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Nat Geo Photographers' Favorite Photos of Their Moms

For many National Geographic photographers, their mothers were both their earliest supporters and some of their first subjects.

In honor of Mother’s Day, we invited photographers to share photos and stories of their mothers. In these images, we see photographers’ moms throughout the years—from the early days when they could still decide their children’s outfits, to the twilight years in assisted living homes. But no matter the era, the clothes, or the expressions, we see photographs infused with love.

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“I’ll bet that every day of my mother’s life she rose at 5 am. When she began to suffer from memory loss, I found the most wonderful place for her near my home. Robust and loving Romanian and Cuban women cared for the residents, hugging them, fixing their hair, painting their nails, dressing everyone up each day to look beautiful or handsome, and serving them breakfast in bed.

“It didn’t matter what time she awoke, the caregivers would bring her breakfast.  This might seem like a small thing but it’s huge.  My mother was living in the lap of luxury in a place that was not that expensive but was rich in its caregiving. Often I would spend the night with her and I would get breakfast as well.

“But mainly I loved watching her sitting in bed, the morning light pouring in through her beautiful window, drinking her coffee, unhurried, just facing a new day that began whenever she was ready for it… a gift of the morning.” 

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“My mother, Ethel Francis Rose Leen, grew up in a tiny Newfoundland outport called Jersey Harbor. Population 214. A place you could only access by boat as there were no roads connecting it to the rest of Newfoundland.

“In 1969 the whole village, all of the houses, were floated across the bay to Harbor Breton, a larger village with roads and electricity.  Jersey Harbor was abandoned; the only residents left were the graves of my ancestors.

“When my mother was in her mid-80s we took a ‘roots’ trip through Newfoundland. We drove to Harbor Breton and endured four days of thick fog waiting for it to lift so a small boat could take us across to what remained.

“Once there, we walked the overgrown streets, visited the white marble headstones of my grandparents and an aunt and uncle who died too young. She showed me where their house had stood and where the store had sat right on the shore where the big ships could dock. And then as the fog dropped down around us again we sped back across the bay.

“Mother’s Day has been a quiet time for me since my mother passed several years ago. It’s now a day for fond memories and some sadness. She was the glue that kept the family together; without her we are more parts than whole.”

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“I’d been living in Ecuador for ten years when my son was born.  It was just before Mother’s Day, two years ago, when my parents came to visit their only grandson, my son, Nahuel.  It was a very special moment when Nahuelito’s great-grandmother, grandmother, and his mother sat beside him on the bed. When my mom reached out to caress his head, it completed a magical circle of love.”

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“This is an image of my mother, Harriett Lockwood Abell.  She's pictured with my brother Steve (left) and me. The occasion is Easter. Our father, Thad S. Abell, made the picture at our home in Sylvania, Ohio in 1952. The picture is emblematic of how our mother dressed us as twins when we were young. It was a feature of the era.” 

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“This triptych of images was made in 1997, the only time my son met my mom. She died two years later. When I look at this sequence of images, I’m reminded of the joy my mom had in meeting her grandchild and how oblivious young Eli, who was only one, was to who she was and that he would never visit his only living grandma again. Photographs capture and preserve our memories. If only they could come to life from rare moments like these.”  

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"I shot this of my mom a few years back. She will turn 90 this summer. My mom as well as my dad are truly part of the greatest generation, and WWII shaped their world view. Hard work and don't complain. Dora Lou is the mother of 6 and has lived in her hometown of Hays, Kansas for most of her life."

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“She loves nature and peaceful places. This is not far from home, a place she calls ‘Magic Land.’”  

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“My mom is 91. She is spry of spirit. There are those aches and pains, though, that can make it difficult to motor around the apartment or the grounds of their community. But when I leave after each precious visit she always comes to the door and stands smiling and waving until I am out of sight. ‘Love you’ are the last words we send down the hall to each other just before the elevator doors close. My mom is a gift in every way.” 

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“My mom’s personality pendulates between both extremes of the spectrum. She is the toughest, most fragile soul I have ever met.  You can’t just say something to my mom, you must choose your words wisely or it could cripple her forever. If I close my eyes I can feel her soft, long, bony white hands soothing my fire.  She floats through life like a fairy, oblivious of her strength and influence over all of us humans in her world. The older I get, the more she becomes a mystery and the more I long for her powers.” 

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“It was a Sunday in 1958 and I was photographing a year in the life of my family with my new/used Leica IIIF I had just bought with my newspaper route money. I was 14. Mom looks at me warmly as the family gets into our station wagon and off we go for a family drive. A regular for us after church on Sundays. Like most fathers, mine was gone a lot, and it was Mom who helped build my darkroom in the basement and also encouraged my love of photography from day one.”

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“Unless you were invited, Sharon Sartore wouldn't let others step foot in her kitchen.

And so I stood off to the side to sneak off a picture of her now and then. In this case, with the Thanksgiving meal well in hand, she laughed as she recited one of her favorite lines: ‘The rooster crows, but the hen delivers the eggs.’” 

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“The last time I saw my mother, I knew I would never see her again. I was traveling, and she was sliding out of life, day by day. We said our goodbyes, though I was unsure she completely recognized me. The light and the window framed her. I made a couple frames. She died when I was in Singapore. I did not make it back for the funeral. The life of a photographer—sometimes it happens and we’re not there for it.” 

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