Birth photography is gradually finding takers in India
The most fulfilling moment for birth photographers is when they hand over the photographs to new moms.
The first glimpse of the baby’s head, the umbilical cord getting cut, the baby’s first cry, and parents holding their newborn in their arms for the first time – these are the moments that that have created a spuper-speciality called photography.
“Almost always when I show the couple the photographs of childbirth they start crying with joy. The mother sees in pictures what she felt,” said Maayan Gutgold, a Delhi-based birth photographer.
Sixteen months ago, Priyanka Mehan, 37, decided to document the process of having her second baby. “When my first child was born, nobody thought of clicking photographs until after a week. So, this time I thought that we should have these memories captured,” she said.
Mehan decided to get in touch with one of the few birth photographers in India. She was familiar with the concept of birth photography from the decade she spent in the United States, where she had her older boy, now six.
She was hesitant about what the photographs would capture. “Initially, I had told Maayan to not click my private parts and start photographing once the baby is out. But, on the day of the delivery, there were so many people in the labour room – the doctors and the nurses – that at that point it did not really matter who saw what. So I asked her to go ahead and click the photos of my crowning,” she said.
Gutgold fell in love with India when she moved from Israel with her husband a decade ago. Women were always a focus of her photographs – she documented pregnancies, families, and siblings interacting with each other. “Two years ago, I thought there was something missing. I did not know what. After thinking about it for a while, I realised that I focused on women before and after the pregnancy, without capturing childbirth,” said Gutgold.
That’s how her journey as a birth photographer began, but it wasn’t an easy one.
“It took around a year for me to get my first client. It was a very new concept in India and it was very difficult for me to convince people to let me in on such a private moment of their life,” said the Gurugram-based Gutgold.
She has since signed a contract with Fortis La Femme, Delhi to photograph births if the parents agree to it. She is not the only one doing in Delhi.
Eight months ago, Urshita Saini, 27, floated her birth photography company. “I was a wedding photographer. I was researching birth photography for a project for a magazine and suddenly I realised there were very few people in India doing it, even though it is a big thing in the West. I decided to go for it,” said Saini, who lives in West Delhi’s Janakpuri neighbourhood.
It took her four months of searching and one month of training inside an operation theatre before she was able to click her first childbirth. Her camera has already recorded 106 childbirths, both natural and caesarean section, and now works with a team of three, who also do outstation shoots.
“It’s an all-women’s team, of course. In India, few would allow an unknown man enter the labour room during childbirth,” she said.
Saini is trying to create a community of birth photographers and trying to promote the concept in India. “Through referrals from happy clients, I get calls from people who want to get shoots done,” she said.
For her, the most fulfilling moment is when she hands over the photographs to new moms.
“When the new parents see the photographs, their usual reaction is that they don’t recall doing any of it. There is so much pain, hormones and emotions that the mother’s mind usually shuts down. Documenting it helps them see the first moments when their baby came into the world,” she said.
The biggest challenge, the photographers say, is making the would-be mother feel comfortable. “When a woman is delivering her baby, her private parts are exposed, she is vulnerable. It is important that they trust me enough to let me in the labour room. They need to understand I will never click something they are not comfortable with,” said Saini.
To build this trust, she keeps in touch with the woman since the seventh or the eighth month of pregnancy. “I speak to the moms-to-be for nearly nine or ten hours over the phone or in person. I speak to them about their doctors’ appointments and anything else they are going through. So by the time they are ready to deliver, they talk with me while I click the photographs,” she said.
For c-section deliveries, protocols need to be followed in the operating room.
“The woman is undergoing a major surgery, so we cannot come in the way of the doctors and other medical staff. Also, most women prefer to get the upper half of their body photographed, I have to keep all this in mind,” said Gutgold. She never uses flash inside the operating room as it can distract the mother and the doctors.
“I am a fly on the wall. I observe everything and I click photographs. I do not let them feel my presence,” she said.