We’re often drawn to photographers who take one subject and make it their own. Whether that’s honing their lens in on the natural world or focusing on capturing powerful women, it’s always compelling to see a photographer master their signature subject. Which is why we felt obliged to reach out to photographer Ilsa Wynne-Hoelscher after we spotted her work on Instagram. Beautiful self portraiture intermingles with shots of her with her two children, other mothers with their families and growing baby bumps. Motherhood, pregnancy and birth are somewhat trademark topics for Ilsa, who photographs each with a tenderness and sensitivity that will make you want to keep scrolling through her pictures.
The daughter of a photographer, Ilsa’s interest in cameras was piqued at an early age and her aesthetic appears to have visually hit its stride since becoming a parent herself. Not restricted to the subject, the Australian photographer travels as much as she can and turns her lens to nature and the home as well. The result is a woman with an irresistible eye for life and all its complexities. We took some time to chat to Ilsa and find out more.
When did you first develop an interest in photography and how did it come about?
I have always looked for beauty in things that are often seen as ordinary or imperfect, or even mundane. Ever since I was a child it has been about storytelling and shining light on other people, other living things or simply objects that have something to say. I find there’s meaning all around us, so it’s been about opening my eyes to what is often missed by others. Initially never a conscious decision, but it’s somewhat become my overall focus as a photographer. Photography has been the means in which I can express what my eye sees, and the platform for these ideas and stories. My father was a photographer, amongst other creative talents and endeavours, so growing up around his work definitely exposed me to the realm of this art form, from concept through to developing film in our dark room at home. Flicking through fine art photographic magazines, having my mother model for him, and being on set from a young age shaped the way I saw things in a visual sense. I learnt through these experiences how to compose an image to best communicate a message or feeling, and how to go about working with others to achieve a collaboration.
Photography was always there, something I always had an appreciation for, and has been present in all lines of my work (media, creative direction, education) but it wasn’t until I left my previous career in these areas when I became a mother and focused solely on photography that I found my photographic voice and refined my skills by jumping in to the deep end starting my own business. I think becoming a mother shed old versions of myself and gave me the confidence and security to go after something that mattered to me, to have bravery and faith. Motherhood can do that, it makes you feel that you can do anything!
Your photography focuses a lot on women and on motherhood - why?
This was an organic direction my work started to take once I became a mother. Through pregnancy you’re not only at work creating a new life but you’re also in a state of transformation. It’s a deeply spiritual time for you and baby, and I do think women come out the other side with a higher sense of self and more clarity around what’s important. When I was on maternity leave with my first born, I found my creativity was becoming stifled and I really longed for expressing this unveiled side of me. I began taking self portraits on womanhood and motherhood whilst the baby was sleeping. It was the first time in my life I felt truly comfortable in my skin, and had a deep love for my body and it’s capabilities. All I saw was it’s beauty, imperfections included. Really special work came out of that period, some of my most popular work to date. It has been a way to connect with the fleeting stages of motherhood on a deeper level and to etch them into my memory for life. This has poured over into my professional work also, creating a business dedicated to mothers and women, capturing their individual stories and beauty through this chapter of their lives. I’ve found it so moving, rewarding and a beautiful experience to share with all kinds of women and mothers, making friends in the process.
What makes Australia home to you and how did your upbringing feed into your style of work?
Australia will always be home… the weather, the space, and the vast landscapes have taught me a lot about myself and my place in the world, naturally affecting my style. Having a grubby and typical “Aussie” upbringing has certainly led me to wanting to capture these moments with my own offspring, the sentimental pull I find in photography. The ambition that Australia has being a relatively new nation and quite isolated from anywhere else, has been both tedious and wonderful at the same time, something that also resonants in my work through feeling. Despite loving Australia and my cheery upbringing, I actually feel more inspired currently by life these days and by being in other countries. Travel is so enriching and I’m connecting greatly to contrasting cultures and climates. I would love to cast my net abroad more, travel as a family with my camera in hand, and perhaps return to my ancestral European roots for a new experience. Constant learning and new conversations and experiences are the main influences in my work today.
How did you choose to document your pregnancy journey?
Both pregnancies have been challenging and extremely beautiful, and a very natural experience. It has felt like home. I feel too deeply at times and am too aware of how fast time moves, urging me to constantly capture moments to look back on. I have used photography as a way to connect more to this experience and my babies, to celebrate female form at it’s greatest glory, and to be able to share it with my children when they are older. It’s been about highlighting the whirlwind journey my body and babies have been on together, with me almost just watching on. Pregnancy and birth is the hardest work your body will ever do, but also the most rewarding and empowering. I often feel so lucky to be a woman, and am beyond thrilled to gift this opportunity to another female.
Do you feel you have changed as a person since becoming a mother? If so, in what ways?
I don’t think I have changed as a person at a core level, but it’s certainly refined who I am right now, and I definitely feel stronger within myself. I feel motherhood has opened up a higher level of existence for me, with emphasis on compassion, patience, love and values. I’m a more emotional person now! I feel a greater level of empathy and am now longing for a safer, happier and more equal world for all. Becoming a mother by nature makes you more in tune with these elements of life. On a more basic level, I’ve never been able to run on so little sleep yet be more productive as ever! You’re forced to become better with time management and juggling all that you are, all that you do.
What’s your mantra for living well?
“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” A nice reminder to stay present and grateful.
What do you do to unwind?
Be with my family. And spend time outside, with no agenda and no devices.
All images: Ilsa Wynne-Hoelscher Kidd