The veteran photographer speaks about parenting, social media and how to take a photo that captures a child's spirit 

From babies in flower pots or asleep and cradled in the hands of their parents, and sitting in cabbage leaves, the work of few photographers is as recognisable as Anne Geddes'.

In her three-decade-long-career, the Australian photographer who is based in New York has made - a very adorable - stamp on the world of photography by capturing the images of hundreds of children. 

The Independent spoke to Geddes in the follow-up to the launch of her retrospective book: Anne Geddes: Small World which features some of her most famous and as well as never-before-seen images of babies. 

On how parents should try to capture their children in photographs 

Often it's simplicity that’s very hard to achieve. That's what I always strive for: to keep it simple. You can have the most beautiful props and everything is prepared but it doesn't come alive until the baby is in the image. It's really important to have a sense of being in touch with the child's humanity and  I think a lot of people miss that in my work. Nothing has changed since I first picked up a camera and the way I feel about what constitutes a beautiful image. It needs to be honest. 

Don’t have everything too cluttered - it's about the essence of the child in my portraiture. Don’t dress them up in their Sunday best. If you have a two-year-old who doesn't want to wear the same colour socks just let them be themselves to get a sense of their character. Childhood is very fleeting, so photograph them as often as you can. 

Keep the background simple, the lighting simple, and don't use flash because it kills the atmosphere. If you're outside the light in the early morning or late afternoon light is beautiful. And get down on their level because that’s how children see the world. And finally always try to include yourself in the image as often as you can. A lot of adults say ‘I’m the one taking picture or I don't want be in photo because I don’t photograph well'. It’s going to be very important for your child when they are an adult to look back and see you when you were young. It will allow them to have opportunity to mock you for your hairstyle and clothing choices. I’m saying this from experience!

On mothers being honest on social media 

I think that’s fantastic that mothers are being honest on social media about parents. These days a lot of women, in this instance because women have to have the babies, it's quite isolating. Families aren’t necessarily living in the same city or town like they used to generations ago. You don't have someone like your mother there to come and take the baby and give you advice or say ‘don’t worry, it’s all good this is normal’. 

On seeing babies she captured as children as adults 

We started a project called Baby Look at You Now on Instagram and Facebook. We posted a photo of the cabbage twins as they are today. We got these two chubby little babies in cabbages and these twins as they are in their 20s dressed in tuxedos at their brother’s wedding. If anyone has been photographed by me and wants to be a part of it they should contact: Babylookatyournow@gmail.com.

There’s an image that I shot in 1993 of a premature in baby black and white in some very big hands. She weighed 2.2lbs in that image. In the US one in nine babies are born prematurely. So many parents have approached me to say 'I had a premature baby and I had that baby on my fridge door or on my child’s crib and I’d stare at it and think ‘if she can survive and there’s hope for my baby'.' She’s now 23. We stayed in touch with her over the years and she's now a photographer and artist. I like to think I had something to do with that. 

On her career photographing children 

It can be hilarious depending on the age of the child. Now I’m photographing newborns and six-month-olds. Newborns are always sleeping and children who are six to seven months old just sit confidently and can't crawl. So I’ve narrowed down the target area, but it's very challenging to specialise in children of all ages and there are some very funny moments. It can be exhausting. There’s nothing you can do with a two year old that’s having a bad day. You have to be a psychologist when photographing little children. Over the years I have learned to deal with kids of any ages. There's a vast difference between a nine-month-old and 12-month-old and an 18-month-old. You have to be quick on your feet. Children of course have no respect for the fact that you’re a photographer. 

On parents taking photos of their kids

Sometimes I feel like saying put the camera down and be in that moment. I sympathise with parents these days because it must be challenging in terms of allowing children access to social media and video games and things like that. But I see little children in strollers being pushed down the street and looking at a screen and playing a game or a TV in the back of cars. How are these children going to develop imaginations? You can’t have a still mind and be creative when you’re bombarded with distractions. It’s going to be interesting to see how that sort of world develops. Children need time to sit quietly and learn to be comfortable with themselves.

I was born in 1956 and I lived on a cattle station in the far north of Australia, so I was very much in touch with nature. Pretty much all of the work that I’ve done is in some way connected to nature. I had plenty of time to be silent and to just be outside and think about things, and make up games and just sort of be in my own zone and enjoy my own company. 

On social media and banning phones at her shoots 

Today there are too many distractions. People are constantly on their phones. What is so important that you can't walk and look around you? When I do shoots in the studio with my crew I always say 'no phones'. We have to concentrate on what we're doing here and be in this moment. Nothing is so urgent that you have to check your phone every two minutes. 

A lot of the images that I see on Instagram are so vacuous. There are some great Instagram feeds and I do my own Instagram and try to make it significant and interesting and personal. I think it’s more important in this day and age for professional photographers to create classic images that last for generations, and to create an image that makes somebody stop and just get goosebumps and look at it and think ‘oh my gosh!’.

Anne Geddes: Small World published by Taschen is out in March 2017

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