Anne Geddes is making the world a more beautiful place, one photograph at a time. We spoke with the iconic photographer about her love of babies, her recent move to New York City, and her latest project, Little Blessings.
First off, happy anniversary to you Anne and your husband, Kel. As we speak, your hubby is chatting with a lady right next to us here in Central Park.[laughs] Thank you! It’s our 31st anniversary. We’re going out to our new local Italian restaurant.
We should mention that you and Kel are brand new residents of New York City.
It’s very exciting moving to New York. We’ve been here a week and a half, but we’re getting there! It’s fantastic being here. I’ve got some amazing projects coming up. I’ll be shooting full-time here in New York City. One of the lovely things about photographing here is that when I was photographing in Australia, and before that, in New Zealand, there wasn’t a big African-American population. So I’m looking forward to shooting a lot more African-American babies, because they are so beautiful.
What was the impetus for moving to New York?
We talked for years about moving here. I’ve done a lot of shooting here, and to travel from Australia is so far. It’s so much more central being here in New York. We’re also empty nesters, which is really nice. If anyone is worried about being an empty nester, I’m saying that it’s great! We’re a very close family, and we see each other all the time, but it’s nice to be able to go past that stage in your life. My children are 30 and 27. The older I get, the more I realize the less stuff you need. You don’t need stuff; you need to have wonderful adventures. I’d like to make a difference with my work, and make quite meaningful imagery. So we’re off on our new adventure.
Your daughter, Stephanie, also lives here in NYC.
Yes, she has lived here for three years, and our 27-year-old is living in Sydney. But we talk to her via Skype all the time.
Let’s talk about your new book, Little Blessings.
It’s a gift book and it’s nice for all mothers, but it’s really for anyone who loves babies. Obviously, it’s a great gift for Mother’s Day. It’s available as an e-book and also as a regular book. I’m a big supporter of local bookstores, though. I grew up with books, and I have a great book collection. You can’t take an e-book, wrap it in beautiful paper, write out a card, and hand it to your mother on Mother’s Day, can you?
I personally prefer books. There’s nothing like the smell of a bookstore.
Right, and big beautiful photographic books, too. But that said, there’s lots of ways in which my imagery is used these days. When I first started out, it was in books, calendars and greeting cards. Not anymore. I was in a store the other day and the woman behind the counter said, “I have your VISA credit card!” We always joke because if you have this card, you’re going to start a conversation. Everyone loves to talk about babies.
I’ve been doing this for 30 years. When I started out, I loved babies and I wanted to spread the message. Now, I feel that we have this army of supporters around the world. For instance, with the credit cards, we all use them. Why not use a beautiful one?
What are some of your current projects?
I just finished shooting this great project called “Under the Sea.” It’s a new calendar scheduled for 2016. We’ve got beautiful little mermaids and tropical fish and coral. The babies are part of a pantomime.
Anne, you’re known for shooting babies. As a fellow photographer, how do you stay invested in it for all these years, where it doesn’t become something boring or rote?
I still have an absolute fascination with new life. You’re pregnant yourself; it’s a miracle. Conception, pregnancy, birth, and absolutely tiny newborns speak of so much hope for the future. They’re the family moving forward; they’re the entire family moving forward. They’re so guileless; they’re just really good people. And that’s what I love about babies; they just are what they are.
Someone had told me yesterday that a baby is a gift to the world, and I had never thought about it like that before. They’re a clean slate.
Yes, all of them. All have the same potential, right at the start of their lives. Nothing has happened to them, nothing good, and nothing bad. They just really speak to so much promise, and they’re just so beautiful.
Many years ago, I worked in a legal publishing company. My office was so dark and grey and depressing. I would take your cards and put them around the office because it made my day so much better to look at them.
People tell me things like that all the time. I shot an image back in 1993 of a little premature baby wrapped in a pair of hands. I photographed her in a neonatal intensive care unit in Auckland, New Zealand, and she turns 21 next year. In fact, my last shoot in Australia, before I came over here, was in a NICU unit in Sydney of a little premature baby for March of Dimes. Such a great charity and they do such great work. That will be coming out in November in time for Prematurity Awareness Month.
Getting back to that image, so many people would come up to me and tell me how much that image helped them because it gave me a sense of hope that their own child would be okay. When I took that image, I had no idea of the reach that it would have. When I took it, I wasn’t the Anne Geddes that I am today! [laughs]
The Anne Geddes that I have seen today is such a loving, doting mom. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
Of course! The thing with Little Blessings is that it’s a book for anyone who has been a mother; it’s great for grandmothers, too. I honestly think that every single woman who has had a child remembers that moment when your first child is born. And a lot of the sentiment in the book touches on that. I think my favorite is, “The decision to have a child is to know that your heart will forever walk around outside your body.” It’s quite overwhelming if you’re a new mother. I remember when I came home with Stephanie thirty years ago and I got quite overwhelmed. I thought, “Oh God, I’m responsible for this person for the rest of my life. I’m going to love her and worry about her always.” And then you think of all the silly things you worry about, too. I used to worry that I’d leave her in a store, and forget that I had a baby! [laughs] I would think that I would walk into a pharmacy and walk out with a package but then the clerk would come out and say, “Excuse me, don’t you think you’ve forgotten something?” [laughs]
What advice would you give to new moms?
If I were to give any advice, it would be to just be yourself. Don’t worry about other people’s opinions.
Because there will be many![laughs] Yes, there will be many. I remember some advice that I was given when I left the hospital with Stephanie. The nurse sat down on the bed next to me and said, “If I can give you advice, just trust your instincts. Your first instinct is generally going to be right.” Babies have been born for thousands and thousands of years. It’s really important to be yourself; don’t turn into a mom just because you have a baby. Your child is going to know you longer as an adult than as a child, and I want my girls to look up to me and have respect for what I do, but I also want them to know me as a person.
How would you describe yourself as a mom?
Pretty laid-back, pretty relaxed. Very loving. I’m very proud of them and want them to have their own lives. They’re both photographers, and no one was more surprised than me when they said that they wanted to be photographers!
Did you photograph them a lot when they were younger?
Yes, always. I’ve always had a camera.
I find that a lot of moms feel so unpretty after the baby is born and they want to be behind the camera. They’ll only take photos of the baby, or the husband and the baby and the other kids, but not include themselves.
There’s too much pressure on young women these days to have a fabulous pregnancy, a fabulous birth and look fabulous weeks after having the baby. It’s ridiculous and it’s not normal. You need to enjoy the baby. When you’re in the fog of having a newborn, and you can’t see the wood for the trees. It’s full-on and hard work. I always ask the new moms who come to the studio for shoots how they’re doing and let them know that it’s hard. I remember with my firstborn, I could have fallen asleep standing up against a wall. You will get through it, but relax, and enjoy the baby along the way.