Minnesota-based photographer Dona Schwartz’s project On the Nest explores the transitional experience of awaiting a newborn. Recalling the months leading up to her son’s birth, Schwartz says, “I busily readied my nest. In that process, my ideals, my hopes, and my naive assumptions were invested in and revealed by the material objects I assembled for him.” With this in mind, Schwartz captures expecting couples and the spaces they have prepared for their soon-to-be little one. Shooting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, Schwartz found her subjects through a number of ways—posting flyers in strategic locations, contacting social service organizations, and talking to doulas and childbirth educators. While Schwartz’s stand-ins examine her own relationship to motherhood, they also open up the conversation to include a universal experience. We recently sat down with Schwartz for further exploration.
What similarities did you find amongst your subjects for this project? Did that translate visually?
“I think many similarities are visible in the images. Some are more obvious and quickly discoverable, but there are also more subtle similarities that reward the careful, attentive viewer. The pictures of expecting parents suggest there’s a cultural inventory—a list of equipment and supplies—that must be acquired and set in place before the baby arrives.
“Once we have completed this task we can feel we’ve done what is expected of us to make the nest ready. A crib or cradle, a changing table, stuffed animals, and pictures on the walls all set the scene. Certain books appear repeatedly and empty picture frames await the first baby photos. You can easily see and take stock of the stuff we accumulate in preparation for the big event. Prospective parents who take a more minimalist approach are the confident exceptions that prove the rule. I think preparing the nest is also a way of productively passing the time while waiting, perhaps nervously, for the baby’s birth.”
Did you learn anything further about yourself in the making of this project or was it cathartic to just be in the presence of others who had gone through the same thing as you?
“Through the project I revisited the notion that there are fundamental aspects of being human that bind us together. Giving birth, nurturing a child, and launching a young adult give us common cause. On the Nest allowed me to focus on the hopefulness, goodness and selfless love that we, as human beings, can summon forth.
“Bringing a child into the world is a monumental act that requires us to build our lives around a brand new person about whom we know almost nothing. It’s an amazing leap of faith. It helps us envision and work towards a better future; it links us to the human family, past, present and future. We can begin to recognize our best selves in On the Nest, when regarding these women and men who will bravely cross the threshold to parenthood and welcome home the next generation.”