Why Birth Photography is not posed and never should be
I was recently asked to submit some of my birth images to one of the biggest parenting magazines in the UK I was thrilled! Many emails went back and forth and an interview with my client was arranged. Just before we were about to go ahead, they had picked out the images they wanted to use, they asked me for an image of my client holding the baby and smiling at the camera. I thought back to my clients gallery of over 200 images of her 24 hour birth story showing every moment as it unfolded and happened. There was so much detail in there and so much beauty but there was NOT an image of her posed holding her baby and smiling directly at the camera.
There were beautiful images of her holding, breastfeeding and smiling at baby and I quickly directed the editor to these images but no they were not suitable and did not fit the brief so the piece was dropped. I was disappointed not because of the lack of exposure from the article but I was disappointed and I was angry because this is exactly why we have SO far to go with how birth is portrayed in the media.
Birth. is. not. posed.
Of all the genres of photography I think birth is one of the strongest genres where a photographer is not able to pose and direct how the subject (a birthing woman) is. If you are not certain why then I will explain. Birth is one of the most private, intimate and vulnerable experiences a woman can go through. Not all women want to be in a pitch black room with no sound, every woman births differently but one thing is for sure; when a woman is in the throes of labour or bonding and feeding her brand new baby she does NOT want to be disturbed in any way especially by a photographer telling her to smile at the camera. Birth photography is documentary photography at its finest we do not manipulate the space in any way and we document the story of our clients births as they unfold even if they do not go to plan.
Birth is raw - and by that I mean that we may see images of women smiling at the camera with their new baby but in these instances it has been the womans choice (hopefully) to do that. As birth photographers it is not our place to direct this and it is also not important. What is beautiful and impactful about documenting birth stories is that they are REAL. I cannot tell you how many times I have had people and clients tell me that they love my work because it is real and raw. Birth is real and raw but if we continue to misinterpret it and mis represent it (one born every minute?) just like we misinterpret how we see celebrities looking red carpet ready as they step out of bed - we will continue to misinterpret birth which will continue to have a huge impact on women and how they birth physically, mentally and emotionally.
I admit that mainstream media and parenting magazines may not be ready for crowning images and the blood of birth (which I think is pure beauty) but do I think they should be? absolutely. I also understand that change takes time and we are slowly slowly making progress here. I do think that if sharing a birth story the images shared with the story should be a a true representation of what happened and not creating an unrealistic view of how we 'should' be after giving birth.
I am staying true to who I am as a photographer, Doula and storyteller because birth matters. Women matter.
As the industry is growing within the UK it is a very exciting time to be a birth photographer here! I am currently working on an exciting project for UK birth photographers, birth professionals and parents in the UK! If you would like to be added to the mailing list to receive updates on the progress of this exciting project please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!