Anne Geddes on her baby photography empire, iPhone photography and surviving the Internet

One of the lasting images of the 90s might be a baby sitting snug in a flower pot, head adorned with blossoms.

Looking at those images in 2020, there’s a whimsical sweetness to them that can cut through to even the cold, broken soul of a Victorian months into an interminable COVID-19 lockdown.

“I used to moan to my husband: ‘Have I got a flower pot tattooed on my forehead?’ Because that’s all people would talk about,” photographer Anne Geddes told RN’s Stop Everything! recently.

Geddes’ photographs of babies — nestled in pea pods, cabbages and oversized flowers; sprawled somnolent on pumpkins, or sporting flower crowns — exploded into the public consciousness via her 1996 coffee table book, Down in the Garden.

This tome of tots landed on the lap of Oprah Winfrey at the height of her daytime talk show glory, catapulting the Australian-born Geddes into international fame — and commercial saturation.

There were Geddes greeting cards, calendars, books, posters — even dolls.

A photograph by Anne Geddes of two babies sitting in cabbages with cabbage leaves on their heads
“It’s a world of renewal and emotion and joy that babies bring to people, and they are literally a universal language,” Geddes says.(Supplied: Anne Geddes)

“It actually took me years before I could open the book [Down in the Garden] and look at it again,” Geddes admitted.

But the New York-based photographer says she has now come to terms with the success of those early images.

Storytelling with pictures

Geddes was born in 1956 in Queensland, the middle daughter of five girls; consequently, no photo exists of her as a newborn.

“I always would have loved to have seen myself as a newborn, and I think that’s why I was actually drawn to doing portraiture,” said the photographer.

As a teen, Geddes was a fan of Life Magazine’s photojournalism, but it wasn’t until she was in her mid-20s and living in Hong Kong with her husband that she taught herself photography, using a second-hand Pentax K1000.

By the time she was 30 and based in Melbourne, things clicked into place and she began photographing families, children — and then finally the subject that would come to define her career: babies.

“[I realised] I can do really beautiful, simple portraits, and I can make beautiful images for families that will last a lifetime,” she said.

The photographer Anne Geddes posing next to a camera on a tripod
Geddes is a philanthropist for causes related to the prevention of child abuse and neglect.(Supplied: Stephanie Geddes)

She started simple, but soon experimented with the fantastical, eventually turning to the kinds of elaborate shoots she would become known for.

After relocating to Wellington with her husband and their two young daughters, she began working on Down in the Garden — inspired by the gardens of New Zealand’s capital, as well as children’s books like Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

“I don’t think of my work as baby photography. I think of my work as storytelling, and that’s what I was doing with Down in the Garden.”

Geddes said she wished she’d called the book “Down in the Garden: A Children’s Story … because in a lot of ways, it was taken a bit too seriously”.

Posted , updated 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.