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Photographer's Book Shows True Motherhood Experience

Photographer's Book Shows True Motherhood Experience

New York City-based photographer Ali Smith funded her second book, Momma Love: How the Mother Half Lives, which uses powerful images to show the true motherhood experience—far beyond what we see in the media and on our Facebook feeds—with a Kickstarter campaign. Get a peek of the book here, with photos celebrating motherhood.

momma love deborah copaken kogan
Deborah Copaken Kogan, pictured with son Leo at the family’s home in Harlem, is a former war photojournalist, current best-selling author, and a mother of three.

Who Loves You, Momma?

Ali Smith is a born-and-bred New Yorker who’s danced with the ballet at Lincoln Center and toured the world with a rock band, but she still thinks being a mom is the most drama-filled job out there. For the past 12 years, Smith—who’s also a professional photographer—has been working on a book called Momma Love; How the Mother Half Lives. Through the striking portraits and stories of 40 mothers, Smith hopes to shine a light on the realities of motherhood—beyond what we see on TV and in our Facebook feeds.

“I think there’s a real dearth of honest conversation about the motherhood experience, and there’s a lot of pressure on women to publicly live it gracefully,” says Smith, the mom of a 3-year-old. “It’s not cool to lose your cool, or to change your body, or to not be able to keep up in a way you once did. In terms of employment and social status, it’s easy to lose your footing. There are these antiquated notions of how we’re supposed to be living butting up against how we are living, and there’s not a lot of compassion for that.”

Several of the 40 women featured in Momma Love hail from the New York City area. They range from Oscar-nominated actress Amy Ryan, who discusses parenting in image- and youth-obsessed Hollywood, to Catherine Gaynor, a Long Island mother and advocate whose daughter Sophia suffers from a rare disease.

Through the photographs in Momma Love, Smith hopes to present an honest portrait of a mother’s love, which comprises the love a mother shows and the love she is shown by others. “I hope this will be empowering for women and make them feel less alone,” she says. “Politically, I hope it can have some impact for people other than mothers who learn about the truth of the experience. Things like flexible work hours and family-friendly political policies won’t change unless there is genuine compassion for the motherhood experience.”

Show Some Momma Love

Smith signed a publishing deal for Momma Love, but the publisher folded abruptly just three months later, taking her financial investment with it. After a month of crying and cursing, Smith says, she decided the setback wouldn’t stop her from publishing the book. She turned to Kickstarter, where she found a community that connected with her mission. “It’s really empowering to take the power away from the industries and give it to the community it’s meant for,” Smith says. “I’ve met so many amazing people who have been super eager to share their stories of motherhood. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

With the help of NYMetroParents, Smith reached her fundraising goal of $35,000. Momma Love; How the Mother Half Lives, which makes for a thoughtful Mother's Day gift, continues to be available for purchase at,, and through major booksellers.

momma love catherine gaynor
Smith’s portrait of Catherine Gaynor tells a story of commitment and unconditional love. The Long Island mom founded the Sophia’s Cure Foundation with her husband shortly after their daughter Sophia (also pictured) was diagnosed with the terminal illness spinal muscular atrophy.


momma love alyson palmer
Alyson Palmer, pictured here with daughter Ruby, is a Lower East Side mom who’s been a member of the band BETTY for more than 20 years. During that time, Palmer has taken her two children on several tours with her for what she calls “road schooling.”


momma love ola akinmowa
Ola Akinmowow, who co-founded a cooperative school in her Brooklyn brownstone along with a handful of other parents, has been called “the ’hood Mother Goose.” Smith’s portrait, right, features Akinmowo in the background, with focus on son Ixele holding his handmade “Mother’s Day Breakfast Menu.”


momma love amy smart
In Momma Love, Oscar-nominated actress and New York resident Amy Ryan discusses raising her daughter Georgia under the lens of image-obsessed Hollywood.

All photographs by Ali Smith


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Kaitlin Ahern

Author: Kaitlin Ahern has a degree in magazine journalism from Syracuse University. See More

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