Kelly Wang Shanahan, the founder of Ziran, wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day with a portrait series of mothers she knew including her own. Shanahan shared the photographs, which showcases motherhood as diverse relationships, and discussed with us how her mom influences her work.
What was the inspiration behind this portrait series?
I found some old photographs of my mother from the 1970s. She looked beautiful, and I loved the softness of the photos. It struck a chord within me, and I realized the importance my mother has had on my life. I wanted to commemorate her and share her story.
How did you find this community of mothers? Can you tell me a little about why you chose to feature each of the women?
I’m lucky to call these mothers my friends. I chose them because they each are muses [for me] and embody different elements of motherhood.
My mother came to America at 30 years old, after doing hard manual labor in Communist China. She came to the US with $60 and since then has “broken the ceiling” of academia and is a world-renowned philosopher and scholar. She is completely independent—financially, emotionally, physically—all of it. She works hard and gives to everyone around her. In a world of empty consumerism and fake marketing I wanted to share something real—something part of me.
Chiharu is a close friend who is pregnant with her first child. She is from Japan and brings that Japanese craftsmanship and attention to detail to all of her work. We’ve collaborated on a few things, as she is primarily a chain stitch embroiderer. She is a selfless person who would never do a maternity shoot, so I wanted her to have some beautiful photographs she could share with her child in the future.
Katherine Emrick is the epitome of a strong mother. She had her first son at age 16, then 18, and also has two daughters. She’s been married and divorced twice. She works full time. She raises all 4 children on her own. She is open about her struggles and successes as a single mother, which really inspires me. Plus, have you seen how stunning her family is!? She is a powerhouse and uses her social media platform to help other mothers. She’s a Supermotherwoman.
Mel and Nicki are badass. They are working mothers: Mel is an animal rights activist and Nicki is VP of Promotion at Def Jam. They are examples of what a modern family looks like. Whenever I’m in a room with them their energy and love is electric — I can’t say the same for other couples I know. They have carved their own paths, in a world that values conformity. Their daughter and dog Mojo are lucky to have them.
Miracle is a beautiful soul inside and out. She is a full-time model who I’ve worked with. I didn’t realize she was a mother until she waltzed into a shoot carrying her daughter. I was floored by both of their beauty. Witnessing how Miracle cares for her daughter, Lylah, is moving.
What was it like being photographed like this with your mom? Have you done a formal shoot together before?
We’ve never done a formal shoot before. We are very close but not in a typical mother-daughter way. She hates makeup, doesn’t care about fashion, doesn’t get her nails or hair done, and we don’t shop together. Our usual activities involve hiking, asking when I’m going to get a boyfriend, and talking about big life issues. Doing something feminine and soft together was really nice. We both felt comfortable in front of the camera too. I think seeing me in action made her proud.
How does your mom inspire your work with Ziran?
She is the core of Ziran. She is the one who thought of the name, drawing upon her background in Daoist and Chinese philosophy. Everything I do is a manifestation of the values she’s taught me. Ziran means embracing your own authenticity, pushing outside influence, and living natural, spontaneous, and free. This is how my mother lives her life every day. She is not a typical Asian woman and is 100 percent authentic. I try to be like her as much as I can.
What’s one thing that only your mom does that brings you comfort?
She can empathize with me and the look in her eyes melts away my fears. She makes the best tea for me when I’m sick and gives great hugs. Also—she is still Asian after all—she can give me a look that is terrifying and instantly puts me in check. There’s something comforting in that too.
What was your favorite thing about getting all of these women together?
The energy. The pride each of these mothers have. The way they effortlessly wore Ziran and how the pieces changed on each person. The authenticity of it all.
Photographer: Keith Oshiro
Concept, Styling, Art Direction: Kelly Wang Shanahan
Makeup: Lauren Daily: Assistant
Tate Crisfield: Words