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

Charlie Engman

“I want my parents to live forever,” the late photographer Larry Sultan, who died in 2009, once said of his storied photographs of his mother and father that made up his ’90s series and effort to “to stop time,” Pictures From Home. Thanks to the continued legacy of his photos, he’s in fact succeeded in doing so. So have, and will, so many other photographers who’ve turned to their parents—and particularly their mothers—as subjects, whether as documentation or simply appreciation, as evidenced here in a Mother’s Day showcase of the moms of everyone from Tina Barney, a similarly film-still-minded photographer, to up-and-comers like Olivia Bee, who, amidst all the pink hair dye and makeout sessions she’s captured as part of her acclaimed series on adolescence, has recognized the importance of teens’ relationships with their parents in that time, too. Indeed, no matter their age, their generation, or their reasoning—from the intimacy of Charlie Engman and Lauren Withrow’s topless portraiture, to Ryan James Caruther’s tribute to memories like how his mom once accidentally left a meatloaf in the oven for seven days—throughout the years, turning their lens toward motherhood has proven to be something they can all agree on. Take a look at all of the annotated imagery here.

Mark Fitton

“For five years I have photographed my mother in and around the confines of my childhood home in suburban Massachusetts. Making pictures together has given us the means to communicate in alternate ways, using photography to establish a newly shared language. These experiences have changed my perception of who my mother is, from seeing her as a parental figure to a woman with real desires and intimate relationships. Photographing has allowed us to engage outside the hierarchy of the family unit and subvert familiar roles of the mother-son relationship as we perceive one another through new visual representations.” —Mark Fitton

Ciril Jazbec

Magic land (2016).

“My mother loves nature and peaceful places like the one in this photo, which is not far from home—a place she calls ‘magic land.’ We grew up surrounded by pristine nature in an idyllic village next to the Slovenian Alps. This photo is my gratitude for all her support and inspiration for my life as a photographer. She taught me to work hard and never give up believing in my dreams. I took it a couple of years ago before one of my many trips across the world.” —Ciril Jazbec

Nydia Blas

Mom (2015).

“A beautiful thing happens when we get older, we simply accept our mothers for who they are.” —Nydia Blas

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

Mommy, Jayden, and I at Christmas (2016).

“Oftentimes I will obscure an individual or represent them by an object in the frame; in this image my mother is behind the news circular, my brother Jayden is represented by the open laptop in the margin, and the empty plate speaks to my presence. Many of my images are set in domestic space, which is an interest I credit to my mother and grandparents. I’m interested in the play between ideal, humor, and resourcefulness as far as creating a living space goes. I like here that in some ways this image is like a puzzle. Each object is a decision.” —Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

Tierney Gearon

Summer Road Trip, (2017).

“When you take good care of your family, it is the biggest gift and life lesson you can give to yourself and your children. It teaches them to take better care of themselves and creates a solid support system and strength in life.” —Tierney Gearon

Greta Ilieva

From the series The Last Time I Saw you (2017).

“This picture I took of my grandma on New Years Day in 2017; she has severe dementia now. This was a special moment for me because this was the last time she was able to recognize me. As a child I wasn’t allowed to spend a lot of time with her, but all the time I did I treasured every moment and those memories remained strong. One of the warmest selfless woman I have ever met.” —Greta Ilieva

Ryan James Caruthers

Mom on Easter (2017).

“I took this photograph of my mother on Easter last year. My mother is strength, beauty, and humor, all wrapped up in a tight bow. She’s never afraid to speak her mind; one time she accidentally left a meatloaf in the oven for seven days. She’s brought five humans into this world, and still is somehow skinnier than I am.” —Ryan James Caruthers

Charlie Engman

Mom With Rainbow (2016). Part of Charlie’s solo exhibition, “Mom,” at Scrap Metal, Toronto. Special thanks to M.A.P Agency.

Elinor Carucci

My Parents (1994).

“I started photographing my mother when I was 15. It was the experience of photographing her that made me decide I wanted to be a photographer. My mother opened up to me completely—there were no boundaries, no doubts. Like a typical Jewish/Israeli mama, she devoted herself to whatever her children decided to pursue.” —Elinor Carucci

Larry Sultan
Larry Sultan

Mom In Doorway (1992). Courtesy of Estate of Larry Sultan, MACK, and Casemore Kirkeby, San Francisco.

“… I argued [with my dad] that our conflicting notions about how Mom is and how she should be represented are based on our different relationships to her. She is my mother but his wife. I pointed out that in almost every picture of her that he has taken, she is posed like a model selling one thing or another. ‘Look,’ I said, ‘I don’t see her in that way, I don’t glamorize her with my photographs and that’s why you claim that the pictures undermine her vitality. It’s your image of her vitality that they counter.’” —Larry Sultan, Pictures from Home (1992)

Tess Mayer

“Before Ava’s High School Graduation, 2017 – Though this photo was taken at a hotel, it’s always felt like an image of home. My Mom has pushed us both to be resilient, strong, and fiercely independent. I love that I could capture this quiet moment between the three of us.” —Tess Mayer

Luca Khouri

Alessandra (2017).

“I cannot think of anyone who I relate more closely to. Phenomenal woman.” —Luca Khouri

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Momme (2018).

Momme 2018 is an anniversary self-portrait remake of Momme 2008 from a decade earlier. It marks the one-year anniversary of my mother’s survival on life support. With our noses, lips, and eyes almost aligned, it signifies how we took courage and remained steadfast in the midst of all the hatred, brutality, injustice, and inequality we’ve endured as Black working-class women from southwestern Pennsylvania. Our bond and camaraderie are fire-proof. I have an awesome and creative mother. This work would not be possible without her love and support.” —LaToya Ruby Frazier

Juan Veloz
Copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

“As a true Dominican Black Queen—my mother, Monica Mercedes, who is 10 years breast cancer free—poses in full confidence, elegance, and ownership. What an honor it was to create something timeless with my mother.” —Juan Veloz

Marisa Chafetz

Mom On The Couch (2016).

“I made this photo at my grandma’s house in Virginia, after my mom had fallen asleep in her robe. Seeing her this way made me nostalgic. I thought her robe looked like a party dress, and turned around that way, you couldn’t really tell if she was my mother, or if she was me—16 and asleep on the couch after a long night of partying. I admire her so much; my favorite thing in the world is when I realize the ways in which we are alike.” —Marisa Chafetz

José Alvarado

“One of my first memories of my mother was her proudly hanging one of my childhood drawings on our fridge. Growing up in a family with two younger brothers, our creativity and pursuits were never neglected or ignored but celebrated. We didn’t have much growing up in terms of fancy technology, art supplies, or even cameras, but we were perfectly happy with what we had. As a child, my mother would always bring home stacks of paper after working overnight at her job at the newspaper for me to doodle and paint on. I would spend the next few days with my head in my new drawings, excited to create. When my ambitions started to turn to photography she would take me with her to her job at The Journal News. She wanted me to see how photos were developed and how a newspaper was created. My mother was always about building the foundations for things; She wanted to really help grow a passion and love for these creative outlets in me. Gracias, Mom, por todo tu amor and for showing me what it means to work hard, be determined, and stay teachable in order to reach your dreams. Feliz Día de la Madre.” —José Alvarado

Sasha Frolova

Nana (2015).

“Through the silent communication that a photographer and subject share, with I observing her minute movements and seeing her beauty through a fine art lens, and she experiencing the self-awareness symptomatic of modeling, I felt bonded to my Nana in a way I could not have otherwise. In that moment she was an extension of me—when I am really an extension of her.” —Sasha Frolova

Tina Barney

Mom and Jill (1988). Chromogenic color print by Tina Barney, © Tina Barney. Image courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery.

“I took this photo at my sister’s apartment in 1988 in New York City. The flash I used created the strange, dramatic narrative that occurred between my mother and sister. What appears to be a moment of friction was merely a photographic phenomenon, since my mother and sister and I always had fun together.” —Tina Barney

Miranda Barnes

Self Portrait with Mom on Easter Sunday (2019).

“We haven’t taken many photos together in the last few years, so this felt extra special. The work I do would not be possible without her, she’s my #1 fan. Grateful for her love and tenderness, instilling pride in me for our Caribbean roots, and allowing me to steal her gold hoops that I don’t plan on giving back.”

Ryan Lowry

Mom at Bria and Lyndon’s Wedding (October 2017).

“I am my mother’s only child, she’s shown me how to unabashedly be myself. I’ve always been unsure if this was intentional or just sort of happened, but this thing about her will always be a part of me.” —Ryan Lowry

Lauren Withrow

Mother II (December, 2016).

“I was in New York when you called. After you hung up, I sobbed and screamed in the middle of the sidewalk and I remember wishing I could take this from you. You had already been through so much.” —Lauren Withrow

Nathan Bajar

Mom On Mother’s Day, Number 5 (2017).

“My mom was always taking pictures when she was my age, so I like to think my curiosity and my feeling the need to make pictures comes from her. It’s so crazy when I think about my mom and how eerily similar we can be, but then I am humbled when I realize I still have a lot more work to do!” —Nathan Bajar

Romina Ressia
Romina Ressia

“Christmas is my favorite time of the year, I have to admit that I started listening to Christmas carols in August. I will always be grateful with my mother for that. She and my family were who made me love this holidays trying to make it every year a special day. In this picture she is cooking her classic tuna roll before people to arrive for dinner.” —Romina Ressia

Melissa Spitz
Melissa Spitz

Mom In Doll Room (2014).

“Mom and I have never had an easy relationship. Years of drugs, alcohol, illnesses, and abuse severed our parent-child bond. Both of us are hypercritical of the other, and we, like most mothers and daughters, have had our share of blowups. I started photographing my mom in 2009 when I was 20 years old. What began as investigation into my own personal anguish became a liberating excursion into mother-daughter relationships and empathy. My mom may never be who I want her to be, but her sense of pride in any scenario will always inspire me. Her unflinching confidence is just one of the many things I love about her. And her striking beauty, both inside and out, is why she has become my muse. I am thankful for all she has given to me. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom—I love you.“ —Melissa Spitz

Olivia Bee

My Mother and I Entering The Next Phase (2018).

“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.” —Olivia Bee

Molly Matalon

Mom At Home, In The Garage (2013).

“Growing up with a mother whose personality can command a room was difficult as her daughter in the shadow. But photographing her for almost 10 years has bonded us in a new way and built a language for my own voice as a woman in this world.” —Molly Matalon

Kelia Anne

Palm Springs (2018).

“A quick rest stop in Cabazon, two sodas and some candy.” —Kelia Anne