Meet Dave and Bel. I knew Dave from when we were kids and I moved to the little country town where he had lived his whole life. We went to the same school from Grade 6 through to Grade 12 and then spent a year at the same University too. We were never close friends, we knew each other pretty well, but didn’t really stay in contact after Uni.
Fast forward 22 years (ugh that makes me sound old!!), and I received a message from Dave, telling me that he and his lovely wife were expecting their first baby and would I be able to photograph their new little family. Well, duh! Of course! I was so excited for them and couldn’t wait to create something amazing. We exchanged a few emails, booked in their newborn session and I sent them off my standard questionnaire so that I could get to know their little family a little better to be able to personalise their shoot.
The questionnaire responses were pretty basic and I went ahead planning what one would call a “normal” newborn session. I knew that they loved black and white imagery, and warm, earthy tones, and wanted to avoid gender stereotyping too much. But then, an email arrived out of the blue, and put an entirely different spin on things! I do love how, when my clients feel comfortable with me, they truly open up and how what can seem like a run-of-the-mill newborn portrait session can suddenly take on new meaning. I have learned over the years that *everybody* has a story, and that every session I do should capture this in some way. Of course, Dave and Bel were no different…
It turns out that like so many other couples, Dave and Bel did not have an easy journey to parenthood. Theirs involved a lengthy period of infertility, devastating miscarriages, failed IUI and IVF attempts and of course all of the horrendous wave of emotions to accompany this. Personally, I have been so lucky not to have experienced such difficulties in my own quest to grow my family, but I do have many close friends who have, and continue to have difficulties in the pursuit of achieving their dreams of one day becoming parents, and the pain I see them endure is just awful.
In an effort to prevent further losses, Dave and Bel resolved to have DNA testing done on the embryos that they had stored. They wanted to ensure that their next attempt would give them the best possible chance of becoming a mummy and daddy. They had 10 embryos tested, and it was embryo 7 that they decided to go with for their next round of IVF. Embryo “Seven” had been their best hope, and it was little “Seven” who they were about to meet any day now!
I immediately knew that her journey to conception was something that “Seven” would hold dear for her entire life (at this stage Dave and Bel didn’t know her gender but I will refer to her as “her” because well, it sounds nicer!). I immediately knew that I had to create *something* that would be a beautiful tribute to “Seven” and the personal journey that led Dave and Bel to parenthood.
I sat for a while thinking about what would be the perfect way to do this. I knew that they liked neutral, natural, earthy tones. I knew that they wanted a nice big canvas to display on their wall. I knew that it had to be gender neutral as her gender was not yet known and they weren’t “into” traditional gender stereotypes anyways. All of a sudden, I had the vision of “Seven” in her little petrie dish, surrounded by her “siblings”, all 9 of them, as seen under an electron microscope. This is the kind of image I had in my head:
Now I am well aware that at no time were all 10 embryos actually in the same petrie dish, but you know, this is just how my mind works and is part of the creative process. So, I resolved, that I somehow needed to make a “petrie dish”, and think of a way to create “embryos”, and at the same time make an image that was warm, earthy and not sterile/cold as your typical petrie dish would be. lol.
And this is what I came up with:
I found a roll of garden edging that I had in my garage, this stuff here ($26.98 from Bunnings) :
I cut a length that I thought would suit, and gaffa taped the ends together to form a circle. I had a few rolls of meshy yarn that I’d found on sale at Spotlight a couple of years ago and wrapped it tightly around the garden edging. The mesh is thick so when overlapped, it created the perfect soft cover for the garden edging. This is the exact stuff that I used here (the top colour):
The “embryos” are pure wool fleece, sent to me by the amazing Ali from Divine Miss Ruby Designs, when I phoned her in a mad panic with my idea just two days before the session. She gathered up all of the white fleece balls that she had, bagged them up and sent them to me over night. Amazing service and I really don’t know what I’d do without such great vendors when I come up with these crazy ideas at the 11th hour!
Ali was able to send me 4 balls of fleece, and I had one here already, however, I needed 9, plus enough to make a nest for baby to rest in. So, I grabbed a couple of cushions off my lounge and tore them apart. (My kids no longer even raise an eyebrow when they see me doing this stuff, they just know that it is “for a shoot”). I created 9 balls from the polyester cushion stuffing and then wrapped each one in the beautiful organic fleece, in random directions and placed them into the “dish” (aka ring of covered garden edging) that I had made. I had hoped to create a random grouping of the balls within the circle but this proved difficult with the pressure that each pushed against the other, and I needed to keep a “spot” to place the “embryo” that would contain little “Seven” and this obviously needed to be a bit bigger so the end result was with her dead centre. I wasn’t totally loving this though as I was worried that the end result would look like a daisy/flower.
Anyways, I went with it, and the finishing touch was a layer of white silk tops that I hand felted to create texture and a “burst” as though “Seven’s” embryo was the one that had “burst” with her growth. I placed the silk underneath the final fleece piece and wrapped the fleece in a circle that would become a nest for the baby when placed there. I also placed some more of the soft polyester cushion stuffing under the fleece to ensure a beautiful soft bed for her to be placed in. Here is a (crappy iphone) pic of the finished silk felted layer:
The background that I used is artists canvas that I hand-painted myself, and which is fast becoming my go-to backdrop for almost every shoot! I just love the warm, neutral tones and soft texture that it has. It is just so versatile and I will do a blog post on painting your own backdrops very soon as I get so many people asking about them.
So, after all of that, I was pretty happy with the final result, and couldn’t wait to get little “Seven” into her “petrie dish”. However, something wasn’t quite “perfect” with the concept for me, and I’ll write more on that later…
I was so excited when I received an email from Dave, simply entitled “She’s here!” and we booked our session in. It turns out that little “Seven” was in fact a beautiful baby girl, who Dave and Bel named “Grace Lucinda” or “Gracie-Lu” as she was soon come to be known.
The day of our session arrived, and I had everything in place. We started with the beanbag poses, and I kept in mind Dave and Bel’s preference for natural/earthy/gender neutral (which had since been updated to “not too girly”) styling.
With the best baby whisperer I know by my side to assist me (my good friend Sara from Sassi Photography), I got to work, and here is some of what we created together:
Then, we got to the “Seven” shot. Before we started our session, I had taken Dave and Bel into my studio and shown them each of the setups that I had planned for the day. I could barely contain my excitement when I showed them my “Petrie Dish” and upon explaining the concept to them, they returned to my lounge area and Bel whispered to Dave “Omg, I can’t believe she made a f%*!ing embryo basket!”. When I walked out to join them and found her in tears and the both of them giggling over Bel’s comment, I knew I was onto a winner! Such a perfect reaction (f-bomb and all!) and I instantly knew that the effort I had gone to was worth every second!
And so, we went about photographing our “embryo basket” shot. Here, you can see Sara easing little Gracie-Lu into position as I am standing above in readiness with my camera. That’s my purple socked toe you see peeking in there. 🙂
And now, for the final image…
Isn’t she beautiful?
Now, as I was shooting the image, it occurred to me that anyone looking in wouldn’t really understand how this shot depicts Gracie-Lu’s story. It doesn’t really look anything like a petrie dish, and the number of “embryos” isn’t really obvious. It doesn’t really “show” that she was the magic number “Seven”. And I was still somewhat bothered by the similarities to a flower/daisy that the setup had. Whilst I adore the final image, in its own right, as a storytelling image it just didn’t go far enough for me.
Soooo, I decided to try a twist to the original concept. I lined the 10 balls of fleece up and placed the nest that Grace was in, into the 7th position. I spread the silk layer in such a way to draw attention to her so that it looks as though her egg has “burst open” to reveal her inside. As soon as I captured it, I *knew* that *this* was the shot! It was a perfect celebration of a unique family with a difficult road behind them. It was natural, and earthy, and beautiful, just as their family is. And here it is, the final image, which I have of course, entitled “Seven”:
And here it is, hanging pride of place. That is a huge 1m canvas that you see here, dwarfed by Dave and Bel’s gorgeous contemporary home, but looking like the perfect complimentary art piece to their decor just as it was intended:
I was so blessed to be able to create this for Dave, Bel and little Gracie-Lu, and I just know that they will cherish it as a celebration of their journey for many years to come. Congratulations Dave and Bel, and welcome to the world to a very special little girl, Grace Lucinda aka “Seven”.