My photographer, Khadijah Cisse, is an insanely talented, clever, kind, giving woman. Each new edited photograph she sends me from our recent photoshoot drives that point home. The way she has gathered her work of empowering families into each photograph is astonishing. I approached her over a year ago about this photoshoot I wanted to do — she did a WrapDuO shoot for me 20 months ago that was amazing, and I wanted her special knack for capturing love in motion. I had a few stories and ideas I wanted to communicate through the photography, and she said she was up for the challenge if we could make the schedule work. Her primary work is midwifery, and she photographs, usually, only for friends and clients, and I feel very lucky to have her to do Wrapsody’s babywearing photography. Finally we chose a date and advertised. In addition to the specific shots I was hoping for, we focused heavily on featuring great diversity in our models. For this, we moved the shoot 90 minutes south to Boston. I spoke excitedly to Khadijah as she listened attentively, making suggestions and encouraging me when I worried overly about problems with weather or last-minute cancellations.
Khadijah’s own life has led her down an incredible path of blessings and heartbreak, of opportunities to love and grow and learn. She has borne 7 children and holds three in her arms; she has birthed at home and by cesarean; she has experienced a rare condition that prevents her body from making milk and has breastfed in spite of it. She approaches the world with an intentional loving kindness, and she works in many ways to empower families:
- She runs the MilkShare website for families unable to offer their children their own breastmilk
- She is a homebirth midwife in Maine, Massachusettes, and internationally who operates her own practice, Midwife at Your DoorStep
- She is a birth and postpartum doula
- She is a natural fertility specialist and a practioner of home or office insemination
- She offers prenatal care to freebirthing women (who are often refuse prenatal care by other practices)
- She offers Skype prenatal consultation to freebirthing families without access to supportive care locally
- She offers maternity, newborn, birth, and family photography to her clients
Pregnancy and birth are usually a family’s first experience of parenting, and Khadijah knows firsthand how important it is to help families feel as empowered as possible during this time. She also knows firsthand how it is to experience a birth that ends in trauma or loss, and she brings that experience and compassion to the families she works with. Truly, to meet her is to feel a little disarmed by her nonchalant regalness, the beautiful intermingling of humility and confidence that she carries with her — and to work with her in any capacity is to see the passion she brings to her work, her keen insistence on being only her best self, and her willingness to meet each moment, each situation, and each family in a unique and beautiful way.
Creating Empowering Babywearing Photography
Really, it’s difficult to take a “bad” babywearing photo. Usually, babywearing is either intimate and serious or whimsical and funny or sweet and loving. Taking “good” babywearing photographs, however, requires a photographer who can sum up that moment, understand the unique pose-related issues with babywearing photography, encourage a babywearing family to relax, and capture either a sense of heart, personality, family, or action. Khadijah does all of this. Her babywearing photography mission was threefold:
- Showcase diverse babywearing families living and loving so that at a glance anyone can see that all families can, should, and do embrace babywearing as a tool for everyday living
- Capture authentic (as opposed to model) families living and loving in motion, conveying baby carrying as a tool that allows families to stay connected with their babies while nurturing connections with one another, with the world around them, and with themselves
- Hold the wraps we have designed at the center of these photographs that capture the love and joy parents experience while babywearing
She did each of these things and more. During a long, long day (almost 14 hours!) of shooting, her energy flagged only once, midafternoon, as she sized up each new situation and location with fresh eyes. She had a quick sense for the comfort of each family and while she kept my vision and suggestions at the forefront of her mind, she also added it to an equation taking into account the personalities of each parent-child grouping, body language, sunlight, outfit, and a hundred other details I can’t begin to tease out and sent each on a unique journey toward my ultimate goal of creating a lookbook with a bright, spirited personality that reflects these families in a way that feels honest.
Some tips on evaluating photographers, both for babywearing photography and for other reasons
I have had the joy of working alongside Khadijah several times now and I have learned so much about photography — most of all, I have learned how to evaluate a photographer. She is humble and experiences each shoot as a learning experience. She crafts her images carefully, first with her camera and later with her computer, mindful of offering photos that will bring emotional fulfillment to their subjects. She has worked with models (like Jaimee, one of my favorite friends to include in my product photography!) who are easy to capture, and she has also worked with models (like my daughter, Alice) who are more difficult to pin down with a lens. What I have learned about evaluating a photographer is:
- Look for a photographer whose portfolio reflects real variety. Even if the subjects are similar (such as newborns), are they posed differently? Framed differently? Has she captured expressions that look forced, or has she captured expressions that look honest?
- Look at the color and clarity of the images. Are features sharp and bright? Well-lit or washed out by sunlight/obscured by shadow?
- When you look at this photographers images, do they evoke emotion, or simply a sense of, “Hm. Nice photo.”
- Look at the overall “look” of the final images. Khadijah explained beautifully that each photographer naturally has his own “thumbprint,” as in any art form. Put 5 quality photographers in front of a family and ask them to capture a family portrait, and you will likely get 5 distinct family portraits. On the other hand, if you put 5 people with quality cameras but without a knack for capturing images in front of a family, you will likely get 5 similar portrats.
- Ask yourself if this photographer is likely to capture the flavor of image you have in mind:
A good photographer
Let me begin by saying that a quality photographer does not need to be pigeonholed. Even if your photographer has a particular specialty or knack, it is likely that they will listen to exactly what you want and take direction. Good photographers know how to use light, angles, and framing to capture images that are beautiful — so even if the person taking photos normally takes cityscapes or macro-nature scenes or sport or band action shots, it is likely they will capture photos of your family that you will love. However, I’ve outlined here some of the particular “knacks” or specialized skills I’ve noticed in photographers I’ve worked with.
A dear friend, Brandie, an amateur photographer, EMT, and mother of three, captured my absolute favorite images of my family during my wedding 5 years ago. Capturing families having fun is a skill she has. She has also taken some lovely posed images for me, but she does not have the same knack of capturing product models on film.
Shining a light on beautiful features
Another local photographer, Sarah Mansfield, who has taken a love of photography to a business these last few years, included me in one of her earliest “career” shoots — a boudoir shoot she set up for a group of our local friends. Overweight, awkward, and without confidence, I went with a “what the hell; it can’t be that bad” philosophy and a zillion ideas. She posed me and captured a number of photos that left me feeling truly beautiful and confident when I look at them. She doesn’t have the same knack for capturing products, because her eye is drawn to the models — especially to the children and their eyes.
Capturing space or marking whimsy
Nicole, one of our models, used to be a professional model in India. Her husband, Pervez, is a photographer (PTaufiq photography), and he brought his camera to the shoot. I’ve spent some time looking at his work — he captured many beautiful images of his wife in our wrap, including these two, which I especially love, but in looking at his work, it’s clear that he especially shines in capturing how his subjects are interacting with their environment and in capturing the whimsical side of a situation. (To see what I mean, check out his Facebook page or his photography website. And hey, while you’re wandering the internet, maybe check out his band, Living Syndication,too!)
Capturing relationships or framing moments
Khadijah captures relationships between people and holds her eye on the pieces of scenery and color that frame the relationship in that moment. She has a beautiful ability to not only capture the color and shape of our wraps, but also to wrap in a photograph the relationship wrapped in the Wrapsody baby carriers. The mother/father and baby/child in the wrap are not lost, but framed beautifully by the product tying them together.
As I looked today at some maternity shots she took of her friend and client who was wrapped up in Wrapsody Breeze: Lily it dawned on me that the way in which her photographs so naturally empower the families who look at them to love harder, be closer, and trust the joy of parenting — the way she captures the intimate joy of friends, of siblings, of spouses, and even of crazy large families-of-seven who are hard to photograph — is just an extension of the other work she does. Her birth work, her Milk Share work, her photography, it is all about empowering, about relationships, of helping people in their most beautiful AND their most difficult moments to be closer to themselves, to their hearts, and perhaps even to God (Yes. This says me, spiritual UU atheist).
As I prepare to share her photographs and the families she captured with you, I wanted to first share with you Khadijah, because I find her both inspiring and truly amazing. I would be grateful if you would take a few moments to check out some of the work she has done and continues to do and to share it with anyone you think may be interested — also, I’d love to see your own babywearing photography in either the comments below or by having you share them with us on social media! Connect with Khadijah re: birthing and her informational blog on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Homebirth.freebirth.ma/ Connect with Khadijah’s MilkShare organization on this Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/MilkShare-The-Official-MilkSharing-Resource Also, don’t forget to check out her websites: MilkShare | Midwife at your Doorstep (including fertility and doula services) | Informational blog Also, if you haven’t already, see Wrapsody’s collaboration with Khadijah in our printable informational pamphlet on using your wrap for pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum support.
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