Interview with Colleen Adams of Colleen Adams Photography
When I was struggling with nursing after my baby was born, I did what any 30-something mom would do: turn to breastfeeding-related Instragram accounts and hashtags. As with much of social media, much of what I saw left me feeling…inadequate. There were so many incredible posts of moms breastfeeding: some doing handstands, some looking like they stepped straight out of a salon, and so on. While I was in awe of these women–I’ve literally never been able to do a handstand (or cartwheel, or proper pushup) in my life–these images just did not speak to my reality. Of pain. Of unknowns. Of those subtle, understated, joyous moments when it was working. That’s why when I created my website, I decided that I did not want to use airbrushed stock photos. I wanted to show images of real people with real stories. So when I discovered the photographer Colleen Adams’s website, I knew I had stumbled on something, someone important. Colleen, a mother of two and former La Leche League leader, specializes in taking portraits of breastfeeding families. Many of the people she photographs have overcome challenges, and her photos are a celebration of those accomplishments — of someone being the first in their family to breastfeed, of someone overcoming postpartum depression, of someone whose baby started nursing only after a tongue tie revision. I spoke to Colleen about her experiences.
Kate: How long have you been a photographer?
Colleen: I’ve been a photographer since I was 12 and got my first SLR camera. I went on to take classes in high school and college. When my daughter was born, I got my first digital camera.
That’s also when I joined La Leche League and started taking photos of the mothers I met through the group. I brought my camera to meetings, park days, and play group. I also brought it along when I visited moms right after they gave birth. As a La Leche League leader, I would help them with breastfeeding and then take photos of them and their babies. I love taking breastfeeding photos. It is my favorite subject.
Kate: What makes you passionate about this space?
Colleen: I had my own breastfeeding challenges with my first baby. That’s why I feel I have such a connection with these moms–I know how challenging it can be because I went through the same thing. It’s such a vulnerable time of life. Whether it’s your first or fifth baby, it always feels new again. Each breastfeeding relationship is so unique that it’s like a learning curve in and of itself. Getting to document this for these women is really special to me. Most of the moms I’ve photographed have endured challenges. They are proud of themselves and they want it documented. And it’s super cool that women honor themselves enough to take those photos.
Kate: What are some shoots you’ve done that have been particularly memorable?
Colleen: There are so many. I photographed one woman who had so many breastfeeding issues. It turned out her baby had an undiagnosed tongue tie. After the baby got a tongue tie revision, she went on to breastfeed for an entire year and was so proud of herself. She felt like she had arrived. Another endured postpartum depression as a result of difficulties with breastfeeding. Thankfully, she received support and proper care, and I was able to capture her in a celebration of herself and her baby. When you are able to overcome challenges, it’s such a beautiful thing.
Kate: What’s your creative process like with these families?
Colleen: Many times, I do sessions in my clients’ homes so they are already comfortable in the space. Before I meet them, I send a questionnaire about their breastfeeding experience and why they choose to document it. Often, just giving my clients the chance to tell their stories makes them feel seen and heard. Sometimes I share my own breastfeeding story and challenges, and it puts people at ease. At the shoot, I tell them to pretend I’m not there and to breastfeed and connect with their baby how they would normally do it. Sometimes it becomes comical, like the UPS guy will ring the doorbell during a feed. But that’s real life, and that’s what I capture. I try not to dictate or control- I create a safe space to let them be who they are.
For more amazing photos and contact information, visit Colleen’s website.