Five years ago when I shot my first birth the idea of documenting the moment babies were born was relatively shocking to most. Some new-fangled idea we came up with.
But it’s not. Birth Photography and documenting the moment of birth are not new at all.
This image is not mine, it’s Grace Robertson’s a photojournalist who captured the lives of women in the 1950s.
It is the first published Birth Photography image, which she captured as part of a project for Picture Post to document an at the time unseen thing — birth.
And in ancient art there are images of birth on mediums of all sorts, even bowls from which new mothers would eat their first meal post-birth.
The interest in the beauty of birth is not new, it’s ancient. I’m inspired by what Grace Robertson had to say about this image in a story journalist Anna Murphy helped her retell in The Telegraph:
“She did a number of stories considered revolutionary at the time; her 1955 photographs of a woman giving birth, for example, were some of the first of the kind to be published. ‘We were all so ignorant. I once saw a girl friend at a party looking distraught and I said, “What’s the matter?” and she said, “I think I am pregnant. That seat was warm when I sat down on it, and a man was sitting on it before me.”
‘I thought, “It’s time we learnt a little bit.” So I set out to find a woman who would let me photograph her giving birth. The story was turned down by Picture Post until she was eight months pregnant, and then suddenly they said yes. I was with her in the room on her own at one point when she was having contractions, and when she surfaced from one she must have seen me looking concerned.
‘She asked me if I had noticed some workmen when I came into the hospital that morning, and I said I had. She said, “That is what I am doing, Grace, I am labouring. It is hard work trying to get a baby out, so don’t look so concerned. And what’s more those men are only going to take home 14s 11d, but I am taking home a baby.” I laughed at that. And what I saw when the baby came out was its fist in the air as if to say, ‘Made it.'”
Interested in learning more about the 1950s and how the average birth was portrayed? Check out this amazing video from The Unecaesarian.
And, if you would like to see some of the ancient depictions, this is a very interesting video (although it’s narration reminds me a bit of CBE videos from the 1980s I watched in my Bradley class :).