Anne Geddes

Mention the word “baby” in the photographic world and one name immediately springs to mind: Anne Geddes. In just over a decade, this Australian-born entrepreneur has gone from running a portrait studio in New Zealand to becoming perhaps the world’s preeminent photographer of babies. She has published a wide array of books, greeting cards, calendars, datebooks, stationery, photo albums and recently launched her own line of baby clothing. According to her U.S. public relations firm, her work is published in more than 50 countries and her books have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. “You’ve got to be very organized to do babies,” says this mother of two teenage daughters. “By the time they are in the studio, most of the work is done.” In this interview, conducted via the Internet because of Geddes’s demanding schedule, you will find out just how she does it..

Photo Insider (PI): When did you get started in photography?

Anne Geddes (AG): I had always loved looking at images. Unfortunately, there were no photography courses at the school I attended, and I never considered that career for myself. I didn’t even think it was an option until I was 25 and in a position where I could make a change. It was then that I decided to give photography a try.

PI: How did you come to specialize in photographing babies? Why are they special to you?

AG: The whole reason I got into photography was because I thought the way babies and young children were portrayed was unnatural. It reflected the old-school mentality that said you photograph a baby on a sheepskin rug in its Sunday best. Babies are my inspiration and my joy. In them, I see innocence and the precious possibilities of each life unfolding. In my images, I hope to convey a measure of the beauty that exists in all children.

PI: With your book Pure, you have moved to sets with plain backdrops and few, if any, props. How did this evolve?

AG: Evolution is a natural process with any artist. Most of the images in Down in the Garden involved propping. Until Now, my second coffee-table book, introduced people to a mixture of simpler, classic images. There is the more sophisticated approach seen in Pure.

PI: Are you continuing in this direction? What might we expect to see next?

AG: For the past two years, in addition to shooting images for Pure, I have been creating my own line of clothing for babies. For somebody who can’t even sew on a button, designing infant wear and accessories has been an dventure. I’ve been very fortunate to work with a most talented team who have translated my designs into a range of baby outfits that I just love. I am turning these outfits into a photographic portfolio as I shoot the images for the Baby Clothing Web site. Overall, my passion is to continue from

where I am in Pure-simple, uncluttered imagery. That is the hardest exercise: to achieve simplicity.

PI: Tell us about your line of baby clothing and accessories. Whose idea was that and how did it evolve?

AG: The line was designed following a very clear vision-mine. Keeping babies comfortable and helping to enhance their natural beauty is an integral part of my work. I felt I could translate my unique knowledge of caring for babies in that way into creating something very special. I’ve seen too many parents struggling with their children’s outfits in the studio. We know that babies don’t like things being pulled over their heads, and that parents want fastenings that are easy to open and close and won’t pinch. We created the clothing to meet these needs and filled the Anne Geddes Baby Clothing Collection with soft luxurious fabrics, stylish designs, and many practical little extras.


PI: Your husband, Kel, handles marketing and promotion. You’re both definitely doing something right with over 15 million copies of your books sold worldwide. How did the marketing develop and progress from your beginnings as a professional photographer?


AG: In 1993, I was running a thriving portraiture studio in New Zealand when things suddenly accelerated. Demand for my images was increasing while, simultaneously, our family was deciding whether to relocate from New Zealand back to Australia because of Kel’s television career. Talking it over, we realized that moving was not an option for us, and we decided to combine forces. Now Kel oversees all the marketing and management aspects of our business. My husband is someone I can really trust, and he brings a broader vision to the marketing of my work because he sees things from a global perspective. His international television background of some 30 years is an enormous asset. That enables me to concentrate solely on the images I want to create. It’s an ideal situation.

PI: People should be aware that you are a financial supporter and activist for organizations that help prevent child abuse. Please comment briefly on this.

AG: I believe strongly in the important work achieved by organizations around the world to prevent child abuse and neglect. One section of my Web site (www.annegeddes.com) is dedicated to providing information on such groups. I am gratified to say that I have received a good amount of feedback from resources such as these.

They feel that my images help broaden the appreciation and recognition of the preciousness of children, and our responsibility to care for them.

PI: What does your favorite type of baby look like?


AG: When I was shooting Until Now, there was a mother just behind me, looking at her baby, and she said to herself, “Oh, look at my baby. Isn’t he beautiful?” And I turned to her and I said, “Yes, he is.” Every mother believes she has the most beautiful baby, and every mother has a beautiful baby. That moment contains the essence of why I take photographs of babies. I believe every child is lovely, full of opportunity and promise.


PI: What are the attributes for which you choose photographing in color? Black and white?


AG: My choice of using color versus black and white generally depends upon the subject matter. I find that in black-and-white work, there are no distractions; I can zero in on the image I want. My first love has always been black-and-white photography, which I have continued shooting on a regular basis for many years. Personally, I feel that a simple, strong, emotive black-and-white image is unbeatable. I believe that the impact of an image relies far more on its emotional content than whether it has been shot in color or black and white. Emotional content is an image’s most important element, regardless of the photographic technique.

PI: How are you inspired to create the whimsical and sometimes elaborate situations that you photograph?

AG: Ideas for my images come from different sources. As a visual artist, I am always pursuing information about any sort of new imagery in the world market. I keep an eye on current trends by looking at up to 50 magazines per month. My ideas always stem from my love of the subject matter-the babies-and the way in which I view them.


PI: For a typical image, how much time do you spend planning and in preproduction, and how much time photographing?

PI: How are you inspired to create the whimsical and sometimes elaborate situations that you photograph?

AG: Ideas for my images come from different sources. As a visual artist, I am always pursuing information about any sort of new imagery in the world market. I keep an eye on current trends by looking at up to 50 magazines per month. My ideas always stem from my love of the subject matter-the babies-and the way in which I view them.


PI: For a typical image, how much time do you spend planning and in preproduction, and how much time photographing?


AG: Each image is unique, with preparation varying from several weeks to a few months. It is very important to me that any technical issues are taken care of long before the baby comes onto the scene. During test photography, I use life-size dolls to perfect my lighting, and all the light adjustments are made in the days before the shoot. My morning starts around 8 A.M. Generally, all the studio work is completed by noon. The actual shooting time for each image is measured in minutes within this time frame.


PI: How carefully do you plan a photogaphy shoot, and what
elements might be spontaneous?


AG: I find that often the best images evolve from a shoot that has been planned to be something entirely different. Babies are notoriously unpredictable, which I found somewhat frustrating at the beginning of my career. After working with them for many years, they have taught me to keep an open mind. I’m delighted when they surprise me, which they often do. My idea of a perfect image is where I have created an environment and the baby has given something of its personality. The baby always supplies that extra spark in the image.


PI: How do you find/choose the babies and adult models you use?


AG: Truly, the parents select me. Midwives and hospitals in our area sometimes contact us, but most often we hear directly from a child’s parents. People send me photographs of their children, and I have my own model file, which consists of hundreds of babies. I now work primarily with a wide range of young ones, concentrating on infants under six weeks of age. For shoots in cities such as New York or Los Angeles, I often arrive a few weeks earlier and do a television or radio appearance to stimulate interest. It is not that difficult when people are aware of what you do and what you are about. I photographed the images for Pure in a small number of locations around the world, and the babies came from many different backgrounds and ethnic origins. I enjoy the opportunities I have to meet so many families and their newborns.

PI: What is your studio like? Describe it please.

AG: My studio is very baby friendly, all of the staff love babies, and whenever we have them in the studio, I make sure that everything revolves around them. I have a special room set aside, which we call the “Mothers’ Room,” where mothers can have privacy-lots of big comfy sofas and change tables handy. It’s very important to me that they feel as special as their newborns. I know what it’s like to be the mother of a newborn. And when you have a toddler to take care of at home as well, there really isn’t much time in the first few weeks of a baby’s life to make yourself feel special. That’s why we go all out to make a big fuss over the mothers.

PI: Some readers might be surprised to learn that many of your photographs are not digital composites. These are shot “straight” in camera, with the babies placed on foam or cotton in specially constructed props. Do you work with one or several model makers? Please explain how this collaboration proceeds.

AG: I have a very talented stylist who makes the costumes and settings you see in some of my images, and we work together on my designs and concepts. We use hot water bottles to warm the surfaces for the babies, and all sorts of cushioning and padding for their comfort. We even had little “seat belts” for the baby bumblebee “hive” she built, to keep the infants secure, and assistants are always standing close by, slightly outside the image frame. My studio team, most of who have been with me for more than eight years, is very important to the process.

PI: Everyone at this magazine wants to know how you manage to keep the babies in position, relatively still, and seemingly very content. Do you have a magic wand?

AG: If I had such a wand, I would happily share it with every parent in the world. We make every effort to ensure that the babies are comfortable, well fed, warm, and feeling secure. Parents, particular-mothers, are always with the babies in the studio. You’d be surprised at the number of letters we receive after a shoot. Parents say, “I didn’t realize it would be so calm.” It is very important to me that their visit to the studio is both an enjoyable and relaxing experience.

PI: For photography, what equipment do you use-Cameras, formats, lighting, film?

AG: I truly feel that my heart, my head, and my eye behind the lens are the most important elements of “equipment” I bring to the studio. Often during a shoot, I am inspired by the child I’m photographing to explore a fresh, new direction. I use a number of different cameras and formats.

PI: Do you shoot film or digital?

AG: All my studio work is created on film.

PI: For color and black and white, is your final photograph a transparency, print, or digital file?


AG: My final photograph would be a transparency for color and a print for black and white.


PI: Do you do any kind of personal photography work that is different from your commercial work?


AG: I always have a camera handy at home to snap family moments.


PI: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a professional photographer today?


AG: Never give up. Be an individual and find your own style. Look at the great photographers in the world today and you’ll see maybe a dozen or so whose work is instantly recognizable…you can say, yes, that’s Annie Leibovitz, Arnold Newman, Herb Ritts, or Robert Mapplethorpe. In a word, “signature.” I believe that no one can ever give you an eye for photography. There are people who can “see” and it’s a gift. By observation and study, you can learn the technique, but you must reach inside yourself to find the emotion, the essential element for a photograph to make a difference. It’s a wonderful, satisfying, and fulfilling way to make a living. I couldn’t think of anything better.

Howard Millard is an internationally published photographer and writer. His special interests include digital imaging, travel, and alternative processes.

Visit Anne Geddes website at… www.annegeddes.com
See more of Anne Geddes Work
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