Photographer's 'Empty Photo Project' Shines a Light on Mothers Coping With Child Loss


emptyphotoproject/Instagram

The loss of a child is a harsh reality that is extremely difficult to discuss, especially for the parents who have to live on afterward. One incredibly brave mother is seeking to share the stories of mothers dealing with the loss of a child one poignant photograph at a time with her Empty Photo Project.

  • Twenty-three-year-old Susana Butterworth got the idea to start the Empty Photo Project after experiencing a loss of her own.

    Soon after she and her husband discovered that their unborn son had trisomy 18 -- a condition that causes developmental delays due to an extra chromosome -- they were given the news that he had died. On March 8, 2017, Susana gave birth to her stillborn son, whom she later named Walter Thomas Butterworth.

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  • It was then that she decided to use her grief for something meaningful.

    The Empty Photo Project is a beautiful series that features photographs of parents -- mothers particularly -- who have experienced the loss of a child. 

    "As a photographer and artist, I naturally wanted to turn my experience in losing my son into something meaningful," Susana said in an interview with Babble. "I noticed after the funeral, a lot of my friends and even some family members didn't know how to address my grief and pain. In short, they didn't know how to face child loss."

  • All the women have different stories...

    Some are heartbreaking tales of miscarriages, and other recall instances of the rare diseases and conditions that took their children away from them. One thing they all have in common is their grief, which is something that Susana says she is still struggling with herself.

  • "My grief is still raw and prominent in my life; however, since I created Empty, I know that I am not alone," she tells CafeMom.

    "Empty has opened my eyes to how much child loss actually occurs but is not spoken of. Through Empty, I have been able to form a network of child loss families that have helped me through my own grief journey."

  • Because of the inherently sensitive and emotional nature of her project, Susana takes the utmost care when taking each photograph.

    "I take my time with every participant," Susana tells CafeMom. "Child loss is a sensitive subject and is not easy to talk about, even for me who talks about it almost every day."

  • While everyone's story is different, all the photo shoots are very similar.

    All participants are allowed to choose the location themselves, and Susana suggests that the location have some sort of meaning and connection to their story.

    After Susana and the participants take a while to talk about their lost child, she hands over the mirror -- the same one used in every shoot -- and asks "the participant to think of their child and to hold the mirror as if they are holding their child one last time."

    "I want to get the deepest emotions about their child to reflect in the images I take," Susana says of the process.

  • Regarding what she wants to accomplish with the Empty Photo Project, the objective is simple ...

    Susana wants to create a dialogue that opens the door for people to feel more comfortable talking about the realities of child loss. 

    "This is a life trail we need to talk about," she tells us. "Those who have lost children can't heal if they feel alone and have no one to talk to. I want the viewers of Empty to see that child loss hurts, it's a little scary but it's okay to face it."

    Reading through the stories of the brave women who have participated in the Empty Photo Project certainly isn't easy. They are filled with grief and heartbreak, but they are also full of bravery and resilience. Their stories certainly need to be told, and we commend Susana Butterworth for helping them do that. 

miscarriage & loss