21 Photographers’ Portraits of Their Moms, From Loving to Unapologetic

by W Staff

Marylin, (2010). Photograph by Alex Prager.

“There was never a time when I felt so frustrated and far away from my mom than I do now, since the coronavirus pandemic crisis started,” says the photographer Elinor Carucci, who’s currently 6,000 miles apart from her mom and dad. For Carucci and so many others, this Mother’s Day will be unlike any other; celebrations will take place not over brunch, but via phone calls and video chats. Other than that, revisiting photographs and memories might be the closest they can get. It’s a familiar ritual for those whose mothers are no longer living, and, at times, it’s bittersweet. Take a look at how Carucci, Catherine Opie, Marilyn Minter, Alex Prager, Carrie Mae Weems, and more have captured the complexities of the mother-child relationship over the years.

Marilyn, 2010. Photograph by Alex Prager.
Courtesy Alex Prager Studio and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

“This is my mother. I’ve used her many times in my films and photographs. She has a timeless look that I love to photograph and she’s an incredible actress. She can control her emotions as easily as a puppeteer pulls strings. The first time I photographed her I think she was disappointed because she thought it was going to be more of a traditional portrait shoot, but instead I had smoke billowing from the top of her head and asked her to express grief. It was a turning point for our working relationship because once she realized that it wasn’t a beauty shoot at all but more of a creative collaboration, she committed herself and we’ve made lots of successful projects together since then. Aside from being a great subject for me, she has her own Los Angeles-based vegan cinnamon roll bakery, @TheGoodWitchFood, and I order them as a special treat on my sets when I’m shooting. Her cinnamon rolls always make people happy.”

Mom (Anime Boy), 2016. Photograph by Charlie Engman.

“Mom and I have been working on a book together for the past decade. The book—the culmination of so much intense time and energy spent together—was supposed to debut on Mother’s Day, but the hooks and crooks of fate had a different plan. It’s bittersweet that she and I can’t be together today for a book launch as planned, but it’s been a whole new form of connectedness watching our work disseminate remotely across quarantines.”

My Mother Walking Her Dogs, Neige and Violette, on the Beach, January 2018. Photograph by Theo Wenner.

“Some people you can understand more about by what they don’t say. That is the case for my mother and that is so beautiful and magnetic about her.”

Lou, 2019. Photograph by Catherine Opie.
Copyright Catherine Opie. Courtesy of Regan Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul

“While making portraits of older artists like John Baldessari, Lawrence Weiner, David Hockney, and Edie Windsor, I realized I had never taken a portrait of my mother. So last year, when she was 83, I asked her to come to my studio for a formal portrait.”

66th and Vernon, 1981. Photograph courtesy of Micaiah Carter.

“This photo was taken in 1981 in Los Angeles on 66th and Vernon with my two older brothers Ronald and Jamal. This photo is special to me because my mom was around my age in this photo, so it’s incredible to be able to see back.”

Christmas Day, 2017. Photograph by Courtney Sofiah Yates.

“My mom’s name is Halimah Hassan. This photo was taken on Christmas Day 2017. My mom is the most resilient person I know. She has shown me time and time again what it means to love despite how hard the world can be and I cherish that now more than ever.”

Untitled, 1993. Photograph by Alex Hodor-Lee.

“This is a photograph of my mom. It’s also my first known photograph. I took it as a one-year-old in 1993 on my mom’s Canon at the beach. She said she was surprised when she developed the film and it came out. Funny because it sort of looks like the photographs I take now. It only took me 26 years to figure out how to get an image into focus.”

My Daughter Emmanuelle and I on a WhatsApp Video Call With My Mother, April 29, 2020. Photograph by Elinor Carucci.

“There was never a time when I felt so frustrated and far away from my mom than I do now, since the coronavirus pandemic started. My parents, who live in Israel, cannot visit us here in New York, and we can’t visit them. There is a half-world between us, and it was never as enormous and as physically there. At the same time, as it is for so many of us, this time is emphasizing the importance of family and of the bonds we have with the people we love. Nothing is being taken for granted, especially mothers.

My mother talks to us every day, we now make sure to make the time for the video chats so she can see the kids. She is worried. Doesn’t being worried and being a mother go hand in hand? She keeps asking us to stay inside, to wash our hands, to wear a mask, to be patient. to drink hot drinks when we are back. It kills the corona, she says. There will be a vaccine soon, she says. It will be okay. Her worry is how she expresses her love now, and I welcome her worry for the comfort and hope it brings—this maternal comfort and love I now need more than ever. Thank god for mothers’ love.”

Coral Ridge Towers, Mom Smoking, 1969. Photograph by Marilyn Minter.
Courtesy the artist, Salon 94, New York, and Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong and Seoul.

“My mother was a narcissistic southern belle from Louisiana whose world came crashing down and she became a drug addict. She was a terrible mom, but she liked to read and had a great vocabulary. That’s the only thing I got from her.”

Untitled, photograph courtesy of Zanele Muholi and Yancey Richardson Gallery.
Untitled, July 2018. Photograph by Marisa Chafetz.

“Everyone who knows my mom knows how special she is. When my brother and I were little she would take us outside in the rain and tell us to close our eyes and smell the air. She taught me how to love life. I can’t imagine who I’d be without the gifts of her influence.”

Fran, 2019. Photograph by Jacqueline Harriet.

“My mom can strike up a conversation with anyone. She loves to pick the brains of her seatmate on a flight, the person in line at the post office. Give her five minutes and she will know the names of your siblings and where in the country they’re located—in another life, I swear, she was a private investigator. Her openness and inquisitive nature influences a confidence in the way I communicate with the world.”

Wendy, 1990. Photograph courtesy of Lindsay Ellary.

“She is an honest to god force of nature. She makes friends without trying, she’s tirelessly giving, hilarious, kind, and the strongest person I know. I’m in tears over how badly I want to write the perfect thing. She is the world, but more than anything, she’s the badass Texas cowgirl I hope to be one day. Hi mama, I love you!”

Untitled, 2020. Photograph by Justin Leveritt.

“I have never felt the need to reveal her in a photograph. Presently, her image and my love for her remain in me.”

Untitled, January 2017. Photograph by Lauren Withrow.

“I remember that day in 2016 when my mother called me informing me of her cancer diagnosis. During that time, she showed me what strength and patience really is.”

My Mother and I Entering the Next Phase, 2018. Photograph by Olivia Bee.

“This is my mother and I in a new stage of our relationship. I am past the part of my youth where I criticized my parents for not being perfect, and now I am at a place where I love and accept them for being humans.”

Untitled, 2010. Photograph by Maggie Shannon.

“I took this photo of my mom on the ferry heading to our hometown on Martha’s Vineyard, a tiny little island off the coast of Massachusetts. I love her big smile, how it takes over her entire face. I get my courage and stubbornness from my dad, but my mom taught me empathy, which is one of my main strengths as a photographer. I’d never be where I am today without her.”

Self Portrait With Mom on Easter Sunday, 2019. Photograph by Miranda Barnes.

“I’m extremely grateful to have always had my mom live close to me in New York. While our Mother’s Day celebrations are usually low-key, I’ve been taking the past few days leading up to the holiday to reflect on how important family is and the privilege to have both of my parents healthy during these uncertain times.”

Mum and Travis, 2017. Photograph by Alex Lockett.

“My mum is a very warm person with an incredibly charismatic and infectious energy. This photo of her in her pajamas was taken over the 2017 Christmas holidays. She loves to host, and I managed to pull her away for a rare moment of quiet in the midst of a lively family celebration.”

Untitled, 2020. Collage by Justin von Oldershausen.

“Collage made from a photo of my mom and her chorus group at Isfahan University (April 1971), a portrait of her while studying for master’s degree at Tehran University (March 1973), left over wrapping paper and Post-it Notes.”

Mom at Work, Seattle, Washington, 1980-81. Photograph by Carrie Mae Weems.
Photograph courtesy of Carrie Mae Weems and Jack Shainman Gallery.

“You have given me not only my life, but also a cherished gift: the lesson that is to be found in compassion, understanding, and unconditional love—taken together, this is the meaning of grace, and for this gift in my life I’m profoundly grateful. I am so honored to call Carrie Polk-Weems my mother.”