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Opinion

Photographing the new arrival

Perhaps the most striking photograph depicting the moment of birth is a black and white taken by Wayne F. Miller. It shows a baby boy, still attached to his mother by the umbilical cord and glistening with amniotic fluid, cradled in the hands of a doctor. The photograph became the centerpiece of the landmark "Family of Man" exhibition curated by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955.

Even though Mr. Miller was a professional, this was in many ways a family photo. The newborn was his son, David. The mother, her body swaddled in sheets, was Mr. Miller's wife, Joan. Even the doctor, an obstetrician at St Luke's Hospital in Chicago, was related; he was the photographer's 's father.

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Fathers trying to emulate Mr. Miller's work would have a tough time today. Beyond the issue of photographic prowess — Mr. Miller's work appeared in Life magazine — there are now hospital policies regulating photographing and video taping of births. One that made news recently was the policy of the Meritus Medical Center in Hagerstown that prohibited video, film and still photography of deliveries until five minutes after birth. A hospital spokeswoman said that during that interval, tests are run to ensure that the baby and mother are stable. Once the principal players are determined to be in fine fettle, the cameras can roll.

This policy has met some opposition. According to the Associated Press a mother giving birth to her eighth child in the Hagerstown hospital she wanted her husband to capture the entire delivery on film. Jennifer Taylor , a Hagerstown mental health counselor , said having a video of the birth can help mothers recover from post-partum depression. Not all women want photographs of themselves giving birth, but those who do should find hospitals that give them that option, Ms. Taylor said.

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The birth of a baby is an exciting moment, but it is also a medical event and many Baltimore area hospitals have similar hold-the photo- rules. . The Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson requires that would-be photographers and videographers obtain the permission of the attending physicians — a common requirement — and also station themselves and their cameras at the head of the delivery bed.

Finally there is the question of what happens to the subjects of these intimate photos once they mature. As for David Miller, the once glistening newborn is now in his 60s. Even though the photo of his arrival in the world has been reprinted many times over, he had difficulty replicating his father's work. He told Smithsonian magazine that when he tried to take photographs of the birth of his daughters, he fainted..


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