Mwana, Miracle of Dawn
Mwana, Miracle of Dawn, is an exhibition by Hastings photographer Georgie Scott which documents the immense tragedy of mothers dying in childbirth or labour and the high rates of child mortality in developing countries. Part of the PhotoHastings festival, the exhibition is on display at the Hastings Trust building, 34 Robertson Street, Hastings, from 18 October until 1 November. Georgie Scott spoke to John Cole about her work.
According to the World Health Organisation, in one year 289,000 women die in childbirth or labour. That’s more people than the entire population of Newcastle on Tyne. Of these 289,000 women, 99% die in developing countries. In Sierra Leone, where there are 2.2 doctors for every 100,000 people, one in four children die before the age of five and one in eight women are at risk of dying during pregnancy or childbirth. This is an especially distressing statistic given the current Ebola crisis. In Malawi 50% of deaths occur in the first 24 hours of a baby’s birth. Eight hundred women and more than 8,000 newborns die every day due to largely preventable complications during pregnancy.
These are staggering statistics, difficult for most of us to take in, let alone comprehend. Statistics that probably leave most of us feeling, “My God, what can I do?” And for most of us, not a whole lot. But for Hastings photographer Georgie Scott, these statistics are simply not acceptable.
Georgie has regularly worked with NGOs and developmental organisations for the last 10 years. “In 2001 and then in 2014 I was commissioned by VSO to specifically look at child and maternal health in both Sierra Leone and Malawi.
“The lack of facilities in labour wards, antenatal clinics and emergency wards was often staggering. However, the women showed incredible composure and strength whilst dealing with their own grief, physical pain or having to watch their child suffer.
“At times, I was struck by the silence in the labour wards and clinics and I hope my photos conveyed that. In the group shot of women sitting on benches at Binkolo community health centre in Sierra Leone, there is a quiet dignity to this group of woman who have had to struggle so hard for the basic medical care that most of us take for granted.
“I don’t want to portray any of the people I’ve photographed as victims. Rather, I want my images to give them dignity and to be sensitive, allowing my pictures to tell a story and to try to connect with the viewer through strong photography. The 33 photographs selected for Mwana, Miracle of Dawn (mwana from Malawian chichewa, meaning child) are a mix of mother and child portraits, as well as some wider documentary images to bring a sense of context to the exhibition.”
People often ask Georgie, “How do you do it, isn’t it sometimes too upsetting to photograph?” To which she replies, “I have a job to do and I try to just get on with it, not think about it too much. I’m not sentimental about it. I firmly believe that my job is to document and not become personally involved. I’m there to tell a story, not to say what’s right or wrong or intervene.
“But to be honest, it doesn’t always work that way. A 16-year-old girl had given birth to twins, one of who was stillborn, and she was haemorrhaging badly, in desperate need of blood. She had no family members with her, so the VSO asked our team of journalists for our blood types. My blood was a match. It wasn’t in the brief but it was what I wanted to do, and goes against my principles of non-involvement. But sometimes life is like that, and you just do what feels right at the time.
“In the end, my job as a photographer is to humanize people who are often portrayed as a helpless victims, to give dignity to the mothers and children who have so very little. To tell a story that will hopefully connect with the viewer through strong photography.”
Mwana, Miracle of Dawn is at the Hastings Trust Building, 34 Robertson Street, Hastings, from October 18 to 1 November. The exhibition is open Monday-Thursdays, 9.30am-5pm; Friday and Saturday 12-5pm; Sunday closed.
See more of Georgie’s work on her website.