Renowned photographer Anne Geddes has enjoyed a long, successful career thanks to her legendary photographs of babies. Her iconic photos, which star newborns, have been transformed into best-selling books, calendars, and greeting cards. Particularly throughout the 1990s, Geddes gained international acclaim for her innovative, touching, and whimsical look at children.
For as successful as Geddes is, it may shock some to learn that she has not been in the studio to shoot these iconic images since 2015. Now, thanks to her newly opened Patreon account, fans and photography enthusiasts have a chance to go behind the scenes of her most famous photographs and support her return to making the imagery the world loves. As a creative mind with an entrepreneurial spirit, Geddes is opening up about the difficulties of working as a creative professional today.
In sharing the economics of what it takes to stage her elaborate photographs and their diminishing returns due to the way the internet works today, Geddes is shedding light on issues that affect any creator working today. Through Patreon, Geddes is taking back control and allowing the public to support her work and let her keep producing her incredible photos of newborns.
During our exclusive interview with Geddes, we learn about the inner workings of her iconic newborn photography and why she stepped back from these shoots. She also shares the important philanthropic work she is involved in and what supporters can expect when they become part of her Patreon.
Read on for My Modern Met’s fascinating conversation with this legendary photographer.
What first attracted you to photography as a creative medium?
I actually came relatively late to photography. I grew up in the North of Australia, on a cattle ranch, and throughout my schooling, there were no photography courses available. It simply never occurred to me that being a photographer was an option. I was always interested in any kind of art though, and as a teenager, I used to subscribe to Life magazine, when it was in its heyday. I was mesmerized by the documentary photography—how the images virtually told the complete story. And I was particularly drawn to images of people—the concept of capturing a single moment in time that would last forever. I still believe in the power of a single image to this day.
I have no images of myself as a newborn. I was born in 1956, the days of the box brownie camera, and I’m the 3rd daughter of 5 girls, so I guess my parents didn’t place a lot of emphasis on capturing those important moments, probably due to lack of time more than anything. And I didn’t pick up a camera seriously until I was 25. The years prior to that I was working in television and my office was very close to the darkroom area used by the television channel’s full-time photographer. I loved the smell of those chemicals, and I wanted to learn more about the whole process.
(continued) My husband and I moved to Hong Kong shortly afterwards, following his television career, and I found myself in a position where I had a roof over my head and a clear pathway before me, so that’s when I borrowed his second hand Pentax K1000 and began doing portraits of families in our area. Although it wasn’t until our return to Australia and I first walked into a photography studio that everything fell in to place for me. I’m definitely a studio-based photographer. I love that concept of creating my own environment from scratch—and I love lighting.
For the first 10 years of my career, I exclusively did private portraiture, and I specifically marketed myself as a photographer of children. And those 10 years were invaluable in that I learned how to deal with children of different ages. With portraiture, it can be challenging to instantly connect with a child who considers you a stranger and to create an image of that child for their family to cherish forever puts an added pressure on that connection.
You’ve been on the New York Times Bestseller List and had your calendars and books sold all over the world. What’s your proudest achievement as a creative?
My proudest achievement has been the fact that I’ve been able to be a storyteller. Children are not only our hope for the future—by their very existence, they will be our future. And yet, we so often take them for granted or underestimate their essential importance. We need to take care of them now, educate, nurture, and love them now; teach them the values of harmony, love, understanding, tolerance, and an appreciation of other cultures now. Because every newborn baby represents our eternal chance at new beginnings.
2015 was the last time you were in the studio doing the work you’re so well known for. What changed for you and what have you been up to since?
Since 2015, I’ve been fortunate enough to continue my work as a Global Ambassador for raising awareness of Meningococcal Disease, by shooting campaign images of survivors and helping to tell their stories. I’m an Official Ambassador for March of Dimes. In the United States, one out of every nine pregnancies ends in a premature birth, and March of Dimes are diligently working to solve the riddle of why some babies are born too soon. I’m also an Ambassador for the UN Foundation’s “Shot at Life” initiative, which aims to provide life-saving vaccines in countries around the world where people are most vulnerable. One child dies every 20 seconds from a vaccine-preventable illness, would you believe? I’m also available for speaking engagements, which I really enjoy.
But as far as my creating those classic baby images that are so beloved around the world—the last series of images I created for a calendar was The Signs of the Zodiac back in 2015. Most people don’t realize the costs involved in creating a series of 12 new images, which can be anywhere between $200,000 and $300,000. There’s a huge amount of pre-production involved before I even get to shooting in the studio. I’m actually taking my patrons through the making of some of my past images, with behind-the-scenes photos and videos, my initial sketches, the costumes, backgrounds, etc. So, while my patrons are supporting me, in return I’m letting them feel personally appreciated and involved not just with my creative life, but also my life in general.
For many years, I was able to create new images for greeting cards, calendars, and books because there was an end game—meaning royalties from these products helped fund my next collection of new images, and so on. But these days, once a new calendar is released, the images are instantly available on the internet for free—which is totally out of my control. Now how many movie houses would spend millions making a movie and then make it available for free? This is the plight of many creatives today, and I fear that a huge, invisible void of creativity exists for this exact reason.
Many people don’t truly understand the setup it takes to create the type of imagery you shoot. Can you explain a bit about the investment that goes into a shoot?
As I explained earlier, most people simply have no idea of the cost involved, nor the amount of work that goes into each series of images. And I suspect that because my subject matter is generally babies, they tend to somehow think that it’s all just fun and cuteness. To create The Signs of the Zodiac for instance—wow—that was a major project. The pre-production phase would have taken around 6-8 months.
This involved research into the intricate components of each sign, and there is a lot of conflicting information out there. So, my research took about a month before I settled on what to feature with each image. Associated with each Zodiac sign are different colors, ruling planets, elements, symbols, glyphs, flowers, birthstones, etc. Astrology is complicated! I’ve already done a few posts on my Patreon page, explaining in detail how some of these images were done, and people are amazed to learn of all the work that goes on behind the scenes.
How has technology changed your work as a professional, and how are you able to earn from your photography?
Cellphones are so ubiquitous today and their camera technology has vastly improved. I hear all the time that “everyone is a photographer these days” but I don’t actually believe that’s true. The millions of images taken this way daily are, to me, more of a fleeting thought. Professional photographers certainly have been forced to rethink how they operate though, and it’s very tough out there for a lot of people.
I know you’ve recently opened up a Patreon account to let your fans inside your world. What made you decide to jump on this platform?
Having my patrons support my work is, for me, the only way to be back in the studio creating more of those images that people know and love. But there are also many advantages for my patrons in return. It’s like joining a family, where I’m making myself more available—doing monthly live stream Q&A’s and taking them along with me on the entire journey, which begins with coming up with a theme, researching, making the costumes, having a watercolor artist paint the backgrounds and the different elements—so much goes on before the babies arrive at the studio!
Patrons also receive little extra surprise benefits as I take them on the journey, and in return, they feel as if they’re super involved. And we are collectively making a difference, because once we create the images for a new calendar, I’m donating all of my royalties to charity—in this case, March of Dimes, an incredible organization that works tirelessly to benefit the health of pregnant women and babies everywhere. It’s pretty much a win-win situation all around.
How do you hope that the platform will help you continue your creative career?
Put quite simply, without patrons to support my work, there will be no new images from me because to continue to self-fund new imagery with no financial return just doesn’t make good business sense. And I want to continue making a difference as well. The public needs to understand that yes, creators want to create, but the cold hard facts are that they need funding in order to continue. And I have so much more to say through my photography!
What do you think the public’s most common misperception is about creative professions, and about you specifically, as a successful creative?
I think the public sometimes assumes that creative ideas come out of thin air. And that creators will just continue to create because that’s just what they do! They don’t equate the fact that creating costs money, the same as in any other profession. If you can’t sell what you’ve created, you simply can’t survive as a creator. As far as my own work is concerned, a lot of people grew up with my books, cards, and calendars and my imagery is part of the fabric of their lives. Which is flattering in one way, but I’ve always had to battle the fact that my subject matter, and the underpinning strong values involved, sometimes aren’t taken as seriously as I would like.
What do you hope the public learns from your challenges in continuing to make a viable career from professional photography?
I hope they take away an understanding of not just the work involved in the creation of my imagery, but also the cost involved. And the internet is making things very difficult for a lot of creators because there is a HUGE expectation that everything on the internet is there for free.
What’s next for you?
Hopefully, a lot of studio time in which I’m creating with the help of my patron family, who feel inspired and involved in my/our continuing to make a difference. That’s my dream!