Remember Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair, back in 1991? That iconic photograph of a naked Moore, cradling her seven-month baby bump, is easily the most famous maternity photograph of all time. Shot by Annie Leibovitz, the image, celebrating the beauty of a pregnant body, played a key role in charting a new course for portrait photography, sparking a trend that is just gaining traction in India — a mother and her baby bump, captured for posterity.
When you think of maternity photography, it’s probably not your first impulse to think of a man behind the lens. After all, many men aren’t exactly comfortable being around an oversized, pregnant belly, are they? Well, here’s a few of them who don’t conform to that stereotype.
“Deep down, most women would want to preserve their maternity days,” says Jayant Bhoopalam, a Bengaluru based engineer-turned photographer. “I have had women who have married for 10 years, conceiving only recently, come in for a shoot, as well as young couples who have travelled and have seen their colleagues in the west getting maternity shoots done and want something similar for themselves.” Though Bhoopalam studied engineering and worked in the IT sector, he never found his true calling until circumstances handed him a bag of cameras and lenses. After a successful test run in January 2014, he formally opened Baby Theory with three other partners. According to him, the last one year has seen a surge in couples wanting to take maternity photographs, with more photographers entering the space.
“Being a guy, I can only imagine how a woman would feel when she gets to know she is going to have a baby”, says Delhi-based maternity photographer Amit Chhabra, who worked in the financial sector for more than 20 years. “Every decision henceforth is dependent on the little child, who isn’t even born yet. Capturing these special moments for the couples helps them preserve these moments forever. Mostly, metropolitan cities or smaller cities attached to them are the places where maternity photography has started gaining popularity, where the young moms want to explore different concepts in maternity shoots.”
Chhabra’s fascination with photography began when he was a young boy, experimenting with old film cameras, and stayed with him during his time in the US. He built a huge portfolio of high end fashion photography overseas, and having decided that photography was what made him happy, decided to open his studio in Delhi two years ago, where he specialises in maternity and children’s shoots.
“Maternity photography requires immense patience,” says Chhabra. “As a photographer, it is very important to make the model feel comfortable, and communication becomes key during the session. The anticipation of the family and the curiosity of the siblings make for memorable moments that last for a lifetime.”
For Bengaluru based photographer Anup J Kat, maternity photography was a natural extension of his love for underwater photography. Kat specialises in wedding and underwater photography and was handed his first camera at the age of 8; he’s done dive training in the Andamans and an underwater filming course in Thailand, and the transition from numbers to the camera seemed very natural.
Kat doesn’t shoot maternity photos “on ground.” “I am more than happy to shoot underwater,” laughs Kat, who has photographed his pregnant wife floating in a tub of milky water. “Earlier they would be lot of superstitions, especially if a woman was pregnant, about stepping into water, but slowly that is changing. Most of my clients have been very comfortable in the pool.”
The scope of the shoots has been widening. Women and couples have become more adventurous and experimental — Kat has used props like cloth and balloons while shooting underwater, and Bhoopalam has succeeded in creating what he terms the Star Trek effect — a mother’s silhouette, merged with an image of the sunlight shot with motion, giving a totally surreal effect. “I do put time and effort into making it a fun shoot for all, “says Bhoopalam. “I have special attachment to the pics I shot of my wife in her 7th month. We had the whole of Brindavan Garden in Mysore to ourselves, and I really enjoyed it.”
Both Bhoopalam and Chhabra only shoot with women who are in their seventh and eighth month of pregnancy, and their focus is on ensuring the safety of the subject. “My ideas are inspired by what I have seen in other photographs or videos, and I usually sketch it out for my clients before we get into the water,” says Kat. “Once I am in the water, it is difficult to know just exactly how the photograph has come out, as I only review it after I get back on ground. So I ensure the client has a full understanding of the shot beforehand.”
The key to avoiding any awkwardness, according to these men behind the lenses, is to keep up a steady stream of conversation, lighthearted banter or perhaps have a female assistant on the shoot. “At weddings, a bride trusts you to be her companion,” says Kat, “and being allowed in this private space has helped me in maternity photography. I know when I need to talk and when I need to draw the line. I am their girlfriend on these shoots.” The photographers are confident that maternity photography as a trend is here to stay in India. A growing economy, double-income couples and couples who are more in tune with the latest trends will only fuel the demand for such shoots.