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Chapter 6: Post-Demi Moore Photo Era (1991-Present)

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

“In the age of the smartphone, the internet, social media and rolling twenty-four-hour news, the photograph is at the center of our visual culture as never before. At the same time, the various phases of maternity, from pregnancy to the raising of children – stages of a woman’s life that were once hidden away or left unacknowledged—are now very much out in the open.” --Susan Bright

It was because of Demi Moore’s nude belly on the cover of Vanity Fair’s August 1991 magazine that created the great shift in society and how the pregnant body was being viewed. Pregnant bellies were no longer taboo and no longer had a negative connotation directed towards them in the realm of beauty. Portrait photographers began to expand their breadth of work to maternity photography and portraiture. The significant moment of transition and development a woman experiences when pregnant was now being captured by a photographer’s lens worldwide. The importance of this transition of acceptance is tremendous on society’s part. After all, “while fewer than half of all human beings have the privilege of becoming mothers, every human-being had been a child, and every human being, for better or for worse, has had a mother. Mothers serve as primary vehicles for ensuring the continuity of human history; in a literal, physical sense if they are birth mothers, and through the attitudes, knowledge, and values they transmit, consciously and unconsciously, to their children” (Buller. 165). As pointed out, every individual existing at some point had a mother birth him or her. An act so widely done, across the world for the sake of reproduction, it is about time the act of carrying a pregnancy become an act of acknowledgement and no longer an embarrassment. Women soon are beginning to embrace their pregnant bodies, to flaunt and to capture this beautiful milestone moment.

Even though maternity photography is an area of photography becoming more popular, this does not uncomplicate matters anymore. Of course, with popularity comes support, however, to fully unpack the act of photographing a pregnant mother is something only 50% of society can even begin to understand. For sure through, “the recent explosion of interest in maternal cycles of celebrities have changed this situation somewhat, but the place of pregnant women in the history of photography remains a confused one” (Bright. 13). Or more-so, the lack of pregnant women in photography creates the confusing setting. Why now are women becoming more comfortable in their round, bountiful bellies? Why does it take a social movement to begin to move the support in such a direction? Perhaps it is through the language that is used to describe pregnant women and, “our culture’s difficulty with the pregnant state. One ‘falls’ pregnant, is ‘in trouble’, has a ‘condition’” (Bright. 13). Such negative words that surrounded pregnancy created a undesirable want to flaunt the belly, especially in such a way as proud, and for artistic purposes.

Through photography, a specific moment in time is captured. Upon reflecting on the photograph, the viewer is capable of reflecting, revisiting and remembering said specific moment in time. Photographs serve as a gateway of the present and the past, whether or not the past is something an individual desires to revisit or not. After the August 1991 issue of Vanity Fair, women now want the moment of pregnancy to become captured. Women began to flaunt their swollen bellies proudly, and opted to stand in front of a camera to do so. The camera acting as a time machine, capturing the specifics of the woman in that specific, pregnant, time in her life so at a later time (perhaps, after birth), she can travel back in her mind’s eye to a time of her life, so significant and life- changing. Providing women with the opportunity to capture this moment is necessary to progress. The Demi Moore pregnant photo was what gave the backbone women needed. A mentality of: “if she can do it, so can I”. The wide-use of photography, and not a different art medium is significant in allowing for the woman to see exactly how her life- carrying body truly is beautiful. Photography offers a raw, real, “no-fluff”, artistic platform. It does not forgive and cannot change the outcome. Whatever is in front of the lens is what is captured as is.

Today, the purpose of maternity photography is to capture the pregnant body. However, the purpose of the photographer is to make the mother see how truly beautiful she is in the state of which her body is under. It is through the photographer’s expertise to explain to the expectant mother the correct angles, body movements and poses to place herself in to create a flattering, stunning look. Maternity photographers understand the state that the expectant mother is in. Typically maternity photographs are captured around weeks 36-40 of a typical 42-week pregnancy, however, every client is different. This time period is optimal because it is at this moment of the pregnancy that the mother’s stomach is the largest it has been and is most flattering for photographs. Typically, the mother is still pretty mobile and flexible. However, is it at the time that emotions begin to run high and often times the expectant mother no longer is comfortable with how she looks and “It also becomes more difficult to convince an expectant mother that she looks amazing and to feel serene and confident the closer she gets to her due date. She also gets progressively uncomfortable as she struggles to get around late in pregnancy” (Puc. 88). Note that photographers typically require months in advance for bookings, so the mother may have booked her photos well before feeling as swollen as she may feel at this point. Some women even opt to cancel their photos due to how they feel and believe they look. Sandy Puc, author and photographer of Bellies and Babies, stated that she even, “had a client [once] who had gained a significant amount of pregnancy weight. She really didn’t seem enthusiastic about the maternity session at all” (91). This is where the photographer’s job is crucial. The photographer is able to see past the swollen ankles and round face of a pregnant woman and see the beauty that is within the mother-to-be. Many clients comment to photographers, especially during the actual session itself that they do not feel attractive or glamorous, despite the hair and makeup and outfit meticulously chosen. Cindy McGrath, a maternity photography subject reflected upon her maternity photography experience stating: “I was trying desperately to feel glamorous, but instead I felt like a puffy-faced, bloated woman with a 30-pound water sack banging from her middle” (Halpin. 89). However, it is up to the photographer to be able to capture the truth and reflect it back to the client and if included, her family too to show just how past the bloat and swelling, the true beauty lies within an expectant mother’s heart and soul. The trust between the pregnant subject and the photographer is immense, and more often than not, the outcome is magical. Puc reflects on a client who wanted to cancel her photo shoot due to how she felt and thought she looked:

I had given them a portrait that they couldn’t have even imagined, and I had given that woman a beautiful image that makes her feel amazing about herself. This is a memorable reminder of how a little nudging can really go a long way for you and for your maternity clients.” (92)

When a photographer displays such confidence upon her clients, the clients will begin to feed off such a positive energy and often times agree to go through with the session. Once when the client sees the magic that the photographer is seeing through his/her lens, she begins to understand the why and how behind the importance of capturing this significant moment in her life.

With the continued growth of the industry of maternity photography has come a new wave of looks, educational material and level of support. In the twenty-first century, now more than ever before, maternity photo shoots have become a sort of norm, especially with new, first time mothers. Not only do we see photo shoots of just the expectant mother, but we are now also seeing the expectant partner and in some cases, soon-to-be older siblings incorporated in the photo shoots as well. These family photo shoots are important, as the experience of pregnancy is maternal and familial. The photographer’s goal stretches that much farther to capture the excitement, joy, nerves and overall emotions of an entire family as the pre-days roll in of a new addition to the family (see image 11). All while still showing the glowing face and beaming belly of the expectant mother. With this wave of popularity continues, YouTube posing tutorials and “how-to” books have become popular amongst the photographer community where this newer area of photography has flourished. We see the “how-to” feel in Sandy Puc’s Bellies & Babies, where Puc lays out the instructions on creating a successful photography company and designated one full chapter to maternity photography. The maternity photography section discusses the photographer’s experience in wanting to show the client how beautiful she was during her pregnancy.

Image 11 (Nicole Gubelli, 2019) A typical maternity photo shoot that incorporates an older sibling.

Photography helps create dialog and with dialog can come a community of like- minded individuals. Just like in many areas of art, maternity photography falls nowhere different on the spectrum of community. Expectant mothers are able to view other women’s photographs taken at the same point of pregnancy and begin to understand the beauty of what is being captured. In modern times, some women did not only take photos just during pregnancy, but also immediately after labor. As a part of Dutch photographer, Rineke Dijkstra’s photo series, Dijkstra captured photos of mothers an hour, a day and a week after labor, holding their newborn child (see image 12). She captured these images in conjunction with bullfighters right after a bull fight. Both of these acts are strenuous, exhausting and potentially life-threatening, and yet one is deemed as a societal norm, whereas the other is seen as courageous. The women in the photographs appear to be vulnerable and invincible and shocked yet self-composed. During a dialogue with three photographers, one of them, Jackie Skrzynski, described the motherhood photograph series produced by Rineke Dijkstra. Skrzynski reflected on the series and states that it “showed women just hours after giving birth. I noticed how greasy, tired, strong, and normal these women looked. It eased my own anxiety about my upcoming labor” (Buller. 190). This is exactly the product of photography. Being that the images Dijkstra captured were raw and real, this provided support and a piece of mind of an expectant mother. The same holds true for pregnancy pictures specifically.

Image 12 (Rineke Dijkstra, 1994) Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands, February 29, 1994 An intimate image taken a few hours after giving birth.

Today’s maternity photography includes an array of looks. From the minimalist nude and boudoir poses within photos, similar to that of Demi Moore’s, to extravagant set-ups and locations. Maternity photographers often have seen it all including professional makeup, hair, and rented maternity gowns. It is with this kind of costume and setup that gives off an aura of royalty. Even when an expectant mother poses nude for the camera, fully exposing her swollen belly, she is glowing a specific kind of confidence and control over the viewer. In a way, the pregnant subject becomes almost goddess-like and her bare belly is the sole subject of the photograph. Before the popularization of maternity photography, the only areas a pregnant woman subject was shown in the world of art was as a goddess-like figure. This is fitting even in the world of photography and Melissa McFazlane reflects upon her reaction to when she saw her maternity photos: “The image of myself as ‘god’ or ‘goddess’ seemed especially real in the carrying and birthing of my child. For me, the act of pregnancy and delivery was spiritually transformative. It united me, an individual, with a larger community—the community of humanity and, therefore, the world” (Halpin. 37) (see Image 13). The ability to carry and care for a child inside of you for 42 weeks is indeed an act of a selfless figurine. Perhaps a kind of goddess is the only term that can testimony to the level of spiritual advancement a women experiences when pregnant. It is through this spiritual emotion, and the support of her photographer and community of fellow pregnant women that the confidence can be built up to create stunning maternity photographs. We see this in the many poses women are comfortable in presenting in maternity photography. Posing is a huge exercise in any area of photography, but is especially prominent in maternity photography. The belly and the pregnant woman are the core subject to any maternity photo shoot. And, “Not only do pregnant women frequently pose nude, but their poses often follow the cultural conventions of romantic or glamorous images of women” (Matthews. 95). Some typical modern poses had in maternity photography range from what I call the hand on the belly pose (image 14), the relaxed gazed pose (image 15), and the confident and proud pose (image 16).

Image 13 (Halpin, 1997) The image of McFazlane, which she reacted so positively to. She is depicted as a Goddess.

Image 11 (Nicole Gubelli, 2017) Image 12 (Nicole Gubelli, 2017)

Image 11: The staple of the photo shoots revolve around the belly. It is important to frame the belly as such with the hands. This gentle gesture not only is a motherly look, but also provides overall dimension to the image.

Image 12: A relaxed gazed offers the viewer to get into the mind of the subject and ponder about what she may be thinking.

Image 13 (Nicole Gubelli, 2019)

A confident and proud pose we do not have the client frame the belly with her hands. Typically, she is gazing directly into the camera and has a relaxed look on her face and body language.

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