Mothers and Daughters — Borderlands

The next in the series of photographic portraits by Ophelia King features a family she has known since she was 3-years-old: Suzy, Sara, Rebecca (with Margot in the belly), and Alice. The women would also like to mention Grace, Alice’s twin sister, who was overseas at the time (very much part of the picture and very much missed).

Aiming to quietly and gently encapsulate some of the subtleties within these women’s relationships, the series also operates as a rigid visual exploration of shape and movement. 

This series is also accompanied with writing, by the featured mother Susan Jacobs.

I came of age when many women sought to redefine what it meant to be female. Our mothers’ choices seemed limited, constrained. Excluded from living a wider life, women had experienced marriage and motherhood as their only valued roles. My generation wanted to find our own way in the world and free ourselves, and subsequently our daughters from patriarchal norms and expectations. In encouraging my daughters to be whoever they wanted to be, I also had to learn to let go.  My love for them is the deepest, most visceral connection I’ve known. The need to both fiercely nurture them and support their choices, while finding my own identity is a delicate and often ambivalent path.

You grew deep

in me

 and I in you

ended a poem I wrote for my first daughter. This simple statement, however, can also apply to the three daughters I subsequently gave birth to and have watched grow into adulthood and recently, new motherhood. There is always something unknowable about the person who seems an extension of yourself, yet completely separate.  ‘Growing’ for me was understanding that:

I the imperfect mother

cannot create what your               

few years have fathomed

The mother-daughter relationship is like negotiating shifting borders that were once one terrain, before dividing into separate territories. Each must struggle to develop and maintain its own identity, yet it remains intrinsically connected to the (mother)land. Borders overlap, then morph into clearly delineated boundaries. These boundaries are challenged, then renegotiated, brought together by newly forged circumstances. Yet each time the form of the territory is different. Identities are reshaped, new landmarks arise in the mother-daughter-sister borderlands.

That dynamic of same but separate, resonant in the magnificent mound of a pregnant daughter, swings me back nearly 30 years when I was carrying twins.

Now you swell to such soaring symphonies

Oh female body that

 I step down from my precarious podium

relinquish my baton

and let you blow your own trumpets.


Now that my precious granddaughter is born, the mother-daughter dynamic has shifted yet again.

You who are permanent and yet

passing through this strip of life

wave your world like a flag.

I sit on the fence and watch

with fear and love


A border can be like a mirror we hold up to ourselves. It is resonant with secrets. The spaces between things, between ourselves, contain invisible threads.

Into the mirror she peers.

Her breath mists and conceals

the clear surface. Only her eyes speak.

Here I am they say. There they are.

Daughters. Islands of dreams and raw living

float away from me blowing kisses

through clenched teeth.


Like mothers and daughters who once were one, then separate, before coming together, then separating again.

Like some eternal equation

we keep on dividing

flesh of my flesh that was

flesh of hers.

I think of those Russian dolls

wooden, brightly painted.

Lift one and another

smaller one emerges.

Perfect, separate, other,

yet each containing within

the belly of the (m)other

the seeds of the daughter

a woman


















Photographed by Ophelia King