Natal Nature

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of a good camera, must be asked to photograph babies.

My first was my niece, shortly after I purchased my first camera, a Canon FTb. I can always spot those negatives because there was a defect on the film plane in the form of a cropped corner that always shows up in full frame prints. I liked it. (you can see it in the upper left corner). I never had much interest in babies, but they were always around and relatives always like it when you have lots of pictures of small ones to show them. I can’t imagine what it was like for the nurses (in the days before in-hospital baby photography services) to continually be photographed with children they weren’t related to.

To be honest, I was probably more interested in the building (Kern General Hospital, now KMC) than the people at the time. For some reason, I’ve always been interested in the way that spaces can convey and amplify feelings. The feelings I get in hospitals are not necessarily good ones.

But there is one episode of baby photographs that has haunted me since 1983 or so. A friend that I worked with asked me to photograph his child because it wasn’t going to be around for long. It was born with a rare condition with a possibility of survival of next to nothing. He and his wife made up their mind to be with their child for as long as they could, and to love it as much as possible in its short life. It was one of the hardest things I ever photographed. The child had very poor muscular development and could not support its own head. I know that it was in pain most of the time, and we all made the most of our short sitting. My friend and his wife were grateful, and I don’t think I”ve looked at these images since I printed copies for them. I don’t remember the child’s name or gender, but I still remember that feeling of utter helplessness in the face of all this. I never thought of photographing babies quite the same after that.


Parents often get on my nerves because of an underserved (in my opinion at least) pride in their biological creations. I can’t help but think about how my friends child was so unnaturally taken away, by a twist of fate that they neither wanted nor deserved. But they bore it with smiles, and with love.