If you know me and my work, you know that the photo above… well, it isn’t.

This photo was taken in 2010. Back then I was trying to find my voice. I didn’t know my point of view. I was doing what everyone else did, because that’s all I knew how to do.

So let’s start there.

I got an e-mail today from an editor with Parents Magazine asking photographers to send her their newborn images to use in her article. 

I get e-mails somewhat regularly from people who want to use my photos for their projects… I’ve had artists who want to create renderings of my photos, people who want to use them for website banners, and of course the press.

I often just ignore them if they’re “big media”. I am in this life for honest relationships, and big media outlets aren’t interested in creating relationships. They simply want to find awesome photos that they can use for free. 

Today’s e-mail was really no different… but for some reason it caught my attention. It was like the sender was TRYING to see the real point of the matter, but was blinded to it. Somewhat like I was back in 2010 when I was learning how to take photos of newborns in positions that they can not actually be in in real life.

I was missing the point.
See if you can guess what triggered me about this e-mail:

I’m an editor at Parents magazine, and I’m putting together a fun, visual piece for the September issue, which we’re working on now. Did you know that September 9 is the most common birthday in the United States? I’m doing an an article that will be a photo spread of up to eight babies all born on the same day. I’m looking for newborn portraits of babies born on September 9, 2016 that were taken in the first 10 days of the baby’s life. Ideally, the photo will be in color, and it’ll be just of the baby (no parents or siblings). We’ll put them together, along with quotes from the parents about how crazy and amazing this first year has been. 

Did you catch that?

Ideally, the photo will be JUST OF THE BABY. No parents or siblings.

I closed the e-mail and moved on, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I always capture plenty of images of the baby alone without parents or siblings, but they are shown in context with others. 

How can you convey a relatable story without any context?

Yes, I was bothered by the fact that they were asking me to do the work of sourcing their “stock photos” for them and not offering to pay me for my work, but this time that annoyance took a back burner. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it the emphasis they put on the photo being JUST OF THE BABY.

So here I am an hour later.

I realize that my point of view – Get in the picture – is not widely visible. I know that I have to talk to my clients about this concept a lot in order to ensure that they don’t remove themselves from the stories of their children’s lives. I could see that she was interested in the story. So I decided to e-mail her back.

Hi Marisa,

Thank you for your inquiry! I was grateful to hear from you. It’s wonderful to know my work is appreciated.

I wanted to share some food for thought from my perspective as a story-based lifestyle family photographer: What if you were doing a huge dis-service to everyone (most of all your readers!) when you leave the family out of the picture.

When I open up your article, as a parent, I want to see other parents that I can connect with. I want to see people who share MY experience. I want to imagine myself as part of their tribe.

Maybe I’m one of two moms, or a single dad. Maybe I’m in a mixed-race family. Maybe my baby was adopted and his birth mom is part of his story. Maybe I’m part of a traditional heterosexual same-race family. No matter…

When I see another family like mine that’s what will make me connect.

A photo of a newborn alone is beautiful in the same way a baby toy is beautiful.

The baby is truly beautiful in relationship with those who love it, just as the toy is truly beautiful when it is being played with by the gleeful or focused baby.

A photo of a newborn alone is about physical appearance only. It is missing the entire story.

Food for thought.

Serra Hadsell

Photographer

I did not expect a response.
 
To my surprise, she took the time to write back almost immediately.
What she said in her reply showed me just how far I have left to go.
Hi Serra,
That’s definitely something to consider, and if you want to send along a family shot, too, we’ll definitely take a look. But what we’re trying to get across is more how babies can be born on the same day and be so similar in some ways and different in others. I can see how a family can enhance that, but with only so much room on the page I’m afraid the babies might get swallowed up. But send along what you like and we’ll give it a look!
Thanks,
Marisa
Babies are not swallowed up by their families. They are an integral part of their families!
 
 
 
Here’s the truth:

A photo of a newborn alone highlights that baby as an object.

A photo of a newborn in context highlights that baby as a person.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments. 

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