Having found it quite hard to find photography that involves documenting around pregnancy and birth i stumbled across the work of Anastasia’s.
The following information is about the body of work taken from her website:
The series of images from ‘The National Womb’ are in connection with the “birth encouragement program” introduced in 2008, it distributes cash payments to newlyweds for each baby born, this is to repoulate the region after the effects the 1991-1994 had left.
The conflict started when the Soviet Union collapsed. Nagorno Karabakh’s ethnic Armenians went to war with Azerbaijan, backed by neighboring Armenia. The war left 65,000 ethnic Armenians and a further 40,000 ethnic Azeris displaced. The Muslim Azeri population never returned, and neither did many of the Armenians who had fled. While a ceasefire was declared in 1994, there has been no peace settlement yet between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
On the 2nd of September this year, Nagorno Karabakh celebrated 20 years of independence, yet remains unrecognized by the international community. Life is not easy in the republic. There is high unemployment, low salaries, few opportunities and the young continue to leave in search of better futures abroad.
Since its introduction 4 years ago, the “birth encouragement program” is credited for an increased birthrate of 25.5% from 2145 recorded births in 2007 to 2694 in 2010. The program is administered by the Department of Social Security which oversees the payments to married couples of approximately €575 (300,000 ad) at their wedding. They are paid €190 (100,000 ad) for the first baby born, €380 (200,000 ad) for the second, €950 (500,000 ad) for the third and €1350 (700,000 ad) for a fourth. Families with 6 children under the age of 18 are given a house.
Nagorno Karabakhs baby boom was also sparked in 2008 by a mass wedding on the 16th October that was held for 674 couples. The event was funded by private donations from several wealthy Armenian diaspora businessmen including Levon Hairapetian and Ruben Vardanian and couples who participated receive privately funded higher payments of €1400 ($2000) for the mass wedding, €1400 ($2000) for the first child, €3500 ($5000) for the second and increasing amounts up to €70,000 ($100,000) for the seventh. Figures on the 1st July 2011 show that a total of 693 babies had been born to these mass wedding couples so far. These payments are quite substantial in a region where the average monthly salary is €35 ($50).
Family life in Nagorno Kharabak is deeply traditional and conservative. When women marry they are expected to live with the husbands family and stay at home to raise children and care for their mother and father-in-law. Even within the home men and women live parallel but separate lives. A mans role is to provide for the family financially and fathers play only a small part in child rearing. So, what of the young women who are being paid to increase their nations population, the communities of expectant and young mothers and their daily struggles as women in this unrecognized republic??
What I found most interesting about Anastasia’s work was her ability to really be just a ‘fly on the wall’ when she takes her photographs, they have a documentary aspect to them whilst being very specific in what she wants to show. I think she does an excellent job in reflecting on the back story to her body of work. The images are predominantly focussing on the women, there is a lack of men within the frame, this highlights their absence and lack of involvement with the birth. The photograph above of the women in the hospital bed, all in the same room with their children could suggest their solitude together as women, they have had the same experience of birth and are lacking support from their partner. The fact that they are all in the same room and not in confined separate areas also highlights the high volume of women giving birth. What also particularly stands out to me in the image of the lady giving birth is that she has been careful with her cropping and selectivity of what she is showing to the viewer, it is enough for us to understand what is going on but not enough to be too graphic.
I suggest anyone interested to have a further look into her other projects!