‘Single Mothers’ by Rwandan Photographer Jean Bizimana is a project which explores the question of what it means to be a mother, especially a single mother. In Rwanda, many single mothers are looked down upon and considered to be an ‘outcast’. They are viewed as individuals who reject cultural values due to having sex before marriage. Many developing countries across the globe have historically placed the value of a girl/ woman on the dowry that her fiancé is expected to Give to her family. A dowry could be a cow or in most recent times, money, but unfortunately for women with children out of wedlock, it becomes harder for them to get married. The stigma around single mothers is very negative in certain societies due to the belief that they are prostitutes, promiscuous or irresponsible.
“I grew up in an orphanage and was interested in motherhood. Before, I never understood why children misbehaved, but after spending time with a mother and her child, I understood the child’s needs and the way that the mother responded to those needs by giving the child attention and playing with them. In the orphanage, there was over 100 of us, so it was difficult to attend to all of our needs” explains Jean. Jean’s lack of a mother figure in his life certainly influenced the way in which he photographed the mothers in his project. A certain intimacy and connection between the mothers and their children permeates allowing the viewers to witness such a bond.
“I never felt emotionally triggered by making this body of work, in fact, being an orphan gained me more access to single mothers and their children. They felt comfortable opening up to me. I always explained to them what my aim was in embarking on this project and my background, I gave them all of this information and in return, they would give to me all the information that I needed” said Jean. Getting as much information as possible from your contributor is essential in creating a project that is not only technically sound, but that is full of visual literacy which evokes various reactions such as feelings of warmth, nostalgia and possibly a yearning to also obtain what is being seen, which is something that Jean has successfully achieved.
“My advice for anyone who is embarking on such a personal project is to first of all, look for a mentor. If you have a mentor who can give you advice then that would be great. If you don’t have a mentor, your documentation of whatever it is may be controlled by emotions and you could completely lose control of what you are doing.” Jean Bizimana.
Jean Bizimana is a Rwandan photographer who learned this art from Through The Eyes of the Children, an organisation that teaches photography to children in vulnerable communities. Jean Bizimana’s photos helped pay for his education and for the education of some of the kids he grew up with in the orphanage. In addition, the income from the photos supported the orphanages in purchasing food and clothing for the kids. To view more or Jean's work, visit his website.