Paula Brown hasn’t photographed many births — yet — but she’s hooked. “It’s the most amazing genre to shoot. It’s raw, powerful, emotional, unscripted, unconventional…”
A Southland mother of three, Paula wanted photos of her children’s births. She ended up with two “cringe-inducing” videos and a handful of photos that, while meaningful, weren’t exactly fantastic. One day, while browsing a photography site, Paula came across some professional birth photos and immediately realised she’d found her passion.
Since then Paula has photographed births at home, birthing centres and the hospital. She’s shot the “before” and “after” of a C-section and driven pell mell to get to a faraway birth (arriving six minutes before the baby!) She’s also set up birthphotography.co.nz, a resource of professional birth photographers. Birth photography is still a rarity in NZ and some photographers have done only one or two births among dozens of weddings and maternity shoots. But, like Paula, they tend to fall in love with the work, feeling privileged to be part of such an intimate event.
Not so much a fly-on-the-wall type, Paula finds her role occasionally overlaps with that of a doula. As a “civilian”, she finds parents sometimes look to her rather than the medical staff for reassurance.
“I am really calm, birth doesn’t scare me, and of course I am not a midwife so I have no poker face. So I find dads glance at me if they are feeling nervous and when they see I am calm they feel calm.”
At other times, she’s someone for Dad to chat to when Mum wants to be left alone. It’s one of her selling points that she makes a mean cup of coffee.
Paula has encountered her share of negativity regarding birth photography — the “eew” response. She attributes this largely to a culture that’s afraid of birth. Paula isn’t, but she hastens to add that she doesn’t expect birth to be picture-perfect either.
“People think they have to be amazing birthers to have a photographer there. That’s so not true at all. You just have to want to have your story captured... All the birth photographers [on her website] have experience photographing birth and we have all had kids. We know what it’s like. We know it’s not glamorous.”
But if you’re determined to let an amateur take the photos, Paula has some excellent advice: “Shoot from her hip. That way you can capture tasteful shots of baby coming and the wonderful emotion on Mum’s face, unless she is on her hands and knees and then go where you can catch the emotion. It’s the most powerful storyteller.”
Somewhat less romantically, she adds: “And NO full on VJJ. It’s never ever, ever going to look nice.