After the birth of his first child, photographer Vincent Ferrane was wowed by the “beauty” of breastfeeding, and the connection between his wife and their son. He decided to capture those moments and the feelings involved — joyful, exhausted, fulfilled — and create a photo series celebrating the primal act of feeding a child.
“I think I was struck beyond words by the beauty of those moments,” Ferrane, 43, tells PEOPLE. “When I say beauty, I don’t mean that it is only pure joy: these are ambivalent times of strength and feeling on one hand, but also difficult and sometimes harsh and tiring on the other.”
“The title ‘Milky Way’ is a reference to a Greek myth where milk, getting out of the breast of goddess Era, is creating the milky way in the sky,” he says. “It’s also refers literally to the experience you go through while breastfeeding during the first months of a baby’s life. The whole series assumes this balance between everyday reality and poetic symbols and myths.”
The Paris-based Ferrane wanted to his portraits of breastfeeding to have some raw truth to it, as it can be tougher than it appears.
“My partner and our baby had to learn from each other, and breastfeeding is not an easy task, especially in the beginning!” he says. “The milk must flow well, the baby drink enough and long enough, and so on. The way these two bodies approach and fit together is determined by the food and it is a behavior that is expressed without words (except crying), but only by gestures and postures.”
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Ferrane also photographed the parts of nursing that aren’t considered beautiful, like spit-up.
“I wanted to place on the same level so-called ‘noble’ images of breastfeeding with everyday experiences that lactating women know well, like engorged breasts relieved by the baths or the fact that the baby is spitting up,” Ferrane says. “As parents, you immediately incorporate these elements into your life, so as a photographer, this gives you the opportunity to develop an aesthetic language that does not stop at what is generally considered to be ‘beautiful’ or ‘worthy of interest.’ “
He was also fascinated with the unintentional schedule that breastfeeding creates.
“The feeding, the emergency of food, gives the rhythm during the days and the nights,” Ferrane says. “This clock becomes more important than any others. So I tried to show in this series how breastfeeding appears as a pulse that gradually takes its part in the others cycles of life, those of nature and the seasons, and of days and nights.”
He also sees the photos as a way of bringing reality to the act of breastfeeding.
“Maybe a good way to normalize breastfeeding is to show that it is not always easy and that breastfeeding must be recognized for its joys, sometimes for its pains and always for the efforts it’s demanding.”