A.P.E is pleased to present Ordinary Devotion, an exhibition of new photographs by Martha Fleming-Ives. Taken during the artist’s first year of motherhood and her daughter’s infancy, Ordinary Devotion depicts her early experiences as a mother through images of her growing child, her changing body, and the domestic space immediately surrounding them. Over the past several years, Fleming-Ives’ photographic practice has focused upon unflinching portraits of members of her family, at times capturing vulnerable periods of transition and growth. Here, Fleming-Ives turns her lens to herself, identifying the mother-child relationship as a familial point of origin. Taking its title from English pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott’s statement that an “ordinary devoted mother”—present rather than perfect—is enough for the healthy development of a child, Fleming-Ives’ series acts as a negotiation between the seemingly opposite mundane tasks of daily life tending to an infant and the blissful, often spiritual, sensuality present in caring for a new child.
Fleming-Ives’ photographs, taken with a medium format film camera, are largely confined to a quiet and still apartment, often cast with squares of warm afternoon light, and defined by objects relating both to a child’s development—rainbow toys strewn about the floor—and a mother’s—a guide to labor and childbirth entitled Birth. The conversion of the domestic space to studio by necessity speaks to the heightened sense of isolation and alienation a new mother can feel towards the outside world and in her new role as round-the-clock care-taker. Fleming-Ives portrays both blissful interactions with her child alongside physiological stresses of post-pregnancy, and demonstrates motherhood as practiced and learned over time, rather than automatic and immediate upon a child’s birth. Layering meanings of “women’s work”—that of mother and that of artist—Fleming-Ives steps into the latter to illuminate the former, expanding the art historical theme of motherhood to include its effect on female identity, while newly exploring her own negotiation between the two roles. This idea is perhaps best articulated in the work Motherhood: The Reference Library, a shelf containing a collection of books that question what motherhood means to those who define themselves as mothers, and were meaningful to the artist while making this project.
Martha Fleming-Ives was born in 1983 and grew up in Northampton, MA. Her work has been exhibited at Silver Eye Center for Photography, Center for Photography at Woodstock, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, and Griffin Museum of Photography. She currently teaches in the Honors Program at the School of Visual Arts, NY, and is working on her first book of photographs with German publisher Kehrer Verlag.