If Alice Proujansky could send one message with her photographs, it would be that "birth is normal." Proujansky has seen women give birth in a myriad of conditions, from a Doctors Without Borders health center in Nigeria to a midwife-led home birth in Brooklyn, NY. As different as these settings may seem, Proujansky focuses on what makes childbirth a universal experience — and why more people need to talk about it.
In a conversation over the phone, Proujansky, who lives in New York, tells us she knew she wanted to photograph scenes of childbirth when she realized that it's one of the few experiences all people share; "Everyone has been born."
The actual event of birth often takes place behind closed doors, which only made Proujansky more intent on bringing it to light.
"It's a way that we don’t often see women's bodies," she says, adding that the sexualization of women in mainstream photography doesn't leave much room for any other kind of representation, let alone portrayals of childbirth. So Proujansky wanted to make sure that her photos instead showed "women's bodies working, doing this really powerful thing."
Her photographs truly capture the raw physicality of birth. These images make it clear why we use the word "labor" to refer to childbirth. Proujanksy tells us that, yes, viewing them can be a lot to handle; she has given presentations during which male college students excused themselves from the room. But that has more to do with how people in the U.S. view birth than the actual images.
In this country, Proujansky says, birth is presented as one of two extremes: "You're either going to have an epidural and you're going to be in a hospital and have a doctor, or you're making a statement by giving birth in a field."
To an extent, both are available options. But, when they're presented as the only options, women may not be aware of all of the decisions they can make to be sure they're comfortable when they give birth. As much as childbirth is a universal experience, "it's also very personal," Proujansky says.
Click through to view a selection of Proujansky's work. At once chaotic and quiet, jarring and intimate, her images bring us one step closer to reckoning with how we think about childbirth — and why we can't understand it fully without experiencing it.