Who Shot It Better? Breastfeeding from TIME & Babytalk

Who Shot It Better? Breastfeeding from TIME & Babytalk

There are few things more polarizing than politics, gay marriage and breastfeeding. So in a week where Obama publicly supported gay marriage, we might as well look at breastfeeding, too, with two magazine covers from TIME and Babytalk.

Amazing portraitist, Martin Schoeller, shot TIME‘s May 21, 20-12 cover, which is already causing shockwaves through the Internet. Since this is a photography examination, we’ll keep to the photo rather than pontificating on the benefits of breastfeeding (numerous!) and whether this was an appropriate cover for the newsstand (no!). Oops, did I editorialize?

Schoeller explained in an interview that babies are typically shown in their mother’s arms while breastfeeding. “I liked the idea of having the kids standing up to underline the point that this was an uncommon situation.” Since the point was to convey “attachment parenting,” I would argue that the cover is very successful. Does it convey the weirdness of this approach? Yes. Is it a well-composed and well-lit photo? Yes. Is it eye-catching, and will it create a buzz for TIME? Yes.

Ok, I can’t resist editorializing. The problem here is that breastfeeding advocates have worked very hard to emphasize the naturalness of the act, and to desexualize the breast. Putting a very attractive 26-year old on the cover is not helping the movement. And this is coming from a guy who loves breasts. (Did I just say that?)

Babytalk caused a similar stir in August 2006 with this cover photo (photographer unknown, sorry). Compared to the Schoeller photo, this one seems almost quaint. Composition and color are really good. I think the baby’s expression is great, and yes, it’s a breast, but it’s done very tastefully. As one commenter pointed out, “It could be an elbow.” Well, maybe a really fat elbow filled with milk.

Verdict: This is a tough one because if the point of these “shock” covers is to generate controversy and sell magazines, then I would argue that both are successful. They are also both well-composed photos, and I would argue that a bunch of moms might even like a photo of themselves posed like the Babytalk cover. But in the end, I’m gonna go with Schoeller because even I was shocked.

update: And for a good laugh, we can always count on our office mates at someecards:

someecards.com - Let's spend Mother's Day profusely thanking the women who kept our breastfeeding off national magazine covers.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter. He co-hosts the "I Love Photography" podcast on iTunes.

There are 17 comments for this article
  1. Sohail K at 1:47 pm

    Each is in a different context so I think both are appropriate for their message. Honestly I don’t understand the fixation with the female form.

  2. Anonymous at 1:51 pm

    I’m just gonna say it, good photo or not, the babytalk cover is appropriate, the other one, not at all (in fact it’s pretty gross). I’m an avid supporter of breastfeeding and the benefits over formula are proven and numerous. My daughter was breastfed by my wife and I wouldn’t have it any other way (neither would she). But after age 1, it’s gets kind of weird, beneficial or not.

  3. andy lai at 1:52 pm

    I think that the Time cover is strides ahead of the babytalk cover. The Time cover forces you to think. The babytalk cover is just another image of breastfeeding that everybody’s either seen before or can just mentally conjure up. Obviously they both serve different needs and both do so very well. Coming from an objective point of view in regards to how arresting the image is, I’d give it to the Time cover. It’s not something that most people see or think of when the term breastfeeding comes up. It’s new and different so I like it more.

  4. Joshua Powell at 1:54 pm

    I’m just going to say it, good photo or not, the babytalk photo is appropriate, the Time one, not at all (in fact it’s pretty gross). I’m an avid supporter of breastfeeding and the benefits over formula are proven and numerous (both for the mother and child). My daughter was breastfed by my wife up to 1yr of age, after that it gets kind of weird and inappropriate in my opinion, beneficial or not. But to each their own.

  5. Brad Wetli at 2:06 pm

    Quality of the photography aside, Time chose a controversial photo to be “in your face” and controversial. Part of the reason this rag loses money, has become irrelevant, and was recently sold for $1.

  6. Dave G. at 2:30 pm

    Schoeller’s is a brilliantly-conceived and deftly-executed portrait that immediately challenges and engages the reader with a clear idea. Martin has earned a home in the pantheon of great magazine photographers for his consistent ability to make such images.

    The latter shot is just a baby and a boob. Skin shown for the sake of generating controversy.

    There really is no comparison…

  7. Mike Buchanan at 2:34 pm

    The Time cover, definitely. The mom’s expression is perfect. It seems to pull out all of the intimacy typically associated with breastfeeding, which is something I haven’t seen before. There is nothing new or engaging about the Babytalk photo.

    With respect to your editorializing, I don’t think that using an unattractive mom for the shoot would do anything to help “desexualize the breast.” The photo would just be more awkward and possibly suggest a different story.

  8. Catherine H. at 2:36 pm

    I think both do a good job making a point. When the majority of women breastfeed only up to the first year (hello, or when teeth come in!), it seems rather disingenuous for the magazine (not the photog – I assume he was following guidance provided) to chose this photo but hey, that has nothing to do with photography! Attachment parenting has many aspects to it, so choosing the one aspect that applies whether one is attachment parenting or not, seems political and meant to make people think all breastfeeding moms are doing this for years! I equate all the controversy over breasts, and breast feeding with the very weird nature of human brains to turn something healthy and beautiful into something ugly – its weird!

  9. David Moses at 2:46 pm

    I knew before even reading the comments there would be words like ‘gross’ and ‘inappropriate’. Even with an explicit request to judge the photo rather than what we presume the article to be.

    Point being, the Time cover is extremely successful. Great idea, perfectly executed – it illustrates the story and will sell magazines and generate buzz. That sounds like appropriate to me.

    Also, a woman’s body (and her children) is her own business.

  10. jaime guttierez at 2:58 pm

    I wonder if anybody can take a tug at that nipple or is just for her kids…? Will she keep it up when they are teens? I mean, why not right? Everything goes!

  11. pam at 7:31 pm

    The only countries in the world where young males can nurse on demand up to 5 or 6 years old are all in the Middle East. It is a very old tradition and one that has not stopped. The attitude that accompanies it as a child and expands as you grow older is one that we are all familiar with. The label “attachment parenting” is new but the type of parenting that it describes has been around a long, long time. Agree with the following comments;

    My daughter was breastfed by my wife up to 1yr of age, after that it gets kind of weird and inappropriate in my opinion, beneficial or not.

  12. G. Hoffman at 7:44 pm

    That boy looks more like a 5 year old! I think that is what is the most jarring thing about the photo. That kid looks old enough to be weaned and drinking from a cup.

  13. Antonio at 12:38 pm

    After reading the answers, I guess that you all must be USAmericans. USAmerican society would rather see violence instead of seeing something normal and natural. Hypocrisy it the most exported product from anglosaxon countries. You are not valuing the picture, by the way, very appropriate for the article’s headline. What are you gonna say next? that It is a sin.

  14. Neil at 10:04 pm

    I believe the Time Magazine’s cover accomplishes it’s goal of getting attention to a very uncomfortable subject. Many American’s will cringe while many Europeans will find it to be the norm. From my review on this subject, it appears the nutritional benefits outweigh the stares. http://www.classicmemories.com/

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