Local photographer seeks to #normalizebreastfeeding with self-portraits

by Rosalie Murphy

#normalizebreastfeeding, on view now at the Summit Artspace, documents photographer Jennifer Mancuso’s first two years with twins — and specifically, her experience breastfeeding them.

“I’ve always done photography, I’ve always had the artist’s passion for creativity,” Jennifer says. “But when I started on my motherhood journey, my focus just completely became motherhood, especially because I had so many so close together.” As of our interview, she had a five-year-old, a three-and-a-half-year-old, and twins who were about to turn two.

Jennifer had breastfed her first two children. But once she had twins, she realized: “There’s not a whole lot of information out there about how to do it, especially being a visual person.” So she began taking pictures of the process herself. 

She shared a few of those images with a small group of friends. Some reacted strongly: “‘Oh my God, put that away!,’” Jennifer recalls. “I’m like, ‘I mean, it’s just breastfeeding. It was a couple of my guy friends. I didn’t really think much of it. You know, they’re like, ‘we don’t want to see that, put that away, that’s crazy.’ But it’s not crazy, and it shouldn’t be shocking… I realized there’s some desensitizing that needs to occur.”

As her twins began to grow, Jennifer grew more and more public about breastfeeding. Her Instagram following grew to nearly 41,000 people. primarily made up of women who want to learn and talk about breastfeeding. 

#normalizebreastfeeding, Jennifer’s show at the Summit Artspace, begins with a series of those early self-portraits: Intimate, raw images of day-to-day life with her infants. Because she is a photographer by trade, however, Jennifer began thinking about “how to capture my journey in a more artistic way.” 

So she staged a series of “collaborative self-portraits,” which make up the rest of #normalizebreastfeeding. To take these photos, Jennifer designed the settings, lighting and clothing and set up the camera. Then she had an assistant — typically her husband — take each photo. She’d review them and tweak camera settings or staging until the portraits were perfect. 

Jennifer hopes the show, and her online presence, will make parents more comfortable talking about breastfeeding and asking for help when they need it. 

“Society needs its brain to be re-trained,” Jennifer says. “I feel conflicted about breastfeeding covers, conflicted about breastfeeding rooms. I think it’s good because, for those women that want to breastfeed but aren’t comfortable doing it in public, it gives them a place. But it also perpetuates the idea that women need to be doing it in private… I think we need to back up and start addressing: Why do women feel so shy about it?” 

#normalizebreastfeeding is on view at the Summit Artspace until July 20. Gallery hours are Thursday and Friday 12-7 pm and Saturday 12-5 pm. Jennifer will be in the gallery on July 18 from 4-7 pm to talk to visitors about her work, with a presentation at 6 pm.

Learn more about Jennifer’s work at www.jennifermphotography.com and follow her on Instagram at @jennifer.mancuso. 

Photos by Jennifer Mancuso. Used with permission. 

Rosalie Murphy is Editor-in-Chief of The Devil Strip.