, a text can be seen through the transparency of the paper, detailing the doubts of a mother, omnipresent and often buried.
The chapters of the book are punctuated by photographs of mothers with their children, mainly archive images. One carries her child in her arms while another, exhausted, is asleep behind her baby, who proudly sits on the floor. A series of navels, the origin of life, closes the book.
About the belly button is a sensitive tribute to motherhood and childhood, from the poetry of intimacy to the disenchantments of parenthood and the carefreeness of play. With its many handmade pages, making each book a unique piece, this work brilliantly rethinks the documentary perspective through a multidisciplinary artistic approach.
Ieva Stankuté – About the Belly Button / Apie bambą
Published by Kaunas Photography Gallery
2022, 22 x 18 cm
Available on bookshop and online