'Creative Mothers - On running businesses while raising children'

by Dunja Opalko & Tessa Pearson

© Todd Antony 

'Creative Mothers - On running businesses while raising children' is an ongoing personal project I started after becoming a mother in 2020. The aim of this project is to produce a touching and inclusive tribute to creative mothers and gently highlighting the difficulties of balancing a creative career with the realities of motherhood.

I had my daughter in June 2020 and being a self employed photographer I suddenly felt that it’s quite hard to balance work and motherhood. With Covid of course things slowed down naturally but after a year or so I felt that everyone went more or less back to normal while I was still trying to figure out how to find a balance. The feeling of not being a mother to 100% and not being a photographer to 100% was quite hard to accept. I love what I do but I also want to be present for my daughter, so this created a conflict within me as I couldn’t give my all to any of those. I realised that you really have to love what you do as a creative person to keep on doing it with a toddler by your side.

Late 2021 I was thinking about all the other women who run their own business or are self employed and how they must feel. So I started reaching out to women I admired such as Naomi Raybould, founder of Beyond Nine, writer Liv Purvis, photographer Ola O. Smit and artist Laxmi Hussain. I wanted to give the project a little more context and substance which is when Ola O. Smit introduced me to writer Tessa Pearson who also has a little girl. She runs interviews with the women in which they share their own personal journey. 

When I started working with Tessa on this it became obvious quite quickly that most of the women we wanted to approach were working in the creative field, ourselves included, and we came up with the title ‘Creative Mothers’ – On running businesses and raising children.

We’ve been working on this project for nearly a year and a half and one of the biggest challenges for me was dedicating the energy and time to work on a long term personal project, thankfully I have an incredibly supportive partner. From a logistical point of view it was also quite challenging finding a mutually free time slot with the portrayed mothers and their kids who often go to nursery or school during the week. I’m very grateful to everyone who took time out of their busy schedule to be part of this project.

A lot of my work revolves around portraiture, craft and interior photography with an overall documentary lifestyle element. This project effortlessly brings all these together. It’s a busy world we live in and there are a lot of day to day challenges we’re presented with, even more so it was important to me that the portraits depict moments of calm in the busy lives of self-employed creative women emphasising a sense of strength, love and connection between mother and child.

For this project, I wanted to be the observer – Documenting rather than setting up a scene. Of course there’s the elements of art direction, sharing a mood board so we’re all on the same page and picking the right spaces to shoot in, but it was important to me that the people in front of the camera feel like themselves and not staged, which is what makes the work an intimate and authentic piece. We either shoot at their workplace such as a studio, at home, or outside – whatever feels right. As everyone’s space is different, I shoot in natural light in order to give the images an overall consistent feel, shooting digitally.

This project is ongoing and I’d like to shoot more women in the industry for the unforeseeable future. Eventually I’d love for this to develop into an exhibition, which would give this project an opportunity to bring this community of mothers in the creative field together so they can connect in real life. The strong and honest interviews that Tessa is writing up will hopefully lend themselves to a book going forward.

The overall aim is to produce an honest, touching and inclusive tribute to creative mothers. Motherhood can feel lonely and many women experience a shift or loss of identity as having a child changes everything. This project will hopefully be an inspiration to them, making them feel heard, understood and through a sense of community that comes with this project, they might no longer feel alone.

The biggest inspiration for me were all the individuals involved in this, all the women and children bring something unique to this project. Everyone’s story is different but what they all have in common is the unconditional love towards their children as well as their profession.


Creative Boom article:

All images © Dunja Opalko

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