November 17, 2021

Research – Mothers in Art.- Colour Theory – Theories of Power Faucault

I wanted to document here all the research I’ve had saved in various places that supports my current work in progress.

Art History – Depictions of Mothers

I wanted to look at how mothers have been depicted in art history and the Renaissance paintings of Madonna & Child are some of the most recognisable and memorable depictions of mothers. Below are a few which I used as reference material for my current work.

Hidden Mother

Referencing the Victorian photography trend where mothers covered themselves in fabric in order to remain hidden while holding their children still for the long exposure photography.

Sarah Detweiler created a mixed media series (paint & embroidery)

Colour theory & using colour

I really wanted my use of colour to be considered. I wanted to use my colour knowledge from when I worked as a graphic designer to enhance the images for this work. I knew from the start that I would be presenting my WIP in a glossy magazine format so I wanted to consider the images both from a photographers perspective and also from the perspective of graphic design. I wanted to create a colour pallet that was symbolic of how the story was unfolding in the series.

I watched this amazing colour grading tutorial by Joanna Kustra This really helped me hone in my ideas on which colours I wanted to use and why. I was really drawn to the split complementary colour schemes that Kustra uses in her work and I knew that I wanted to show some of the series in natural green colours and I wanted to have a complementary colour that jarred with the green to represent how the persona pre-motherhood can jar against the natural mother nature stereotypes of motherhood.

I then signed up for a course with Lindsay Adler who offered a masterclass in incorporating colour into photography, predominantly using gels.

I then started to look at images which I was drawn to because of the colour scheme and I analysed the colours used with the software and

Edvard Munch – The Scream

I will never forget seeing this artwork at a gallery visit many moons ago. Munch’s memory of the moment the painting represents stuck with me all these years, “….there with trembling anxiety and I felt that a great infinite scream passing through nature”.

When I was thinking about how to represent the anxiety of motherhood this is the image that came to mind.

“The agonized face in the painting has become one of the most iconic images of art, seen as symbolizing the anxiety of the human condition.”

“the scream could be interpreted as expressing the agony of the obliteration of human personality by this unifying force”

The painting is a radical and timeless expression of human fear.


I have chosen to spilt the series between the comfort of my studio where I am most used to working and outdoor locations where I feel most uncomfortable. I felt that using places where I felt uncomfortable mirrored the discomfort I was trying to photograph. It also allowed me to work through that discomfort in real-time as I worked my way back through the experiences I was trying to conceptualise.

The outdoor locations were Oxshott Common and Ockham Common. These Surrey locations are also geographically located in the area I moved to, to become a mother. Pre motherhood I had always lived in the north, moving geographically whilst pregnant added to the complexity of losing my identity as I left behind all the friends, support networks and places that had previously contributed to my sense of self.

Philosophy | Michel Foucault – Theory of Power

Foucault’s theory of power.

Even if individuals and groups have a free choice, they are also affected and limited by their context/situation

The purpose of Foucault’s theory of power is to increase peoples’ awareness of how power has shaped their way of being, thinking and acting, and by increasing this awareness making it possible for them to change their way of being, thinking and acting.

Lynch, R. A. (2011) Foucault’s theory of power. In Taylor, D. (red.) Michel Foucault: Key Concepts (pp. 13–26). Acumen Publishing Ltd., ISBN 978-1-84465-234-1

Foucault: Subjectivity & Power

Foucault considers subjectivity to be a construction created by power.[205] 

Taylor, D. (2011) Introduction: Power, freedom and subjectivity. Ur Taylor, D. (red.) Michel Foucault: Key Concepts (pp. 1–9). Acumen Publishing Ltd., ISBN 978-1-84465-234-1

Foucault talks of “assujettissement”, which is a French term that for Foucault refers to a process where power creates subjects while also oppressing them using social norms. For Foucault “social norms” are standards that people are encouraged to follow, that are also used to compare and define people. 

According to Foucault, scientific discourses have played an important role in the disciplinary power system, by classifying and categorizing people, observing their behavior and “treating” them when their behavior has been considered “abnormal”. He defines discourse as a form of oppression that does not require physical force. He identifies its production as “controlled, selected, organized and redistributed by a certain number of procedures”, which are driven by individuals’ aspiration of knowledge to create “rules” and “systems” that translate into social codes.

Norris, Christopher; Young, Robert (1981). “Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader”. The Modern Language Review78 (2): 383. doi:10.2307/3729820. ISSN 0026-7937. JSTOR 3729820.

Moreover, discourse creates a force that extends beyond societal institutions and could be found in social and formal fields such as health care systems, education and law enforcement. The formation of these fields may seem to contribute to social development; however, Foucault warns against discourses’ harmful aspects on society.

Sciences such as psychiatry, biology, medicine, economy, psychoanalysis, psychology, sociology, ethnology, pedagogy and criminology have all categorized behaviours as rational, irrational, normal, abnormal, human, inhuman, etc. By doing so, they have all created various types of subjectivity and norms,[203] which are then internalized by people as “truths”. People have then adapted their behaviour to get closer to what these sciences have labelled as “normal”.[204] For example, Foucault claims that psychological observation/surveillance and psychological discourses has created a type of psychology-centred subjectivity, which has led to people considering unhappiness a fault in their psychology rather than in society. This has also, according to Foucault, been a way for society to resist criticism – criticism against society has been turned against the individual and their psychological health. [200]

203: Vintges, K. (2011) Freedom and spirituality. In Taylor, D. (red.) Michel Foucault: Key Concepts (pp. 99–110). Acumen Publishing Ltd., ISBN 978-1-84465-234-1

204: Oksala, J. (2011) Freedom and bodies. In Taylor, D. (red.) Michel Foucault: Key Concepts (pp. 85–97). Acumen Publishing Ltd., ISBN 978-1-84465-234-1

200:May, T. (2011) Foucault’s conception of freedom. In Taylor, D. (red.) Michel Foucault: Key Concepts (pp. 71–83). Acumen Publishing Ltd., ISBN 978-1-84465-234-1

Subjectivity as something established in a person’s relation to themselves.

According to Foucault, subjectivity is not necessarily something that is forced upon people externally – it is also something that is established in a person’s relation to themselves.[206] This can, for example, happen when a person is trying to “find themselves” or “be themselves”, something Edward McGushin describes as a typical modern activity. In this quest for the “true self”, the self is established in two levels: as a passive object (the “true self” that is searched for) and as an active “searcher”. The ancient Cynics and the 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche posited that the “true self” can only be found by going through great hardship and/or danger. The ancient Stoics and 17th-century philosopher René Descartes, however, argued that the “self” can be found by quiet and solitary introspection. Yet another example is Socrates, who argued that self-awareness can only be found by having debates with others, where the debaters question each other’s foundational views and opinions. Foucault, however, argued that “subjectivity” is a process, rather than a state of being.

As such, Foucault argued that there is no “true self” to be found. Rather so, the “self” is constituted/created in activities such as the ones employed to “find” the “self”. In other words, exposing oneself to hardships and danger does not “reveal” the “true self”, according to Foucault, but rather creates a particular type of self and subjectivity. However, according to Foucault the “form” for the subject is in great part already constituted by power, before these self-constituting practices are employed. Schools, workplaces, households, government institutions, entertainment media and the healthcare sector all, through disciplinary power, contribute to forming people into being particular types of subjects. [209]

206: Taylor, D. (2011b) Practices of the self. Ur Taylor, D. (red.) Michel Foucault: Key Concepts (pp. 173–186). Acumen Publishing Ltd., ISBN 978-1-84465-234-1

 McGushin, E. (2011) Foucault’s theory and practice of subjectivity. In Taylor, D. (red.) Michel Foucault: Key Concepts (pp. 127–142). Acumen Publishing Ltd., ISBN 978-1-84465-234-1

Philosophize This, Podcast #121

As long as you make their chain seem long enough that they don’t feel like a prisoner you can set narrow parameters for what it is to be a “good [mother]” that not only will they fall into but they’ll actually police themselves to stay that way. They’ll feel an intense pressure to adhere to that normalised standard of behaviour at all times because their life at work is one of surveillance, normalisation and examination.

Normalised standard of being a “good [mother]”

This method of power is so effective it’s is embedded in society. It has pervaded the way power is exercised. It is present in the way we present ourselves online, the media we consume, and is played out in social circles. Simultaneously we are a subject being controlled and an active participant in the system, that in some way supports the existing power structure.

We are socially constantly being disciplined reformed into “good [mothers]” all internalised expectations of ourselves, we’re given standards by media which are internalised. There has been no prison or method of torture which has ever been devised that can do to people what they are willing to do to themselves in our modern social prison. We live in a panopticon because we live our lives as if we are constantly being watched and held to these standards about how we should be given to us by the media and the people around us. We have constructed a world where we are simultaneously both the social prisoner being reformed within the cell and the warden that is constantly surveying ourselves. We’ve created a world where we are constantly under surveillance by ourselves. Surveillance of our own toxic irrational thoughts. No prison can compare to this level of surveillance or scrutiny. This is what Foucault refers to as the genealogy of the modern soul. The only categories and language we have in order to think about ourselves as a person have been provided to us by the media.