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The History of Professional Birth Photography in South Africa | As Told By Alda Smith & Marysol Blomerus | Your Pregnancy Magazine

In Africa we have a proverb, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Years ago, we chose collaboration over competition. We fought hard for friendship and respect instead of insecurity. By doing so we were able to grow the art of birth photography in South Africa from non-existent to thriving. It is now a booming industry creating businesses all throughout the nation. Our hope is that birth photographers in this land will be ones known for professionalism, excellence, and a generous serving culture.

Today I announced formally stepping down from my operational leadership contributions at SABPA (South African Birth Photographers Association) of which I am a co-founder, in order to spend more time on my family and business. Here is an excerpt from SABPA:

The entire SAPBA team is grateful for her years of voluntary service in the pioneering and spearheading of this industry as SABPA’s co-founder. Her and Alda’s vision was always one where collaboration won over competition and that is the spirit in which Marysol served –  opening doors for more families and birth photographers throughout our nation to be able to have professional birth photography. We are indebted to her contribution to the formalization of birth photography with hospitals and care providers by upholding a high standard of integrity and excellence and we sincerely thank her. Marysol will now serve on SABPA’s independent advisory board (which is responsible for SABPA policy, procedure, and ethical practise development) and still remain a registered member of SABPA so it is definitely not goodbye.  Alda will remain the Chair of SABPA with Lourens de Jager as Administrative Manager and Johann as Technical Manager.  The team will also be joined by Kristen van Staden who has been approved as the new Member & Stakeholder Relationship Manager for SABPA.

I am in the continual process of making very brave and intentional choices for the short season I have with my young children. This decision was a taxing one for me personally but one I am deeply at peace with. One can only do a few things well at a time and be laser focused on that excellence, which means ending some other very worthwhile endeavors. I know its right. And furthermore, I am confident that SABPA’s leadership is in good hands moving forward.

With this announcement, I felt this was the perfect time to chronicle our story as featured in Your Pregnancy Magazine. 

Photo Credit: Veronique Photography

Your Pregnancy caught up with Alda Smith and Marysol Blomerus, two working mothers of three children each, who together are pioneering this growing artform in South Africa.

ON BECOMING THE FIRST BIRTH PHOTOGRAPHERS IN SOUTH AFRICA:

“I accidentally stumbled into birth photography almost ten years ago when I visited home for a friend’s birth,” remembers Marysol. I happened to have my camera with me as I was supporting my friend and she asked me to take some photos. There, serendipitously I found the hybrid of the ultimate documentary experience and in 2008 I founded Blomerus Photography.”

“I actually thought I had made birth photography up,” laughs Alda. “I was having my third child in 2013 and wanted a photographer. Little did I know I would go on to start Love Alda Birth Photography & Mentoring that year and become a co-pioneer for birth photography in South Africa! Marysol and I laugh that had we met in time we would have hired each other for our births, but we had our third babies two weeks apart and literally grew an industry side by side whilst raising our little ones of the same age.”

“We met at a birth event and I was actually relieved to have found Alda,’ recalls Marysol. “It’s important for a birth photographer to have a back-up in the event of overlap, illness or emergencies. Before she came, there was no one else. I loved her work and we hit it off from day one.”

“We were both hesitant about being competitors,” admits Alda. “The industry was still in its infancy. It was hard enough getting into hospitals let alone booking clients. We had many open conversations about choosing to work together.”

“To lay aside being competitors and choose collaboration instead was a choice we both made,” agrees Marysol. “We each have our separate business models and styles, but we believe when the tide rises all boats float.”

Alda affirms, “Yes, and our businesses have grown from it to the point that some times we have waiting lists. We support each other as back-ups and champion each other’s successes.”

“Like when Alda was appointed to represent Nikon as a South African birth photographer,” continues Marysol. “I was so happy for her. She worked so hard and her success benefits the whole industry. For a brand like Nikon to appoint its first professional birth photographer is very validating for all of us.”

“How to grow the industry has always been our heart,” says Alda. “More parents want to have their childrens’ births documented and we are excited to see professional birth photographers starting businesses across the country after registering at the South African Birth Photographers Association (SABPA).”

Marysol adds, “We co-founded SABPA with a spirit of collaboration instead of competition. It was Alda’s brainchild and she could have gone it alone but she invited my voice into the process. And I really appreciated that.”

THE HARDEST PART OF BEING A BIRTH PROFESSIONAL:

“Living on-call and when you do run out not knowing when you will return,” says Alda. “Since we are each mothers of three kids, childcare and really supportive husbands are vital. We have each missed big moments from Christmas morning to kids birthdays in order to be there for our client’s once in a lifetime experience. It’s a labour of love.”

THE BEST PART OF THE JOB:

“There is absolutely nothing like when a baby is born,” beam Marysol. “It is such a rush and so moving. Life really gives you no other experience quite so poignant. It may be tiring, but it never gets old.”

MARYSOL ON WHAT BIRTH PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT: 

It’s not explicit.

“When birth photography first started in South Africa, many of my prospective clients worried it would be gross. Now the demand is increasing every year because the imagery is breathtaking.”

“Birth photography is about the moments of love connection in birth. It can be raw and real but it’s not grotesque. It’s about a father’s facial expression when he sees his baby for the first time or a mother’s tears when she hears that first cry. It should tell your baby’s birth story with integrity and tenderness. Some people are comfortable and open with some nudity in their birth stories in which instance the photographer may be less conservative in her approach, but a strict privacy and publishing code would still apply if the photographer is professional.”

Not intrusive.

“Privacy (or the lack) thereof, is the number one argument that birth facilities, healthcare providers and even fathers sometimes would cite for not wanting a birth photographer present. It is not until they actually experience a professional at work that they realize that not only is a good birth photographer not intrusive, she can actually contribute to holding the birth space for parents.”

Not posed.

“This point ties in with birth photography being non-intrusive. I am a firm believer in the ‘fly-against the wall’ approach when it comes to birth photography and most birth photographers have a photojournalistic approach and style. This gives birth photography its ‘story-telling’ quality. It also means that the photographer truly captures moments and never directs in any way.”

Not about a shot-list.

“Birth knows no time. It’s unpredictable. It’s a journey. A story. Not a shot-list. A shot-list would by default lead to intrusiveness. A shot-list would mean posing and directing. My advice is always to see how the journey unfolds and capture it truthfully and with integrity. We are simply capturing the story, not creating it.”

Not cheap.

“Since a birth photographer doesn’t have that scheduling component, she’s on-call weeks on end. Petrol is always in her vehicle, her bag is packed with expensive gear that she risks traveling with at odd hours of the night. She has back-up gear just in case something goes wrong with her primary equipment, since there’s no do-over for your baby’s birth. She’s skilled in the toughest kind of low light and unpredictable photography. When your birth is over, her work just begins with editing and post production. She’s doesn’t charge by the hour because no woman having a baby deserves that kind of pressure. Even for a scheduled c-section, she’s on-call because often babies do still decide to come spontaneously. For all these reasons, there is a wide range of price points of a birth photographer in South Africa, to suit each client’s budget, but its unrealistic to expect her to be “cheap”. If she is, one should be concerned.”

ALDA & MARYSOL ON WHAT TO ASK WHEN SELECTING A BIRTH PHOTOGRAPHER

  1. Does the photographer tell the whole story? Anyone can have a handful of amazing images, the skill lies in the story the whole way through. Before you make your investment ask to see a complete C-section or natural birth, or a daytime vs. nighttime birth. If the photographer doesn’t have these because she is still building her portfolio, that’s an important disclosure and conversation that needs to be had with her prospective client.
  2. Does the photographer have experience in birth photography (both natural and C-Section)?
  3. Does the photographer have a good report with the medical professionals and institutions in your area?
  4. Is the photographer a registered member of the South African Birth Photographers Association at www.sabirthphotographers.com?
  5. Does the photographer have client references?
  6. Does the photographer have a birth code of conduct and an understanding of hospital and theatre regulations and will she share a copy with you?
  7. Has the photographer’s work been published before?
  8. Will the photographer provide you with a proper birth photography contract?
  9. Will the photographer be 100% on-call and ready to attend your birth at any hour?

ALDA EXPLAINS THE ROLE OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN BIRTH PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSOCIATION

“The South African Birth Photographers Association (SABPA), founded by Alda Smith & Marysol Blomerus, aims to encourage the development and growth of the professional birth photography industry in South Africa. It was born out of a desire to help grow the industry for other new photographers.”

“It is not an accreditation or regulatory body, but instead empowers parents, photographers, hospitals and healthcare providers by providing them with the necessary tools and resources to uphold the integrity, safety and privacy of the birth space and its role players whilst allowing parents to have their birth stories captured in a beautiful manner. There was once a time in South Africa when birth photography wasn’t allowed and that is still true for some parts of the country. We are working tirelessly to change that and bridge the gap between medicine and the humanities.”

 

 

 

 

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