Photographer’s “GRANDmothers” Project A Hilarious Commentary On Society’s Obsession With Women’s Reproductive Capabilities

It’s hard to escape the constant commentary on a woman’s ability to reproduce and reproductive rights in general in society. Whether it is shaming her for having too many kids, shaming her for choosing not to have kids, shaming her for having kids too young, or discussing her decisions to have kids later, these narratives serve only to diminish a woman’s value down to reproductive capabilities alone, and it is damaging. Russian photographer Anna Radchenko has made this issue or reproductive choice, specifically the idea of women choosing to have kids later in life, the focus of her latest social commentary project.

GRANDmothers continues Anna’s body of work encouraging us to ask: “What if?” The project plays with the idea that we will eventually be able to have children later in life, to the extent where even as grandparents we will have the choice to become pregnant. Composed of a set of photographs and a short film, GRANDmothers stands as a humorous visual commentary on society’s pressure to become a mother by a certain age in order to still be considered valuable.

Featuring a cast of older models, GRANDmothers isn’t the first project in which Anna has addressed the issue of ageism in contemporary culture. Drawing inspiration from her own mother, Anna began exploring the topic with her 2017 fashion film Silver Goddesses in which she celebrated the beauty and spirit of getting older. GRANDmothers represents a continuation of this discourse by presenting creative, active, pregnant women who simply happen to be older. 

“I was thirty years old when I became a mother. This made me think about how in the USSR I would have been referred to as an “Old Mother” on my medical card. Which is crazy when you think about it. Childless women over the age of forty or fifty are often seen as purposeless and they are encouraged to embrace a more sedentary lifestyle. On the other hand, men are perceived as getting better with age. This mindset is particularly true to Russia, though still very much present all over the world,” said Anna in a press release.

As in Anna’s previous productions there is a strong fashion element in her latest project. GRANDmothers features a selection of up-and-coming and established international designers with a strong focus on Russian labels, such as Outlaw Moscow, Roma Uvarov Design and Fakbyfak. Seeing fashion as a way to express one’s creativity, she highlights how age should not be a constraint when choosing what to wear. Anna engages with the viewers’ perception through an aesthetic of opposition. From the styling and production design to the make-up and hair, GRANDmothers challenges our own bias by having us reassess our expectations of what is beautiful, youthful and empowering.   

Shot in Russia in what used to be one of the leading gynecological hospitals in the country, the 1911 Hospital has been unused since 2013. The location also plays with our perception, combining the new with the old. Channeling a strong post-soviet aesthetic, we find pop band posters hanging on the wall, as well as Russian propaganda prints praising the traditional family. The result is an apparent eclectic ensemble, aimed at challenging what we know and take for granted, while leaving us wondering about what would happen if we stopped adhering to social norms and acting according to society’s expectations.

 “GRANDMothers is a reflection on this. It holds an element of criticism, but it’s also a positive reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of being able to make our choices. By having projects such as GRANDmothers published and shared online, I want to make a difference in shifting our mindset and allowing us to perceive aging as something as valuable for women, as it is for men,” said Anna.

You can see a selection of the images in this article, as well as a short film made to accompany the photo series, below. Learn more about Anna’s work via her website.

GRANDmothers from Anna Radchenko on Vimeo.

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