In Conversation With: Bethany Mollenkof

Bethany Mollenkof is a filmmaker + photographer based on the West Coast. She creates both short documentaries and still photography focused on the intersections of gender, identity, and culture. Through portraits and interviews, she finds meaning in telling stories that reframe familiar narratives. Bethany is available for both video and photo assignments. In addition, she regularly lectures at high schools, colleges, and conferences and is available for speaking engagements.  Bethany graduated from Western Kentucky University where she studied photojournalism and art history. 

She is also a member of Women PhotographDiversify Photo and Authority Collective

I never thought I would be sentimental about being pregnant, but I became intensely protective and tender as my child grew. We decided to name her months before her birth as a way to actualize her existence for our families who could not visit. Every ultrasound confirmed her growth and health despite my fears brought on by the pandemic. / Bethany Mollenkof

Emerald Arguelles: Can you describe the initial emotions when you found out about your pregnancy? 

Bethany Mollenkof: When I found out I was pregnant I felt a huge mix of emotions. I had been documenting Black birth workers and maternal health for the past few years but had not experienced pregnancy or birth myself. So, there were a lot of a-ha moments where my previous work informed my personal experience. It is a wild experience to know your body is growing a human.

Clarice Mollenkof, mother of Bethany Mollenkof. // Bethany Mollenkof f

EA: What inspired you to document your journey and what role did photography play in your journey of pregnancy?

BM: Photography has always helped me make sense of the world around me. It was challenging to be pregnant and isolated in a pandemic, so to create images was cathartic. I did not see any images that reflected what I was going through, so I wanted to create images to fill that void. A big motivation for me was to create an archive, a history for my daughter to be able to look back on and understand what the world was like when she was born. 

Bethany Mollenkof pregnant with double exposure flower curtain. / Bethany Mollenkof

EA: What did you learn about yourself while you were pregnant and your learning now?

BM: The process of becoming a mother and then motherhood is complicated. All too often these incredibly complex experiences are oversimplified and overlooked. My empathy has grown as well as my rage for the ways women have been pushed to the margins. I believe, when we take care of mothers, we take care of the future. Whatever vision we have for an equitable, free society must start with the people bringing life into the world. 

I found out I was pregnant, for the first time, with a girl three months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the U.S. and forced me to shelter-in-place in Los Angeles. As a photographer, I have often documented what itÕs like to be pregnant as a Black woman in the American South. COVID-19 pushed me to document my own experience as a Black pregnant woman living through extraordinary circumstances. / Bethany Mollenkof

EA: What advice were you given that you would like to share with readers? 

BM: When I was growing up, my mom taught me that showing up and listening to others is a radical act of care. To be attentive and present and meet someone where they are at, whether that be physically, emotionally, or spiritually is powerful. I try to put the same intention and care into my photographic process as I do in my parenting. 

My husband and I forgot our anniversary but later celebrated with a cake. / Bethany Mollenkof

EA: How do you practice self-care and self-love being a new mother? 

BM: Becoming a mother has me oscillating from spiraling out of control to being the calmest and self-assured I have ever been. I am constantly learning what it means to take care of myself. I need time for myself to create and explore new ideas as well as time to rest and have nothing urgent to do. 

With the extrajudicial killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, I felt deep despair about how America treats Black people. Being in water helped take the weight off my mind and allowed me to connect with my body. To grow life in such dark times of death felt powerful. / Bethany Mollenkof
My mother’s favorite flower is a lily and growing up we had lily motifs around our home. Seeing them made me feel close to her. Throughout my pregnancy, I spent a lot of time thinking about the experiences women share. I thought about women throughout history, women who have survived wars, slavery, pandemics, miscarriages. Giving birth connected me in a deeper way to my own maternal line and all the women who have come before me. / Bethany Mollenkof
Bethany Mollenkof with daughter double exposed with flowers. // Bethany Mollenkof

To view more of Bethany’s work please visit their website.