When I began to do research for my first maternity session, I felt like I kept finding pregnancy cliches – heart hands, chiffon over bellies, baby shoes – but I rarely found photos that told me something unique about the couple being photographed. And then on Pinterest, I came across a black and white photo of a couple together in a small bathroom. He’s shaving and the woman’s fluffing her hair with her big belly pushed up against the sink. Now, this told a story! It was intimate and beautiful and honest.
I’ve come to photography after decades spent on the other side of the camera, as an actor. An old acting teacher of mine used to always say variations of, “The camera is a truth seeker.” He believed, and I agree, that the camera has this uncanny ability to highlight whether someone is having a truthful moment, or faking it. And truth is why we are drawn to some performances while others feel false. The camera celebrates honesty and vulnerability. I think this is just as true for portrait photography as it is for movies. Our images sing when we capture something authentic and raw and they fall flat when we don’t believe the smile prompted by a “say cheese!”
I sent the bathroom photo I found off to my client, with a note about how much it inspired me. She was immediately on board with the idea of a documentary session. This is Sarah and her husband’s first child and I loved the idea of capturing a morning in their life together and what that looks like at this moment in time, about a month or so before the baby’s arrival. After describing this approach to them, they loved the idea of having a record of this time, as well.
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Both Sarah and Jean Michel are actors and comfortable on camera, which unquestionably made my job easier. My approach to documentary photography isn’t to tell them that I’ll be “a fly on the wall”. I find that when people are trying to ignore something that is happening, it’s incredibly difficult to behave normally. I prefer to engage and by all of us acknowledging the reality of the situation, I find the camera and the awkwardness disappear. I arrived and we chatted while the two of them went about making breakfast together. It’s clearly a well-loved routine in their lives (and one that will undoubtedly change with the arrival of their little one).
I took a lot of photos, moving throughout their space and finding different angles and compositions. Clothing changes, and therefore a number of different looks, happened naturally as Sarah got dressed for the day, did some stretching, became too hot and changed again. They moved through their morning, sometimes coming together in the frame, sometimes doing their own thing. I made sure not just to document the two of them, but their space, their routine, the pile of baby clothes and cards from the recent shower, the cat. I want them to be able to look through these photos with their daughter in ten years, when pre-child life seems like distant history, when maybe they’re in a new home, and for all of them to be able to see a glimpse of this time… To be able to remember the beautiful light in their first apartment together, the two of them laughing and connecting, and most of importantly how excited they were for her arrival.
Guest post writing and images are from photographer, Sarah Sido
About Sarah Sido: Sarah is a documentary family and event photographer, as well as an actor. She started to learn photography in earnest about seven years ago when her then boyfriend (now husband) recruited her to shoot stills on a short documentary project. With the birth of their son, she realized that she was in many ways more interested in the real stories unfolding around her than in fiction. Though at the end of the day she’s searching the same things, regardless of which side of the camera she is on: honesty, relationships, vulnerability, and humor. Sarah lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and dog, Comrade, who’s extra long tongue regularly shows up on her Instagram account.