Sunday, 24 February 2013


When my babies were born, people told me they were beautiful, but I knew they were being polite. My babies were born beautifully, but what birth did to them was no aesthetic. They were squished, swollen and bruised and not the least bit beautiful. Of course, now that I am a mother myself, it is this very grumpy, very ugliness that stirs the greatest emotions in me regarding babies, but they were not, for many weeks, beautiful.

I remember being given a voucher for newborn photography with the Elfling at one of those shopping centre places hawked by those that spring out between racks of tiny clothes and ask you to sign up for packages before you've even seen the shots. And while I baulked at the idea of the ubiquitous gerbera behind the ear, I allowed the photographer who was probably months older than myself to try and pose my newborn baby while she took photos.

And I remember recoiling from the hideous photos she took, displayed as they were on giant screens, at the thought of taking home photographs that looked like that. My babies were not Anne Geddes munchkins that look adorably smooth with little dimples in fat wrists. They were red and scrawny and smooshed. And they way she had posed her, it seemed to point to these things as flaws, as if to show how unbeautiful she really was. And so I bought none, and vowed never to do that again.

But as they grew, not just into their long scrawny limbs and their peculiar features, but in character and spirit that shone through their little faces and they became beautiful. First to me, and then to the greater world. And nothing gives me more pleasure than capturing that on film (or with many megapixels these days as I am up to my very last roll of black and white film). I love taking photos when they aren't looking and when they're not posing. I try not to line them up for photos aside from the standard sibling sets which are hilarious for how bad they inevitably are. I love catching a glance or a moment and being able to keep that memory in beautiful, delicate colour. I loe catching something that belongs to them, and not to a calendar baby, however cute they may be.

We were at a birthday party today for a little girl who has fought very hard to make it to the party which is never a fair thing for any one year old to have to fight. But hardest still, for this little tiny girl, is that the reason she has fought so hard is easily seen on her face. Her skin. Still delicate, but not baby soft. Not smooth. Taking her out is difficult because there is no normality, no hiding, no anonymity. It is there and it is visible.

And it doesn't matter that she has cheeky dark brown eyes and round chubby cheeks and a perfect cupid bow in her lips. Because most won't see any more than her skin, before they look away. Not sure how to react, or worse, reacting with distaste. I didn't shush the girls when they asked, because it was important to me that their curiousity not turn into something other than it should be. I just explained, simply, that her skin did not work like theirs, and she needed special medicine for that. And being children, they understood, and the Elfling jingled a toy for her, and played as she would play with any other baby.

But even at almost 9, the Elfling had questions on the way home, about how sad it was and how unfair it was that someone so little should have to deal with that. And she was very quiet for a little while, as she took it in.

I took my camera to the party, because I always try to, and the weather was hot and steamy and yellow. The end of Summer in a humid golden glow. And I took photos of the Possum as he raided the lolly table, and the Monkey as she swished in her pettiskirt, and of various partygoers too. But I also wanted to take photos of the birthday girl. So I did, photos of her playing with her grandparents, and when I was jiggling soft rattly toys with her to make her smile.

And when I opened my SD card tonight, I could have photoshopped them into oblivion, wiped away all traces of that which society finds hard to deal with and I wondered if I were her mother, if that's what I would like, and I knew it wasn't. So I fixed my light source and my white balance, and I flipped a few into monochrome because I'm a sucker for children's photos in monochrome. And I looked at the photos that came out, and I was truly happy with them. Photos of a happy little girl on her birthday, that looked like her. That had been tinkered with, sure, because a little bit of extra shadow and contrast can make a subject jump off a page, but I didn't up my saturation to where only her eyes were visible, or correct any of the shine from her creams. And I hope that her mother and her grandmother like them too.

As I went through the photos, I also found a few of my Elfling, looking ethereal and embracing her Rivendell heritage. And it was an awful day when I took them, where I cried for the first time in a long time and revisited things I thought were gone and buried. And I was bitter and devastated and miserable and crumbling into the cave inside my chest when I took them, trying desperately not to cry in front of her. When I saw her climb up onto a rock, her yellow sundress billowing lightly around her knees as the sun rays from above hit the golden lights in her hair. And none of it mattered any more. I may have plenty of things that are pushing my buttons and trying to pull me down, but I still have her. Embodiment of the Gleam.


Melissa Mitchell said...

Obviously, you knew last night just how taken I was with this photo. But honestly Jenn, it's like a work of art. She's like a work of art. I am mesmerised by that photo - and when you say "Embodiment of the Gleam" it all fits into place and I feel like I know now why I loved it.

There's something magical and ethereal about that girl, to me. Your beautiful Elfling.

I'm glad you didn't edit away the birthday girl's 'flaws'. I think if it were my baby, I'd have been so sad if you had. (But I'm completely with you on the black and white. Still my favourite photos of my children are B&W).

hissychick said...

Breathtaking photo Jenn. Enchanting. And I bet your photos of the little birthday girl are every bit as mesmerising for her family.

Petalouda said...

Your writing is ethereally fantastically good, fairy fairy good, where did you go? Keep writing. Reading what you wrote gives me courage to write again, to maybe even publish -- it's that inspiring. I found you just now via a Pinterest photo. A photo of two statues making love. That's not intended to mean anything, just wanted to let you know.


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