It’s hard to imagine a more meaningful, special and intimate moment in a woman’s life than when she gives birth – and a Brisbane photographer is capturing it all on film, at the forefront of the emerging genre of birth photography.
Tanya Love, 38, whose business Tanya Love Portrait is based in north-west Brisbane, has been a photographer for almost 15 years, specialising in wedding and “creative conceptual family portraiture” before she turned her had to children and birth photography.
Tanya (pictured below) cut her teeth as a photographer when, as a young mum, she lived in isolation in Mt Isa where her first husband worked in the mines. After opening a small modelling/promotions agency, Tanya found it difficult to find reputable photographers to do model lookbooks, so bought herself a film SLR and the rest – as they say – is history.
“Before long, people were asking if they could pay me to photograph them and it went from there,” Tanya says. “I have always had a personality that gets bored very easily and over the years have found that I go from hobby-to-hobby and job-to-job quite quickly. When I picked up a camera, I noticed that not only did I not get bored over time, my passion grew as much as my skills did.”
Fast forward to Brisbane, 2005, where Tanya and her second husband and her three kids settled, where she worked as a full-time wedding photographer for two years. Two more babies followed – Tanya’s kids are aged 16, 15, 12, 8, 6 – and she found it increasingly difficult to devote all her weekends to wedding work, so she “retired” from photography.
After a stint in retail, Tanya returned to her great love – professional photography – with renewed passion and motivation, and a new focus – children and birth photography. She did her first paid birth photography assignment in 2011. And while her clients range in age, all share a common desire to capture beautiful shots of their births, be they at home or at a hospital.
“I still do the odd wedding, but births and children are where my heart lies,” Tanya says. “Birth photography is a total adrenalin rush for me! Even after all of these years, the miracle that is birth is never lost on me. It is such an honour to be invited into a labouring mumma-to-be’s birthing space, and to know that they trust me enough to capture such an intimate and life-changing moment for their family.
“I still view every birth that I am at with childlike wonder and awe. The strength of a woman’s mind and body can never be underestimated. The hard work that we all put in to bring our babies into our arms is something that I will never understand or tire of seeing. It is an absolutely amazing thing to bear witness to.
“When a wonderful birthing environment is created and the mother-to-be feels completely supported and loved, she can overcome obstacles never thought possible! To witness this, to capture it, and to share in those first intimate moments when a family meets their little one for the first time, well, it leaves me on cloud nine every single time.”
As to downsides to the job, Tanya’s says she loathes the requisite hours in front of a computer. “I think there is a common misconception that photographers spend most of their time schmoozing with celebrities and running around having fun at exotic locations,” she says, with a laugh. “The truth is that for every hour we spend shooting, we spend five or six in front of the computer. It can be very emotionally draining, especially for a creative.”
And as for the unpredictability of working with children and babies, Tanya says this can wreak havoc on her home life. “I block out an ‘on call’ period that is one month in total (two weeks prior to and following the EDD,” she says.
“This can be quite limiting with regards to family holidays and travel for interstate jobs. It can be a bit complicated to juggle my kids around a labouring mum too at times, because as you can imagine, when I get that call, I literally have to drop whatever I am doing and get there as fast as possible.
“And of course there’s the light. As photographers, we are forever chasing light, and in most birthing spaces, there is a great lack of it! This can make for some incredibly difficult shooting conditions, but I have been known to become very resourceful too.”
Tanya’s proudest moments are when she gets the shot. “There are so many ‘not to be missed’ moments when photographing a birth, and obviously, there is no chance for a reshoot,” she says. “Generally, shooting conditions can be very difficult with low light, fast movements and the need to be discrete, so it really does get the blood pumping.
“It is a job which involves a deep level of intimacy, trust and respect and one that I never take lightly. As soon as I enter the birthing space, I take special care to notice the kind of space that the mother-to-be has created for herself and to adopt an approach that will accommodate this. The ability to have empathy, and great communication skills are of paramount importance to ensure that I don’t miss any signals that could create a situation that is uncomfortable for the mother to be or that would impede the ability of her caregivers to provide the support that she needs.”
Tanya fondly recalls seeing many a dad faint, gag and run out of the room, but she has no problem with the “business end” at all.
“You have to be a master multi-tasker!” she says, “always observing for the slightest change in the labouring mother, watching body language, listening for changes in breathing and vocalisations. And you’re always anticipating where the staff/midwives will be moving to next so as not to be in their way, constantly changing lighting conditions as the mother to be changes her position and moves to different places in the room, or in her home if it is a homebirth.
“I have often found myself standing up on furniture or crammed into tight little corners to avoid being in the way. A birth/labour can change so quickly and be so unpredictable that you must always be on your toes, with the correct lens and equipment at the ready in case you have to change your set-up in a millisecond.
“I think it is important for every birth photographer to have had the experience of giving birth themselves as it really helps them to empathise with the mother and to understand the entire process as well.”
Tanya’s inspired by “amazingly talented artists” in her emerging photography genre and her amazing subjects, of course. “A client of mine once said to me: ‘Tan, seeing the world through your eyes makes it truly beautiful place’. I think of that often and hope that I am always able to elicit this kind of reaction from my images,” she says.
“I know that this sounds cliché, but humanity inspires me: the love of a child, the look of wonder in their eyes as they peer down my lens; the bond between a couple when they welcome their child earth side; hands touching, eyes meeting; the love of a grandmother seeing her grandbaby for the first time; the gentle touch as a toddler holds their new baby brother or sister. “Oh, and colour – colour inspires me more than anything. I just adore colour, and have a real affinity for colour psychology, but that’s a whole other story.”
For more information on Tanya Love Portrait, visit www.tanyalove.com.au.
Nicole is a Queensland-based writer and bona fide word nerd whose first love (apart from heels) is feature writing. Follow Nicole on Twitter.