Photographing Beauty, Purity, and Vulnerability of Children: An Interview with Anne Geddes
Self-taught Anne Geddes got started by picking up a camera at the age of 25 and became one of the most iconic photographers of our time. It isn’t every day that you get the opportunity to briefly interview such a creative force, and she took a few moments out of her busy day of shooting to answer a few questions.
You began an amazing, organic journey in that you didn’t have any formal training, yet you became such a pioneer in this industry. Could you talk for a bit about what drew you to your chosen subject of newborns and motherhood?
I didn’t pick up a camera until I was 25, which is a great example for anyone who wants to be involved in the arts—you can start at any time at all. My career trajectory wasn’t an obvious one. I went to school in Northern Australia and there were no photography courses there. I’d always loved images of people and the concept of capturing a still image in time and it being there forever—that one moment. I used to subscribe to LIFE magazine, which was so incredible at the time in the way that these amazing photographers—mainly photojournalists but also a lot of great portrait photographers as well—were able to tell a story visually through the use of these amazing images. There’s nothing really like it today. These were the days before Photoshop, so these images you were looking at were real.
When I first picked up my camera, I was the first serious photographer that I’d ever known. I started doing portraiture, which is a common way for people to start out. I loved capturing expressions and moments and knew this is what I really wanted to do. I did this for the first ten years of my career. It taught me how to relate to people and how to work with families and young children. It is difficult at the best of times to connect with a child who considers you a stranger. To be able to do that as a portrait photographer in a short period of time and have the parents say to you, “Oh my goodness, you’ve totally captured their personality,” is wonderful and requires a level of skill that people don’t always think to appreciate. I think it is a great training ground for new photographers, no matter what age, to start by photographing people. When it comes to dealing with children, there is a vast difference between how you relate to a 6 month old and a 9 month old and a 12 month old and a 2 year old. You have to be a bit of a psychologist as well! Ten years of doing that really taught me how to relate to people. As I’ve gotten older, the subject matter has gotten a lot younger of course.
While you were a commercial portrait photographer, you took one day per month to break away and expand creatively. Would you say these sessions are where your recognizable Anne Geddes-style was born?
Absolutely. A lot of photographers in advertising and other commercial areas focusing on children don’t do it full-time because it is exhausting. Children are unpredictable subjects. I got to the point where I was photographing two portraits a day, five days per week. I needed an outlet where I was shooting to my own agenda as opposed to pleasing others. I carved out one day per month that was just for me; where I could do what I liked. That is where my creative images started happening, such as Cabbage Kids and also the first image I took, which was a photograph of a little boy, Joshua, hanging in a sling. Gradually I started to build up a portfolio of these images and people suggested doing a line of greeting cards. The first greeting cards also incorporated a mix of images I had created from the portraiture years, so there was a mix to start, though gradually I was able to let portraiture go and just work to my own agenda, which was fantastic.
How did you push yourself creatively when you branched out like this? Where did you draw your inspiration from?
I had to deliver 12 images per year for the calendar and something like 36 images for greeting cards to include the major holidays such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, etc. and that was my motivation to push myself creatively.
I’d like to hear more about your process. I’m drawn to your very simple photographs, such as Emily Holding Thompson, which struck a chord with me after my son was born.
He’s 15 now! Some of those classic images were featured in my third book, Pure. That is one of my favorite books actually.
Emily Holding Thompson
It is a powerful image. Yes, you have these simple, classic shots but then you have these recognizable and iconic photographs of children in beautiful costumes and whimsical settings. Where do you draw your inspiration from for these incredible props and costumes, such as the babies in the sunflower patch and babies dressed as colorful butterflies? Where do your ideas come from?
I’m always telling a story with my images. When I created my first coffee table book in the 1990s, Down in the Garden, my girls were small (they are now 31 and 28). I wanted to create a fantastical world of fairytales with gnomes and flower pots and fairies that are down in the garden. I’m happiest in that storytelling mode, such as what I’m doing tomorrow at CreativeLive by shooting a Mother’s Day image. I’m also in storytelling mode at my shoot today as well, which is creating another three images that will be a part of the 2017 calendar with the theme of “signs of the zodiac.” I’m always telling stories and that is where the ideas come from. A lot of the ideas also simply come from nature.
What can the viewers expect tomorrow during the Mother’s Day card shoot at CreativeLive? Is it truly start to finish, setup and all the way through?
Yes. I haven’t done anything like this before and it is a great challenge to do it with a live audience. It is really nice to be able to think that people will be watching and enjoying what I’m doing and I’ll be talking about my process along the way. I hope to have three babies in the final image, though I won’t tell you what the theme is because it is a surprise. I’ll be working with my team that I work with all of the time, such as my props and styling person, Dawn McGowan, with whom I’ve been working for about 25 years, since Down in the Garden. We read each other’s minds and there is a lot of history behind what we do that we can reference. I think that is one of the things that people may enjoy watching, pulling from past experiences to create this new image. We’ll start in the morning and we don’t yet know what we’ll end up with, but it will be something beautiful. We have a big Epson printer here and I always like to print my work out after I shoot it because it makes it real. I’m from that generation where that brings a sense of satisfaction and completion. It is way better than just looking at an image on a screen.
What an opportunity for us all to go on a shoot with you. People are really going to enjoy being able to watch you and learn. Will postproduction be included as well?
Yes, postproduction is included, so you will really see the whole thing. If people have any specific questions to ask, they should write them down when they register for the event because we’ll have a Q&A as well. Just don’t ask how I get these babies to sleep because I don’t know! [laughs]
I have so many other questions to ask about working with these temperamental creatures! I will ask you another time.
And you’ll just have to watch tomorrow as well!
Please join CreativeLive and Anne Geddes tomorrow for a very special FREE, LIVE event:
The FREE event starts at 9:00 AM PST and ends at 4:00 PM. All those who RSVP will also receive a PDF image of the card. You’ll also have the amazing opportunity to ask Anne questions during the Q&A, so be sure to start thinking of what you’d really like to ask!
Jessabella Riding Seahorse
One of the worlds most respected photographers, Anne Geddes creates images that are iconic, multi-award winning, internationally acclaimed, and beloved. Her photographs have appeared around the world in her many books and calendars. Throughout her career Anne Geddes has continued to give back. In 1992, Anne with her husband, Kel, founded The Geddes Philanthropic Trust to raise funds and awareness worldwide for the prevention of child abuse and neglect. In 2011, Anne was proud to announce her partnership with the United Nations Every Woman Every Child initiative, which she hopes will continue to help make the health and welfare of pregnant women, and newborn children, a global priority. Anne is also the Global Advocate for the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign which aims to provide access to basic life-saving immunizations to children in the developing world. Continuing her advocacy for vaccine access, Anne has also photographed a global campaign titled “Protecting Our Tomorrows: Portraits of Meningococcal Disease.” Anne’s work has been published in 83 countries and Anne’s latest photographic series “Under The Sea” was released in July 2014.