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Pregnant pose

They're proud, with child, and want to capture their form forever.

June 19, 2004|Deborah Netburn | Special to The Times

Sonia DE LA ROSA, a 29-year-old registered nurse from San Diego, is reclining in a lounge chair in a garage-cum-studio in Encino getting ready for her photo shoot. She has already changed out of her black pants and crisp blue-and-white striped blouse and is now wearing a cozy blue robe and bright pink fuzzy slippers. Shally Zucker, the makeup artist, finishes blending in the last bit of cover-up and then gently opens De La Rosa's robe, revealing her large, bulging belly.

"Wow, you hardly have any stretch marks at all," Zucker says as she smooths foundation over De La Rosa's stomach, blending away the linea nigra, the brown vertical line that runs from the navel to the pubic bone.

As Zucker applies the finishing touches, the photographer, Rachel Jeraffi, emerges from the studio.

"Are you ready to start?" she asks.

A little nervously, De La Rosa nods. Jeraffi and Zucker pull her out of the chair -- it appears to have swallowed her -- and she follows the photographer into the large, darkened room.

Building a career

For the past 10 years, Jeraffi has made a career of taking pictures of pregnant women like De La Rosa. She shoots an average of four pregnant women a week, some who have found her on the Internet and flown in from Canada or Arizona. A three-hour session with Jeraffi costs $575 ($675 on weekends) and includes three rolls of black-and-white medium-format film, face and belly makeup, light hairstyling and proof prints. The photos themselves can cost as little as $55 for one 5-by-7 print and as much as $2,715 for a personalized leather scrapbook of 25 8-by-10 images.

To highlight her clients' distinctive bodies, Jeraffi asks them to remove their clothes and then wraps them in various fabrics, making sure to respect each woman's privacy boundaries. But by the end of the sessions most of her clients (very few of whom have ever dropped their clothes in front of a camera before) are completely nude, with an arm covering their breasts and just a slip of fabric over their genitalia.

"When I was growing up in Israel, women wore really big stuff when they were pregnant and covered it up as much as possible," Jeraffi says. "It was definitely not something anybody would want to capture on film."

To this day, she says, her mother has mixed feelings about her work. "My mother is like, 'Rachel, your work is beautiful, but who the hell pays you to do that?' I'm like, 'You'd be surprised, Mom.' "

In 1991, Tina Brown and Annie Leibovitz created an uproar by putting a naked, eight-months-pregnant Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair. But they also helped designate pregnancy as glamorous. There was decidedly less media frenzy when Cindy Crawford posed pregnant and nude for the cover of W magazine in 1999, and since then pregnancy photography has become increasingly popular not just for movie stars and models, but for regular women as well.

"When I started off it was, I don't want to say hippie-dippy granola people, but it was the kind of people you would expect to take their clothes off," says Jennifer Loomis, who has been specializing in pregnancy photography for over 12 years and who flies around the country to meet with clients. "Now I have sorority girls, black women, who tend to be more demure. I do a lot of lesbian couples. I have a ton of Asian clients -- Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans -- and their culture tends to be more modest. Those women often won't tell their parents beforehand."

"My clients are teachers, doctors, nurses, you name it," says Heather Hart, a photographer in Santa Monica who says 70% of her business is pregnant women. "Now I even have husbands calling me to set up a shoot for their wives."

Sandra Matthews, an associate professor of film and photography at Hampshire College and the coauthor of "Pregnant Pictures," which traces the history of photographs of pregnant women in America, says pregnancy portraiture is a recent phenomenon. When her book was published in 2000, she and her coauthor were unaware that women were paying to have themselves photographed. "Even in the late '90s we spoke to photographers who were trying to publish art books of photos of pregnant women but who couldn't find publishers," she says. "There was a kind of squeamishness about the topic, and the publishers didn't think they could sell it."

The shoot

"We're going to start covered and then see what happens," Jeraffi tells De La Rosa.

She pops a CD into a small boombox (Lifescapes' Celtic harp compilation) and selects two pieces of white silk from a rack of fabrics she keeps on the far wall of her studio.

De La Rosa stands a little uncomfortably on a black backdrop. Jeraffi returns with the silks and asks De La Rosa to remove her robe.

She glances at Jeraffi and pauses for a moment.

"Just drop it," Jeraffi says. "There is no modesty in this studio."

With a blush, and a nervous laugh, De La Rosa lets the robe fall to the floor.

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