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The beauty of contrast is that looking at one thing makes you focus on another. That is true in art but also for work and non-work. Which is why looking at pictures of motherhood can make us appreciate how important our images of work are: work does not work until we know what work looks like.

In late 2013, two contrasting photo series of women as mothers made the news in the UK. The first series was of Licia Ronzuli, Italian member of the European Parliament, and her daughter Vittoria. Pictures taken in parliament showed mother and daughter over three years, Victoria on her mother’s lap, playing with whatever tools of the trade were within the reach of her growing arms (pens, paper, headphones) and learning to raise her arm(s) to vote. In an earlier interview, Ronzuli said she brought her daughter to the workplace as a political act, to make women’s struggle between careering and caring more visible. The second series was the polar opposite: a collection of baby photographs from Britain’s Victorian days. Back then photography required several minutes of exposure, so mothers camouflaged themselves as chairs and curtains to hold their little darlings still for long enough. The babies’ expressions range from sceptical to petrified while their mothers morph into shapeless background figures.

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