Proujansky's photos provide a real glimpse into the experience of delivering a child -- from home births in the U.S. to maternity wards in developing countries. "I wanted to photograph a transitional, universal human moment that wasn't death," she told The Huffington Post in an email. "I didn't understand birth -- it's still hard to wrap my mind around it -- and I like to ask questions by photographing. We tend not to look at birth until it happens to us."
One of the photographer's goals is to break down the silence, or rather, blindness surrounding images of birth. "I've seen a number of people react to the pictures with shock and even revulsion, but these viewers accept images of war, injury and death," she stated. "Birth is intimate, but why have we decided that it is acceptable to photograph, publish and see physical violence but images of birth are inappropriate and shocking?"
Proujansky gave a few potential explanations for this phenomenon. "I think birth makes people uncomfortable because it combines elements of sexuality, violence, female power and raw biology. It's also a little close to home in that it conflicts with our culture's expectations of motherhood."
Working on "Birth Culture" helped the photographer prepare for the birth of her own son in 2012. "I knew that having a baby is difficult but that most women do it without problems, and that the key for me would be letting go," she stated. "Having seen women give birth in a lot of circumstances, I felt comfortable researching my options and choosing a safe, respectful, evidence-based approach."
Though the mother was fortunate to have access resources that allowed her to make informed birth decisions, the women she observed often did not have quite as many options. But Proujansky still wanted to empower every mother she photographed. "[I]f I was going to photograph healthcare, especially women in other countries, I didn't want to portray them as victims (without pretending everything was just fine)," she noted. "Women giving birth need skilled attendants, but they aren't helpless. Giving birth is a very powerful thing to do."
The photos below are just a sample of this artist's eye-opening series. "Birth Culture" will be exhibited at United Photo Industries in Brooklyn, New York in November.
(hat tip: Slate)