What Are Maternity Portraits?



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History of Maternity Portraiture


December 22, 2011:
Susan is temporarily not doing any portrait work because of some medical issues with her hands that limit the amount of time she can work with her camera. Look for her return to maternity portraiture in the spring of 2012.


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Home >History of Maternity Portraits


"One hundred years of pregnancy views" or "you've come a long way, baby!"

The history of maternity portraits in this country is relatively brief, and reflects the changing views of pregnancy, women, and pregnant women over the last 100 years.

As a kid, I remember my grandmother talking about how proud she was that none of her neighbors even knew she was pregnant until she delivered each of her four children! "Wow" is about all I can say about that. Kids were supposed to be seen and not heard, but pregnant women weren't even supposed to be seen. The norm of the time. . . that was at the end of the Victorian era.

My mom has no pictures of her when pregnant with either my sister or with me, but she says "people just didn't take pictures then." She says that had maternity portraits been available at that time, my father would not only have enthusiastically supported her having them made, but that he would just as enthusiastically have participated in the session. I believe that.

In 1970 I was the first pregnant Ranger Naturalist at Grand Canyon National Park to work while pregnant. It never occurred to me to not work that summer, but the response of my supervisors was really interesting when I showed up pregnant. Their first response? "But, but, but. . .there is no uniform." That was true. It was not until 1980, when my son was ten years old, that the Park Service offered maternity uniforms. But 1970 was still in the Dark Ages when it came to women's uniforms in general. Women at that time were required to wear skirts and white blouses (not the green pants and gray shirts the men wore then, and that both women and men wear now), and that worked to my advantage at the time. It was easy enough to let out the waistband of the skirt, and wear a white maternity blouse over it. I took the Park Service arrowhead patches off my old white blouses and sewed them onto the maternity tops. It worked fine. But that was 1970, and supervisors were not really prepared to see pregnant women in a public workplace. That was the true issue behind the "no uniform" objections. There was no uniform; that did not happen until 1980. In 1970, pregnant women were not meant to be seen in the workplace. If pregnant women were meant to be seen working, there would have been an official uniform. It took ten more years for that to happen.

I did not actually see the Park Service's maternity uniform until 2000, when I took a trip back to the North Rim. The first Park Service employee I saw was a pregnant Ranger Naturalist. At that time, I did not know when the Park Service had adopted an official maternity uniform. I was so excited to see it, that I rushed up to her and asked, "Oh, how long has the Park Service had maternity uniforms?" She looked at me like I was crazy, and she replied emphatically, "The Park Service has always had maternity uniforms." She then turned and walked away - rapidly! Oh, well, so be it.

For all of that, I have no pictures of me pregnant. And that makes me sad, looking back on those nine months. I very much wish I had a photo or two from that time, mainly for personal reasons, but also an historical document from the times.

But, life goes on, and after that I completed my PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Arizona. Then I taught at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Then I got an MD from the University of Kansas, and completed an Obstetrics and Gynecology residency at the University of New Mexico Hospital. I became Board Certified in Ob/Gyn in 1991.

That same year, 1991, the real turning point in terms of documenting pregnancy photographically came when Annie Liebovitz's portrait of a very pregnant - and very nude - Demi Moore appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. That one photo truly brought pregnancy out of the closet, never to be put back again.

Demi Moore on Vanity Fair

It's funny to me, but someone recently asked, "Why do maternity portraits have to be nude?" The answer, of course, is that not only do they not have to be, most are not. It depends totally on what the woman wants (and her partner, if the partner is involved in the shoot). But the Demi Moore shot has stuck in people's minds as the ideal of a maternity portrait.

To me, the ideal maternity portrait is the one that captures what each individual woman wants it to capture (be sure to take a look at What Are Maternity Portraits?). There is no "ideal pose," "ideal clothing," or even "ideal lighting." If a woman or couple is not sure what they want their portraits to reveal, I am more than happy to offer suggestions for all of the above, as well as for post-shoot applications. That is why a pre-shoot discussion is included in the price of the photo session. It is to make sure we are all on the same page about what you want and what you can expect from the shoot. It is time well spent ahead of time.

Demi Moore, Annie Liebovitz, and Vanity Fair opened the door. I love seeing a mom who was feeling big and awkward and less-than-attractive look at her photos and realize the overwhelming beauty of her pregnant form. That makes a good day for me. Today, I am also seeing a delightful trend, and that is in the way some fathers are enthusiastically participating in the maternity photo sessions. Nothing is more rewarding than shooting tender moments when the father of the baby is showing how proud he is to be the father of this baby, or how awestruck he is at mom's changing body, or a whole host of other emotions that for so long men have avoided being photographed expressing. It somehow gives me hope for the future of the world.

At the end of a pregnancy, a baby is born. Those nine months fly by and memories fade, as efforts focus on raising the baby. But in those nine months, a mother - and often a father - is also born. Document this wondrous and beautiful time in your life with portraits of your pregnancy.

If you, or you and your partner, are ready for maternity photography, please read through this website, and then contact info@abqmaternityportraits.com, or call Susan at (505) 884-9488.

I will work with you to produce the kind of portraits you want and deserve.