#Sheheartsfilm Female in Focus: Hollie Cornish- Mothers of the Pandemic
By Emma Lloyd and Hollie Cornish
Hollie Cornish @hmc_j.photo is our first feature out of the hundreds of lovely ladies who submitted work to the #sheheartsfilm project. This blog will take a deep dive look into a recent project of Hollie's and the stories behind her photographs. I was struck by Hollie’s work and the intimacy of her photos. I hope you all enjoy taking a closer look at her body of photographs: Mothers of the Pandemic.
We ran the #sheheartsfilm competition back in March with the aim of bringing female film photographers into the spotlight, creating a stronger community, network of support and as a way to share all our wonderful film knowledge. The response was amazing, we had over 170 wonderful women submit their work and the hashtag is still growing! I feel a stronger sense of community already and love seeing female film photographers flooding my feed! A list has recently been published with all the women who took part, it is a brilliant resource for any photographers who are looking for some inspiration, see it here.
Hollie Cornish is a photographer based in Sheffield. I have chosen Hollie’s work to write about because it stood out to me as shining a light on a subject that is so beautiful, but often kept very private. It captures such a bizarre moment in time and shares many tales which need to be told. Hollie’s work focuses on mothers, and in this body of work she photographs women in different stages of pregnancy. This is made even more unique because these images were captured at the height of the pandemic, which was a scary time for us all. All sense of stability was gone and things were changing all the time. Structure and routine went out the window, to me it felt like a time of constant bad news and fear of the unknown.
Now imagine all this and being pregnant.
Pregnancy must be a rollercoaster of emotions at the best of times, let alone under these circumstances. I find the images so touching, Hollie has captured mothers in such an honest and raw way. The photos capture beautiful and intimate moments, this combined with the stories of the mothers she spoke to makes for a very moving series of photographs.
I spoke to Hollie about the series and her practice as a photographer.
Mothers of the Pandemic, Lorna
Lorna's Story (Click to read more!)
"I always imagined that moment when me and my husband would see our baby on the sonographer’s screen for the first time and how incredible and emotional it would be. I always imagined there would be tears of joy from us both and we would walk out of the hospital together hand in hand and talk about all the exciting things to come. Or, if things did not work out so well and we found something out the day of the first 12-week scan that would be devastating, we would find out together, by each other’s side. Maybe there would be tears of sorrow, but we would walk out of the hospital the same, hand in hand, supporting each other. But, that first scan and the others that followed, I had to go alone due to COVID restrictions. I saw our baby on the screen for the first time alone. I had that special/nerve wracking moment alone. It was a strange feeling. I was so happy but so sad that my husband wasn’t there. When I got out of the hospital to my husband who was waiting anxiously in the carpark, I tried to recreate how magical and amazing it was and showed him the grainy little picture of our baby. Yes, it was exciting, but not as how we had expected this moment to be. Luckily, we were fortunate enough to be able to pay for a private scan at 20 weeks which allowed partners to be in the room so my husband has seen the baby, which we are very thankful for and it was a special moment for him to see our baby on screen.
At 31 weeks today we are so lucky to have (so far so good!) a healthy baby growing inside me, dancing and jiggling around in my belly non-stop to make sure we know it is there (I think we have a future dancer!!). I am really loving pregnancy, but it definitely hasn’t been the pregnancy I expected. Under the restrictions we haven’t been able to see some of our family for months, meaning they have missed out experiencing so much of this pregnancy which is so sad. We’ve really missed not being able to be close to those we love during this special time."
Tell us about your photography practice
I work with people, using photography as a way of capturing their story. My recent project that I will be sharing photos of is called ‘Mothers of the Pandemic’
Why do you work with film and analogue processes?
I enjoy the process of film and the fact it captures moments in time without changing it. I used analogue processes for this project because there is no editing or knowing what the shot would look like. It's a capture of that moment in time, which I felt fitted perfectly with the project itself.
Explain your thoughts behind the Mothers of the Pandemic project
I wanted to capture the strength that has been demonstrated through this period and the impact it has had on motherhood. Not only the birth experience but the pre and post birth. The absence of human interaction and support that is normally there for new mothers. Plus the total lack of support and care new mothers have received from the government. Alongside the photograph I share the mother's story, hoping this will raise awareness and build a following of women who will help and support each other through this time.
Mothers of the Pandemic, Natalie
Natalie's Story (Click to read more!y)
"For everything I feel the pandemic has taken from me it’s given back in other ways. I always knew I would be leaving my job to relocate from London to Sheffield when we started a family and wanted to end on a high, but I left work feeling like I’d disappeared having spent so much time working from home. I’ve missed sharing my pregnancy with my closest friends and family who I’ve hardly seen and I’m sad I didn’t get to enjoy my last months in London the way London should be enjoyed. But the slower pace of life has brought its benefits and has made pregnancy much easier on my body. I was furloughed in the first trimester and no commuting has helped massively. The biggest benefit by far has been sharing the experience so closely with my husband. He hasn’t been able to attend NHS scans and appointments but we were lucky enough to book private ones that he could attend without a doubt. My team at work have been wonderful. My job was difficult to do from home but because of their support I was able to go into the office just one day a week which reduced the risks associated with commuting and a small office. It would have been a very different and difficult experience without their understanding and help. I’ve been very lucky to have no problems in my pregnancy so far and my understanding is that the support can get more difficult to access if you are no longer following the usual process, especially after birth. However, I can’t express enough how wonderful I’ve found the midwife services in Sheffield. This is my first pregnancy so have nothing to compare it to but their warmth, compassion and empathy has made a very uncertain time much much easier. They seem to be a very special breed of exceptional people!"
What was it like photographing these women in intimate settings?
Taking these photos in an intimate setting gave me the opportunity to create a connection with each person in their safe space and the place where they had experienced the pandemic. Shooting in their home or garden allowed them to influence the creative process as certain spaces carried emotional significance for their journey through pregnancy during the pandemic.
I went and met each mother in either the home, garden or where they felt most comfortable meeting, taking the time to listen to their story and experience before capturing their portrait.
What message did you want to convey through the project?
The initial aim of the project was to convey a message of strength displayed by these mothers through the challenge they faced. I feel that the pandemic and lockdowns have been hard on everyone and created isolation. These women have also endured the journey of pregnancy during this time and have shown resilience and strength to come through it. The secondary aim of the project was to highlight the lack of support these women have received due to the pandemic placing limits on the normal support and resources available to pregnant women.
Mothers of the Pandemic, Hilary
Hilary's Story (Click to read more!)
"I felt privileged to be pregnant and then have my baby during 2020. For many, there was no change, life was put on hold, plans kept being cancelled. For us, each week my bump would grow, I started to feel kicks, I had a birth plan to focus on, I could start filling the freezer with meals. We had something definite, something sure, we would see change this year.
My birth was unaffected by Covid but then I know no different. Interestingly looking back, I don’t remember the masks, I remember the people behind them. I wonder if the midwives were working harder to connect because I really felt their care at each step from antenatal to the postnatal checks.
The early days were a rollercoaster as expected but I wonder if they were made harder because the pressure of Covid had chipped away at our resilience in the months before her birth. The hardest part for me was balancing risk over and over again- who could see and hold my daughter.
One thing I am sure is these babies are going to grow up to be a hardy bunch as they’ve spent so much of their lives so far outside. Community has prevailed through the pandemic and the kindness we received from others was absolutely not limited by Covid. We still had meals delivered from friends and even people I had never met on our road.
This isn’t to say it’s not been hard. It has been a different experience of having a child, I won’t miss the online baby classes but one thing for sure is she has been a good distraction."
Mothers of the Pandemic, Rachel
How did the experience impact you?
The experience of this project gave me a detailed insight into the difficulty and struggles faced by women during pregnancy. There is a perceived magic to pregnancy that is portrayed to society and proliferated by social media accounts. This gives a warped perception of pregnancy and motherhood where normal emotions are not shown and struggles are not publicly displayed. This led to many mothers I met feeling guilty for struggling or not living the idealised version of pregnancy that so many people perceive it to be.
What is your favourite photograph from this project?
It is hard to choose one single image as a favourite from the project, there were many images that showed the emotional connection between mother and baby. I found that quite a few women described their story to me in detail about struggles, difficulties and real lows but as soon as the camera was on them they wanted to show a big smile. I found this interesting to shoot as I did not direct any photographs as this was a documentary project but I felt that some women wanted to put a smile on for the camera which didn't match the struggles they were going through. Overall my favourite image was the one of Jess, this is because the image encapsulates the difficulty that the mother had been through and was still working through but how the love and connection with her child is her strength.
Mothers of the Pandemic, Jess
Jess' Story (Click to read more!)
"The pandemic has had a huge impact on my experience of pregnancy, birth and life as a new mum. Covid restrictions have really affected my emotional wellbeing and mental health, as well as that of my partner who has lost all his work and income as a wedding photographer. Additionally, the pandemic has made our feeding journey with a baby with severe tongue tie much, much harder.
I've felt a massive sense of loss as I've had to adjust my expectations to this new situation. Instead of celebrations it was a lonely time. Face to face appointments with my community midwives became really important to me as a chance to see another person face to face! At home 24/7 with my partner we were worried that if we got any covid symptoms this would mean Chris wouldn't be able to attend the birth so we were strict about avoiding social contact except for a few window visits. As the due date got closer our anxiety worsened and we worried about the baby being late and being offered induction which would mean me going into hospital and labouring alone until I was in established labour. This worry became a reality.
Eventually we accepted intervention to help move things along. This was all so far from the calm, relaxed birth I'd been hoping for. I know that our underlying high anxiety before the birth did not help the situation. A long and upsetting birth ended with an emergency c section and it was so hard to understand what was going on and being said to us when everyone was wearing masks and visors. It felt like being underwater.
I was in hospital alone recovering from major surgery and trying to look after a newborn baby with no visitors for 5 nights. It was horrendous. It quickly became clear that breastfeeding was not going well. Eric lost a lot of weight, he was barely waking up and he needed blood tests and doctors became involved. Managing this alone was horrible and I would call Chris on the phone to try to make medical decisions together. Chris visited the car park to wave at us from the window whilst on the phone. We didn't know when I'd get to come home. Eric had a severe tongue tie which meant he could not efficiently breastfeed and it was excruciating for me. We were put on a feeding plan where I had to express milk and try feeding him from the breast and from a tiny cup every couple of hours day and night. This took up all my time and I was getting exhausted and felt such a sense of failure for not being able to feed my baby and so much anxiety about his weight. This feeding plan continued when I finally got home. There is an extremely simple operation to release a tongue tie but the NHS clinic at the Sheffield children's hospital had been closed because of covid as a 'non essential' service. We ended up arranging to have this done privately but still had to wait 2 weeks and Eric continued to have difficulty with feeding and weight loss well beyond this point. This had a massive impact on my mental health. It was another part of the picture where things felt so different to my expectations. It was impossible to get face to face support to help with breastfeeding but I became preoccupied with seeking advice and getting some control over this difficult situation. As restrictions eased I finally managed to get some home visits from professionals who were able to give a little more support and identified that Eric needed another referral for his tongue tie. All mothers are strong but being a pandemic mother is another level!"
Mothers of the Pandemic, Katie
Katie's Story (Click to read more!)
"I’m 32 weeks pregnant. Being pregnant in the midst of a pandemic has presented some interesting challenges… but then again, as this is baby number one, Ben (my husband) and I don’t really know any different! I know that I’ve been burying my head in the sand with regards to a lot of the realities of labour but as I progress further into the third trimester, some anxious thoughts have started to enter my mind! I think in my first and second trimester, I took comfort in the knowledge that partners could be there for the ‘active labour’ bit. Well, as I hadn’t had any antenatal classes, and I was (still am) really quite clueless with regards to how birth plays out in reality, I thought ‘Ohh they can be there for the active labour bit? That’s fine!’. But as I have picked up more knowledge over time and spoken to more and more mum friends, I have learned that labour can last a very long time (!), and that there’s a whole multitude of things that can potentially go wrong and lead to a prolonged stay in hospital… The thought of being alone in recovery, struggling to get across the room to get to a crying Baby Bayley- and trying to navigate the initial stages of breastfeeding without the support of Ben is daunting. Thinking of how Ben would feel- not being able to be with us- makes me sad too. I know this has been the lived experience for so many mums and dads out there over the last 6 months. I am sending so much love to all those incredibly strong women and all their loved ones who have been affected.
It’s people like this that I could cry for after the amazing news has been announced. FINALLY!"
What films do you work with? And what were the specific cameras and films used for photos submitted in this project?
Mothers of the Pandemic, Rosie
Rosie's Story (Click to read more!)
"As a first time mum it’s tough to know how the pandemic has affected motherhood for me as I don’t know any different. I know this isn’t what it’s meant to be like but I have nothing to compare it to. As the pandemic set in I was pregnant and scared. I was working in central London and going in and out of the office each day. There was no clear advice for pregnant women in the early stages and I was anxious about the risks to my baby. Just before the first lockdown my husband and I left London, six weeks later we moved again - it was an unsettling time and plans changed almost daily. I’m sad for the things I haven’t been able to do - our son is nearly 5 months old at the time of writing this and we have close friends and family who haven’t met him and haven’t been able to be a part of my journey. I’ve also felt a lot of guilt - I worry about the impact of isolation on Freddie’s development. I think it will be a long time before we understand what the impact will be on this generation.
My experience of giving birth was very positive and we felt very well supported throughout. After coming out of hospital we were very lucky to have friends and family available for support which so many haven’t had during these crazy times. In hindsight this support was invaluable on every level especially as there were no home visits and services were stretched. We were isolated in London and we knew we would need help, which is why we moved up to Sheffield. It was an important decision and I know I would have really struggled mentally and physically if we had stayed in London. I do feel like I’ve got to know my baby very well and my husband has been working from home, so he has had the opportunity to spent a lot more time with us than he otherwise would which I am really grateful for. So while there have been losses there have also been gains. At the end of the day I feel incredibly lucky to have a healthy and happy son and we are looking forward to a better tomorrow for all!"
Mothers of the Pandemic, El
El's Story (Click to read more!)
"The thing I want more than anything else is for my baby to be held by family and friends who love him - the cuddles and the closeness that should be so natural and that I can see him so often reaching for. It's heart breaking. And I think the worst bit is the uncertainty - it's the worry that we could be symptomless and potentially passing the virus on to vulnerable people around us, so you really can't be close to anyone, at any point. It's been a heavy reality to come to terms with, and it has significantly shaped his first year of life so far and my experience of being a new parent."
What is your favourite photo that you have taken and why?
A photograph of my mother for a project called ‘who cares for the carers’ which was a project about when they cared for me with anorexia.
Who cares for carers
Jaa's Story (Click to read more!)
"It’s a terrifying time to be a pregnant person and midwives also find themselves feeling daunted. It’s been difficult. Doing this behind a mask has been a challenge. Women can’t see my smile or facial expressions which just makes it more difficult to reassure them. It can also be hard to communicate effectively through a mask and visor, which during an emergency can make a frightening situation even worse. Even though it’s been strange not having visitors on the wards it’s allowed women to bond with their babies without being interrupted. It’s also lovely to see women speaking to each other, offering advice and supporting each other as well.
This year was supposed to be the first ever international year of nurses and midwives, we were supposed to be celebrated as 2020 is Florence Nightingale’s bicentennial year. Imagine being given a year of recognition for the first time in history, then a pandemic happens. Even though I felt recognition from all the claps on Thursday evenings at the beginning of lockdown, it was short lived as protests were happening all over the country in August for better pay. The NHS is definitely over stretched and underfunded. I read an unbelievable statistic that states for every 30 midwives that train, 29 will leave the profession. Which is a crazy!
I understand the women’s frustrations and I hope they understand we’re as frustrated as they are. But we will always be there for them and their families, even during a pandemic. Despite everything going on we will always do our best to ensure women get the care/support they deserve. As a midwife I will always be ‘with woman'."
What would you like to see more of in the film community?
A strong female lead.
Describe your experiences as a female in the film community
I like the support of women photographers in the industry.
Do you have any female photographers that inspire your work? Or just a particular favourite on instagram that you would like to shoutout?
I love the work of Dorothea Lang and was lucky enough to see her work displayed in an exhibition at the Barbican a couple of years ago, in terms of current photographers and people on instagram I like the work of @myvisualcurrency because of her work with film.
I loved delving into the details of Hollie's project. Accompanying the photographs with stories made them even more powerful. I also admire Hollie's ethos behind this project, she truly uncovered every element of pregnancy during the pandemic, from the highs to the lows. Hollie raises a very real issue through her work, about the 'highlight reel' of instagram, that too often depicts everything as being fabulous all the time. Hollie talks about the 'perceived magic' of pregnancy, which I am sure for a lot of women it is an absolutely magical time. We often see OTT pregnancy and gender reveals on instagram by celebrities, making pregnancy look very glamorous. But through this series Hollie shows us the importance of honestly, to show the realities of life's struggles. During the pandemic I can imagine pregnancy was a particularly lonely time, with a lot of the usual support being restricted. Hollie's project unified pregnant women, showing them they were not alone with their difficulties and unburdening them from the guilt of not enjoying every moment of pregnancy.
I am in awe of all the women Hollie photographed, they showed such strength and resilience during a bizarre time. I am in awe of Hollie too. Her work has such transparency and raises awareness of the pit falls of social media, and how we must be careful not to see everything through the rose tinted glasses of an instagram feed. I feel extremely inspired by Hollie's work and empowered to start a project of my own that brings attentions to important topics such as this one.
It was such a pleasure speaking to Hollie and discovering the story behind her work. Hollie is an extremely talented photographer, with a diverse range of photography projects. It is an honour to have her supporting the #sheheartsfilm movement. Please check out more of her work on her website www.holliecornish.com and instagram @hmc_j.photo I hope that seeing more work by female photographers is inspiring you all to give film photography a go. I am so excited about the momentum of the #sheheartsfilm project and can’t wait to see where it goes. Please keep sharing you work, and if you have any ideas or more things you would like to see with #sheheartsfilm please DM me!
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