Hermione Wiltshire, Gail Werkmeister and Kathleen Beegan

Collaboration overview

Hermione Wiltshire spent time observing the preparation of expectant mothers and fathers at birth workshops given by the President of the National Childbirth Trust,  Gail Werkmeister. She has also observed doula and Yoga Birth teacher, Kathleen Beegan, in her home in Streatham, London, where she teaches pregnant women yoga. Hermione was able to witness the anxieties and hopes of parents-to-be.

She became very aware of the prevalence of negative images of birth. She says, “My work often reflects my interest in images that are politically charged. I am particularly interested in the cultural anxiety around images of crowning. The moment when the baby’s head appears is seen as shocking, stimulating the same response as a pornographic image.” When Helen Knowles, Birth Rites’ curator, met with Hermione and Gail, it became evident that such images of crowning were not used in Gail’s workshops because she believed their impact was distressing. At Matrix, a Birth Rites forum held in October 2007, Gail asked the audience, “should I traumatise them?” Instances like these have been occurring since the beginning of the project, where those involved reassess how they work and why. In response to this research Hermione has chosen to present what she believes is the answer to Gail’s dilemma; she presents Ina May Gaskin’s image of a woman crowning in ecstatic childbirth.

Hermione’s observations of Kathleen Beegan’s classes produced a series of photographs arrived at through collaboration between both practitioners. Wiltshire’s interest in Yoga, in particular teaching the student to take their attention inside the body is celebrated in Kathleen’s classes.  Kathleen teaches pregnant women to identify various internal areas and sensations in preparation for labour. Wiltshire was inspired to produce photographs of Kathleen’s pregnant students in positions she teaches in her classes.  In particular she is trying to articulate the subtle physical sensations that take place inside their bodies as Kathleen herself was teaching them. Hermione is interested in communicating a stillness and concentration organised by the students’ breathing.  Also to show the “powerful graphic…and energetic relationship between ….the mouth and the perineum”.