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Lights, Camera, Life

Entrepreneurs capture babies on film at birth--and even earlier.


When Nicole Lindstrom gave birth to her first child last year, she wasn't about to entrust the job of photographing his entrance into the world to her husband.

"I'm the photographer in the family," says Lindstrom, 32. "I kept thinking, who is going to take pictures? I knew if my husband did it, half the people wouldn't be in the picture." Lindstrom called Day One Photography, a company that documents a baby's first moments in high-quality black-and-white photos.

At the 3D Sonography Center of Beverly Hills, expectant mothers in their third trimester can get a glossy 3D image of their baby in utero. Seeing the peaceful countenance of one's baby can often put anxious expectant mothers at ease, says Dr. Robert Gergely, the center's creator. Some bring the portraits into the delivery room. "They use it as a focal point," he says. "It's not a knob on the wall they were pointed to by Lamaze teachers. The baby becomes their coach."

Like peasant blouses and flat-front slacks, pregnancy is in. Pregnant women are celebrated in magazines; their labor is documented on the Discovery Channel. So why not document childbirth privately? Particularly in these days of heightened sensitivity to the delicacy of life.

Liz Lonky, 25, and Shlomit Levy Bard, 29, specialize in photojournalistic style prints. The pair started their West Los Angeles-based Day One Photography a little over a year ago.

Stumbling Onto a Viable Business

Lonky shot her first birth, that of her nephew, a couple of years ago. She put together an album of about 30 prints, "like a wedding album," she says, which she gave to her sister. Her sister and her husband, along with Lonky's extended family, loved the photos.

But it wasn't until she got a call from her sister's obstetrician that Lonky realized she might be on to a viable business. She had given the doctor one of the prints, which he had put up in his office. "He said, 'I've been getting so many compliments on that photo. They're asking to hire you.'"

Lonky did some research and found little competition in the field. "I was really surprised," she says. "Often people are asked about the most important day of their life. Usually they answer their wedding or the day their child was born, and I would say the latter is answered more."

After operating solo for a short while, she partnered with Bard, whose work she had admired in the defunct Westside Weekly. Generally, only one of the partners will shoot a birth, but in the case of a very long labor, sometimes one will relieve the other. The two ask their clients to get prior authorization from the hospital for them to attend the delivery since restrictions can vary from hospital to hospital, even from physician to physician. And since most babies don't keep to a schedule, the pair agree to be on call 24 hours a day as the due date nears.

Lonky and Bard are open to traveling within Southern California and have worked with clients from as far as Santa Barbara and the Antelope Valley. But unless the birth is a scheduled caesarean, there's always the chance they won't get to the hospital in time. So far, they haven't missed a birth.

When most people hear "birth photography," Bard says, "they think of that 10th-grade video that's very graphic. We like to create a document and a story [the parents] can share with anyone. All black-and-white in the delivery room helps. You don't see the blood so much. Also, it's a great tool to capture emotion and to put the emphasis on the excitement rather than the medical stuff."

While it's easy to imagine the excitement of capturing a baby's birth on film, it's a little harder to grasp the concept of the in-utero portraits. Indeed, some might find the images a bit eerie, but Gergely says parents react differently. "You should see the bonding," he says. "That mother falls in love with the baby. And the big macho American men become soft and vulnerable. They have tears in their eyes."

The process is much like getting an ultrasound. Gel is applied to the abdomen of an expectant mother in the beginning of her third trimester. The doctor then takes several sweeps over the area with an ultrasound wand. A computer turns the two-dimensional images into 3D. The resulting 81/2-by-11-inch images cost $250.

Day One charges $1,150 for five to six hours of photographic coverage, including birth and pre- and post-delivery photographs. The fee includes up to 200 proof prints in a wood frame box. Albums of prints, which can range from $250 to $3,000, are extra.

The majority of Day One Photography's clients are first-time parents. "Most of our moms are a little older," Bard says. "We've also had several clients with fertility issues. So when they get pregnant, it's all the more significant."

Despite the often long hours and 3 a.m. phone calls, Lonky and Bard look forward to each birth. "Because there are different people and different babies involved, every birth is different," Bard says. "For a photojournalist," Lonky adds, "life coming into being is a prime story to tell. It always has interest."

Soon Gergely expects to make 3D video available as well. "You can see the baby yawning, the baby moving fingers. The technology is still not perfect. But this is where we're heading. Mothers will have a few minutes of a movie segment." And kids who ask the inevitable "Where did I come from?" will need only pop in a video.

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