Sarah Merians on Maternity Photography
In 1991, a very pregnant Demi Moore appeared nude on the cover of Vanity Fair. With that iconic cover, a sea change occurred in how pregnancy is portrayed in print. Pregnancy is no longer something to be hidden underneath a muumuu, but something to be celebrated in all its glory.
AmericanBaby.com recently talked with Sarah Merians and other photographers at Sarah Merians Photography & Company in New York City. The photographers talked about some of their favorite maternity shoots, as well as the trends in this very special sort of photography. From preparing the mom-to-be to "model," to managing the privacy and intimacy of these shoots, these professional photographers give the lowdown on this growing maternity trend.
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AmericanBaby.com: Sarah, as one of the leading "event" photographers in New York City, what's your take on how attitudes are changing toward pregnancy and how it's portrayed in photography?
Sarah Merians: Women are obviously getting much more comfortable with their bodies, and I think that trend started with the Vanity Fair article way back when. In looking back, it definitely broke the mold. It definitely celebrated that moment in moving forward.
I would have to say that when the Vanity Fair came out...probably 10 percent of women would've been interested in [doing] a [maternity] photo shoot. Now, I have to believe that probably 50 percent of [pregnant] women would be interested, and probably of that 50 percent, maybe 30 percent will act on it. These statistics are going to change -- eventually, eight out of 10 women will say, "Definitely, I want a maternity shoot."
On Feeling Beautiful
AB: What are some of the reasons women would want to "document" their pregnancy?
SM: Here at Sarah Merians Photography, we start the relationship early. We start off [the photography] at the wedding...our brides and grooms "grow" with us. As a female-owned company, I celebrate families and life situations, and I felt [maternity photography] was a no-brainer.
I also feel through my personal experience -- because it was very difficult for me to conceive and get pregnant -- that documenting the pregnancy becomes more important and celebrated. Women are having babies from the age of 25, to even 45 and beyond nowadays...and all walks of life. Women get to that point in their lives in very different ways. So I think an older woman who is pregnant and has eventually found her mate, or even a single mom, or even a gay or lesbian couple that has a child, I feel that the pregnancy -- and the capture of that -- is becoming more celebrated.
AB: Just looking at some of your photos, it's clear that there's so much joy. What strikes me is that there's glamour here, too. How can these shots show that pregnancy isn't a time to hide out, but a time to celebrate being a beautiful woman?
SM: Certainly, that's right! Pregnant women "glow," and this should be caught in time. From the beginning, we set the mood. Maternity clothing is a start, as well as dramatic lighting and facial expressions. The simple act of throwing a head back, laughing, takes some of the privacy out of the moment and celebrates the pregnancy publicly.
Preparing for the Maternity Shoot
AB: For expectant moms interested in posing, how do you prepare them for the maternity shoot? For women who aren't models to start with, how do you get them ready?
Rivka, studio manager & photographer: Usually, I speak to them about how exciting the process will be for them, and that it's a beautiful experience. I get them all psyched up about it. We usually talk about the different lighting styles that the photographers are trained to use: one is more dramatic lighting which accentuates the face and the belly, and the other is a softer, more even light.
And I always tell them that they can start out with maternity outfits, and, depending on their level of comfort, make their way to shedding clothes. I usually suggest that they bring in a couple of different outfits, something that opens at the stomach, to show the belly, perhaps a man's dress shirt or a sexy robe. I tell them they shouldn't wear anything with elastic, so that there are no marks on the belly.
I tell them also to get their hair and makeup done, to focus, to make themselves feel as beautiful as they can. And we talk about color versus black and white...I'd say most of my clients, say 85 percent, want black and white.
AB: And when the ladies come in, in general, what's their state of mind? Excited? Nervous?
Alysa, photographer: They usually think it's fun. They're usually pretty nervous about the shoot, too. To make them feel more at ease, I ask them a lot of questions about themselves and the baby: the name, is it a boy or girl, etc. I try to make them feel really comfortable, so that if they want to get disrobed, they don't have to feel shy.
On Maintaining the Relationship
AB: During the shoot, how much "touching up" needs to be done?
SM: Sometimes, we put powder on the bellies, like we would put powder on shine. Other than that, no, for the most part, women show up as they want to be photographed. Some women definitely need their hair brushed when they get here. Some people are frazzled...but it is a shoot, and it isn't so much for their face, as I tell them.
It's more for the dramatics of their body and their belly. So it's not so much as a beauty shot, as it is a dramatic lighting intense photograph. It's not a portrait...it's more like a documentation of this time in their lives. Nothing makes me happier than seeing one of my brides include us in all their life's moments. Their family grows and so does ours!
AB: Earlier, you mentioned "growing" with your clients from their wedding, through their pregnancy, and with their children. How do you go about maintaining the relationship with the family?
SM: We continue the relationship with our clients through thank you and anniversary cards.... These cards usually feature a child or baby on the cover, and well, no pun intended, I just like to plant the seed. And to let them know that we are photographers for the generations, and that we want to continue the relationship with them.
We also have second and third maternity shoots, where we would strongly suggest that a mom bring in their older child to have them included in the shoot. Babies kissing Mommy's belly -- and being involved in that process -- is something I encourage because I feel that it will include that other child, and they will be a part of the pregnancy. And inclusion in the photo shoot could possibly melt away some of the possible jealousies that occur with a new sibling on the way.
This interview was conducted on July 26, 2004.
More information about Sarah Merians Photography & Company.