Let me start off by saying; Birth is Beautiful. It really is – it’s raw and incredible and jam packed with so much emotion you often feel speechless. I have photographed nearly 100 births over the past 5 years and it continues to amaze me every time I witness new life take its very first breath. I shout it from the rooftops – and talk about my job with so much love and passion. But it’s not always easy. Have you ever noticed the look on many faces when you say you’re a birth photographer or that you are having your birth photographed? You know, the one where their head cocks too the side just a tad, they tuck in their jaw and then their eyebrows rise – its usually accompanied with a, “why would you want photos of THAT?!?” One of the biggest myths of birth photography is that we spend our time with our lens pointed down between our client’s legs; all up in their business. At least I thought that was a big myth – but lately I’m not so sure…
Often times, photographers, are under the impression that the only photo that matters is the ‘crowning’ or ‘emerging’ shot. Almost as though the only goal in mind is to elicit a SHOCK reaction out of viewers. This is essentially leaving out immense parts of the story – parts that help the viewer learn where the birth took place, who was there, what mom was wearing, was is day or night, what was her drink of choice? I have seen some unbelievable crowning and emerging photos, but that is only part of the story.
When I am asked to photograph a birth, my main goal is to document the story, in its entirety. I am asked to capture the story of a child’s birth and often times my clients are very interested in having crowning photos if I am able to capture them. I try not to censor or crop – each story is unique and I treat is as such. Crowning shots for me are a bonus, and ones I do not flaunt.
When it comes to social media, it is important for me to showcase photos that depict the kind of photographer my clients are hiring for their birth. I have heard from moms that their partners can be unsure about such a graphic nature of photos. They promptly show them my work and they are quickly comforted to know that there is so much more that I capture than ‘THAT’ photo. Very rarely – if ever – will you see a ‘half born’ photo on my social media. I do this because I want to correctly reflect my photography objective – but I also try to stay under the radar with the Facebook police. Too often I see other photographers finding themselves with a ban on their profile for posting an emerging baby photo. There is typically lots of uproar amongst the birth photographer communities – a lot of #stopcensoringbirth tags etc. I try to avoid this – and if I am going to post a photo like this (with mom’s permission of course) I do so on my blog.
Should we stop censoring birth on social media? Good question. I think that there are guidelines in place for a reason – and nudity is nudity regardless of the context. But lets not get too hung up on if its right or wrong – lets refocus back to why photos of this nature are giving birth photographers a stigma. I am finding more and more photographers are focused on creating shock and going viral. Photographers who are new to birth especially, see so many ‘shocking’ photos they often get tunnel vision. Almost as if they think birth is only about this one moment. I have noticed quite a few discussions revolving around their frustration and resentment over the crowning shot. When the focus in on only getting this image captured – the issue becomes the hospital not allowing photos of the actual delivery, moms not feeling comfortable with sharing or violating social media policy. The newest thing I have noticed is the controversy around cropping or blurring nudity so that it is sharable. For me – this is outrageous. If you crop in tight – you lose the story – and blurring out the labia – that just seems unnatural. My solution – just don’t share it on social media. I guess what I am trying to say is – to all the photographers out there interested in documenting birth… Understand the role of social media versus your website, ensure that they reflect all that you do as a birth photographer. If your client doesn’t want their photos shared – be understanding – you will receive more business for respecting privacy in the long run. Set yourself apart from others, take and share more photos that allow the viewer to experience birth for all of its beauty.
Birth is about so much more than the actual emerging human being. Birth is about the connection that the parents have, and where they chose to deliver and why. Birth is about the anxious family in the waiting room. The look of admiration as the new parents gaze down at the product of their love. Birth is the tiny legs enjoying their newfound freedom and warmth as they snuggle in mom’s arms. It’s about so much more – and we as photographers are challenged to document their entire birth story. These moments can never be relived, but through our lens, nostalgia is painted through every incredible detail of birth.