It was her experiences of being a wildlife photographer that led Melissa Schäfer to start ‘Mother’ magazine. “I think many photographers don’t get enough credit for their work. And I’m guilty myself!” reveals Melissa. “We scroll through Instagram and don’t give people enough credit. We pass by amazing images and don’t even read captions. All this hard work and storytelling – all the love, passion, and pain that goes into these images – is just scrolled past!”
The desire to help share these incredible stories and images led Melissa to start Mother magazine. The magazine is centred around Mother Earth, viewed from a female perspective. The first issue has photographs and stories from fourteen incredible female photographers, with a foreword from the pioneering photographer and Sony Artisan Cristina Mittermeier.
Other Sony users such as Anna-Clara Neuner, Lisalove Bäckman, Lisa Sihlberg, Merche Llobera, and Molly Ferrill also feature in amongst the incredible photographers in the magazine. As a wildlife photographer, Melissa has also contributed a selection of images to the magazine. Her work focuses on the Arctic region, notably Polar bears’ plight, and the fragile environment they reside.
“I don’t have a perfect shot I want to take”, says Melissa. “A healthy bear is all I want to see. Some people want to go there to get this climate change shot. That is an image I don’t want to take. If I see it, I’ll document it, but I’m happy if I have a healthy fat bear hunting with its cubs. And I know the ice is good, and there is a beautiful landscape around them with glaciers. What breaks my heart is imagining no ice and seeing a dying bear or worse, no bears at all. Then I know I cannot do anything. It is too late. So, my dream shots are the healthy bears, and then I photograph whatever they give me.”
One thing that Melissa quotes as key to her images, is showcasing the character of the animals themselves, and for that the eyes of each creature are so important. “The Eye-AF of the Alpha 1 has been life-changing!” reveals Melissa. “With my previous DSLR camera, I would always think I had the polar bear’s eye perfectly sharp. But after, I would check on the computer and see the focus was actually on the ear, or a patch of hair. Now with the Alpha 1, it gets the eye in focus every time, making life so much easier, particularly in the Arctic when my fingers are frozen or I’m shooting with gloves on.”
Before starting on the project, there were some obstacles to overcome. “It was the first time I had opened Adobe InDesign!” says Melissa. “I just sat down one day and said to myself, ‘What have I got to lose?’ I wrote to photographers I follow and find inspiring, explaining what I wanted to do. All I did was ask them to contribute. I wanted to give other women a platform and in all honestly, I thought no one would answer me. But all of them answered ‘that sounds amazing. We’re in!'”
The magazine is a melting pot of photographic and written creativity all around the central ‘Mother Earth’ theme. It is much more than just photos with an accompanying explanation. “I wanted to showcase the emotions of the photographers – their drive and their passion. I wanted to hear their stories,” explains Melissa. “When we think about nature photography, we think of photographers like me, taking photos of polar bears. I think we sometimes forget that there are so many ways we can be connected to nature. For example, portraits can be inspired by nature, so I wanted to show that too and display a real mix of different types of photography and photographers alike.”
“I didn’t tell the photographers how to write. I said, ‘I want to hear your voice’. And now, when I look through the first magazine edition, I think, ‘wow’. Every feature is so different – from poems to portraits and wildlife. It all just came together.”
It would have been easy to create the magazine as an online website or a PDF, but coming from a background of making photo books, Melissa wanted Mother to be something physical that the reader could hold in their own hands.
“There’s a feeling you get when you are at home looking through it. Even now, when I am reading the first proof issues, the words and text seem completely different to how it looks on my screen. Just the feeling of having it in your hands makes you take time for it. It is not like swiping past an image for a second, then it is gone. It is more in the present. And because of that, you can talk about it.”
Mother magazine is part of the more comprehensive ‘The Mother Bear’ work by Melissa and her partner, Fredrik Granath. The pair’s photographic work in the Arctic aims to tell the story of how fragile our planet is and that we have a role in helping to protect it.
“We are telling the story of the Arctic, more or less seen through the eyes of the polar bear.” Fredrik explains “We are giving the Polar bear a voice because they have a story to tell about all of us. We see our future by looking at what happens with the polar bear. We, and most other wildlife and nature photographers, are trying to make everyone truly feel like this planet is our home. If you’re at home in your apartment and spill coffee on the floor, you clean it up. If your house is on fire, you try to put out that fire. This planet is our home, and it’s quite dirty and on fire,” Fredrik describes.
Through Mother magazine and telling the photographer’s stories about the nature of our planet, Melissa hopes to reach people who may have yet to be interested in issues such as climate change.
“I have shown the magazine to a friend who isn’t interested in nature. She isn’t a photographer either, but she looked at the magazine, read the articles and all of a sudden she was asking questions and showing an interest in the environmental issues. It just shows that you can grab people from different angles and teach them something that makes them pause to think.”
Melissa and Fredrik both shoot with Sony cameras, but they had more than photographic support from Sony Europe in launching Mother magazine.
We feel that whatever we need, Sony will be there for us," says Fredrik. "Of course, that includes technical support, but also for us, they are helping to share our message and reach a new audience. We spoke to Sony and talked about what we are doing, why we're doing it, and the need for a sustainable future – they’ve been wonderful partners. I think they are also learning from us and combining forces means together, we can make a real impact!"
“It really feels like we’re on the same page”, adds Melissa. “We have the same interests, and, of course, we have fun whilst we are doing it. But most importantly, we are doing it for the right cause.”
Top image © Rita Kluge
This discussion will give you an insight into gender equality in the wildlife photography community and the opportunity to hear the panelists’ inspiring stories.