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Monday
Feb082010

Birth, Death & Taxes...

Most photographers would kill to cover a war, an election, a riot, but in reality, most of us are not ready for a photo shoot to become a life or death experience for anyone involved. The closest I’d come to that before was a mother of the bride who drank too much tequila in her Evian bottle prior to the ceremony and fell off the alter…Believe me, photojournalism is the axle which drives this girl, but ethics in capture are not only relevant to the streets of Baghdad. Just as we make choices on how to shoot, we must make choices as why to shoot...



Birth, Death, and Taxes. The three things we are sure of in this life, each affecting our existence in profound ways, but I couldn’t imagine attempting to capture the process of paying taxes on camera. I’m afraid that would take a wide angle…
Capturing birth, now that I’ve done, living at my client’s hospital waiting room, perched on the single-ottoman-excuse –for-a-chair for 22 hours, camera propped at my side, I sat jealous of the zees it croaked as I clicked the power switch on and off in an attempt to jar some life into the process of capturing the most miraculous experience God gave man (and woman). I’d had four children, yet had never been on the “other end”. Suddenly my text “bllllings”and I am notified the time has come. The team was ready for blastoff. The Zombie photographer must rise as I am summoned to the delivery room, a bathing glow of catheterized light beckons me into her lair. The hallway rumbles with muffled verbage as I near the portal of reincarnated kings, Room 208.

I was ready. Or so I thought. Her legs were spread. My eyes were wide. The husband slunk in the corner. Their children sat with their nanny in the corner coloring pictures of unicorns. She was a pop star, he was not. The doctor was famous, the nurse was not. I was exhausted, the baby….well, let’s just say we understood each other; Our senses collided in kinship, both locked in a room with people we did not know, the air being sucked out of our lungs, the lights burning our eyes, and unaware of what the next push may bring. The medication created a surreal ease to the Mom, almost a stoned like haze and benign detachment to the process, unaware that the medical bracelet she wore revealed her actual age. The doctor’s orders barked gently through the blip of the fetal monitor, push after push, like a salmon swimming upstream the baby glurbed forward, then back, then forward, then back, then….he stopped. The salmon hit a rock he could not maneuver around. The waves slapped at his back and his gills flapped against the waves. The air filled. My heart raced. The nurse moved…quickly. I shuttled to the back of the room, clicking my shutter as though nothing were wrong, as though the salmon was fine. The doctor’s hands which once held his own image in People, grappled for the forceps, the protection of competence clasping the challenged calm of his face. The not so famous nurse laid her body over the pop star’s belly, pushing with all of her Slovakian might. The king had crowned, his septar grounded in the womb and refusing to un-earth.  The father got up. The children drew unicorns. The doctor cleared his throat. The nurse was the flight attendant on the crashing plane, not a wink of alarm to concern the passengers on this journey…

I had placed myself in the unfathomable position of witnessing two of the most certain elements of life occur at one time. And no, this had nothing to do with taxes…
To what degree should we as photographers put our wellbeing not just physically, but emotionally at risk? Not much can go wrong at a funeral. The worst has already occurred. The images captured reflect the final moments of a loved one’s life. I was simply hired to capture the beginning of life. For the very first time, I realized, I am not wonder woman with a lens. Forty-eight hours without sleep, I left room 208 with images of a beautiful, recovering, healthy baby boy. The doctor’s silver strands shifted to a slightly darker shade of graphite, the siblings coo’ed over his tiny head as the father stroked his cheek. I witnessed a miracle, captured the first moments of life outside the salmon stream, but why was I so numb? My passion for my job became the energy source needed to propel me through the boot-camp of birth photography. I couldn’t help but thinking, what if I left without images of his sisters cooing to the beat of his twitching fingers stumbling across his nose.  What if …
What if I had suffered emotional damage due to the fact I had placed myself in such a precarious position? I was not a loved one there to support my family or friend. I was hired to observe and capture as beings played the eternal game of fetal roulette. The fact is, is that birth is a natural occurrence, but even natural herbs can be dangerous.  Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Just because I can be hired to cover a birth, doesn’t mean I should. Sometimes as photographers we get so used to saying yes, to accepting a job because it is something new or different, we don’t step back and weigh the potential consequences of our choice.

Of course, if this birth had gone smoothly, if he weren’t blue and limp when he emerged, if he had been breathing right away, if the doctor weren’t awkwardly famous and fumbling, if the father hadn’t slept through half of the labor and if the children hadn’t been coloring unicorns in the face of death, I may have looked at this experience a little bit differently.  The little boy is healthy and lives a perfectly normal pop star life now, the father is still narcoleptic, and I’m afraid to ask what the siblings are drawing now, but what I have drawn from this life choice, is the ability to stop, and to think about why I am adopting a particular position as a photographer.

I left through the visitors’ gate after subconsciously attempting to exit the employee driveway, made my way to the nearest hotel room as I was too exhausted to make the 45-minute drive home. The streetlights morphed into a kaleidoscope of octogons, eyelids folding down like garage doors off their track. I was fried. Fried as an ovary over easy in the Egg McMuffin of life.

There will be times in your career to place yourself at risk. For me, I opted to create my own version of birth photography, The First 48. Entering the hospital within the first 48 hours of life, I am able to enjoy the process of welcoming a child into this world in an emotionally safe environment where I feel I am truly contributing to the joy and sharing of new life. I welcome the doctors and nurses into the room and embrace a job well done. I exit through the right gate and return home to my children a fresh and fulfilled parent. As for the emotional roulette, I’ll save that for Baghdad…

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