Photography

When newborns arrive, hospital maternity rooms turn into photo studios

With new parents willing to pay for professional photographs of their infant children, maternity hospitals are offering in-house photo shoots

Everyone expected Aasavari to cry but the she lay silent and happy on her stomach on her father’s forearm, her tiny legs dangling. Her father Sagar Singh extended his arm as suggested by the photographer Arvind Shinde. From across the bed, the baby’s mother Priyanka Bhave placed her hands on Aasavari’s head, appearing to bless her. As the family of three held the pose and smiled, Shinde clicked away.

Aasavari, who was just two days old during this photo session in early June, remained blissfully unaware of Shinde’s camera. Shinde had lights strategically placed around the room so that he would not have to subject the new baby to a direct flash.

The location of the shoot was in the room at the the maternity hospital Cloudnine in Mumbai where Aasavari was born. Like many maternity hospitals, Cloudnine offers photo shoots as part of the range of maternity care services. The hospital chain, which has 15 maternity facilities across India, has a photo studio with a full-time photographer at each centre, Shinde being one of them.

“Today, pregnancies are very precious as parents have fewer children,” said Surinder Dang, regional director of Cloudnine Hospitals.

And many parents are keen to document every possible moment of their child’s arrival and growth. Singh for instance, was in the operating theatre with his camera during Aasavari’s birth.

“We were clicking her since she was born,” said Bhave.

With parents-to-be willing to spend money on professional photography of their newborns, hospitals are wooing expecting couples offering such services in-house. For instance, Cloudnine offers a photo shoot for free and even gives new parents two free photographs. If the couple wants more photographs, they have to pay about Rs 600 per extra photograph.

Freelance photographers who specialise in baby photography charge anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 1 lakh for a photo shoot.

Baby Aasavari's first photo shoot. (Photo: Priyanka Vora)
Baby Aasavari's first photo shoot. (Photo: Priyanka Vora)

A decade ago, maternity hospitals looked like any other medical facility – green curtains and floors smelling of disinfectant. However, today private hospitals are focusing more on aesthetics.

“When it comes to pregnancy, the woman is a customer and not a patient,” said Dr Geetika Gangwani, business head of Fortis Mamma Mia, which calls itself a “unique concept which aspires to deliver full-fledged support to women during preconception, pregnancy and postpartum period”.

If earlier the most compelling reason to choose one hospital over another was the availability of a good doctors and the medical infrastructure, now the frills of maternity care are a major attraction.

“With the advent of boutique hospitals in India and the increased spending capacity of patients, healthcare is changing,” said Gangwani.

Maternity hospitals are now called “birthing centers” to avoid the word “hospital” and its association with illness. Most plush birthing centres have apparel stores with maternity and baby clothes and also toys.

Couples who go to Fortis Mamma Mia for their pregnancy care are given the option of taking yoga classes. The hospital also offers maternity photography services.

Namaha Hospital at Kandivali in Mumbai also offers baby photo shoots as a part of its maternity package. The rooms in the maternity ward are decorated with balloons to welcome and a photographer is prepped and at-hand to capture everything starting from the baby’s first yawn. Newborn photo sessions here are serious business.

“The photographers had got the costume and even dressed her up,” recalled Suvidha Hosabettu. Her newborn daughter had a bow encircling her tiny head during her photo shoot. She was wrapped in jute-like brown cloth, making it look like she was ensconced in a cocoon.

“It is alright to have balloons, photographers and cake cutting, but the focus of a hospital should remain in providing excellent medical care,” cautioned Dr Bhupendra Awasthi, a senior neonatologist from Mumbai’s Surya Mother and Child Care hospital. The hospital has just opened an in-house photo studio.

“These activities can still be done by some other agency but medical service is the primary duty of the hospital,” said Awasthi.

(Photo: Sanya Sundar )
(Photo: Sanya Sundar )

While you were sleeping...

Sanya Sundar is an independent photographer who specialises in baby photography. Sundar likes to take photos of newborns while they are sleeping.

“When they are sleeping, it is easy to curl them into poses,” she said.

Sundar used to practice for photoshoots by handling newborns at hospitals where her gynaecologist friends work. “I would just hold the babies to practice,” she said.

(Photo: Sanya Sundar)
(Photo: Sanya Sundar)

She likes shooting outside the hospital environs, preferring to experiment with backgrounds instead of using pre-made digital backgrounds inside a hospital room. “I do simple photography on couples who want day one photo shoot but if the baby is a few days old, I prefer creating a special backdrop.”

Shinde, who has been a photographer for more than 20 years, has his own formula for a successful baby photo shoot. “We ensure that the baby is well fed before the shoot, so it doesn’t start crying,” he said.

Cloudnine hospital's photographer Arvind Shinde at work. (Photo: Priyanka Vora)
Cloudnine hospital's photographer Arvind Shinde at work. (Photo: Priyanka Vora)

He also takes several shots at a time and will often digitally juxtapose them to create the final image.

“It is not easy to get a perfect shot as the baby can’t be always placed in a pose that the parents want,” said Shinde. “So, we click several pictures and edit them into one perfect image.”

Shinde finds that working inside the hospital is challenging and restrictive. However, he has discovered that one of the poses that work best is when the baby is on the father’s forearm – just the way he made Singh and Aasavari pose.

“The baby looks extremely tiny and beautiful at the same time,” he said.

In the times of social media

The popularity of baby photography is, unsurprisingly, driven by social media. Sundar gets most of her clients from her Facebook page and finds that most of her clients are keen to upload the photographs on social media platforms.

Said Shinde: “Because of whatsapp and Facebook, everyone wants good photographs to upload.”

Khyati Shah delivered her child at Cloudnine Hospital a year ago. She had one photo shoot two days before she went into labour. When her son Aviraaj was born, Shah and her husband got the photographer at the hospital to take nearly 100 photos of him. Shah has used each of these photos as her display picture on Whatsapp and said that. “If I don’t change the picture frequently, my relatives inquire,” she laughed.

The couple put in great effort for their baby’s newborn photo shoot.

“We got a relative to shop gender neutral clothes from the United States for the photo shoot,” said Shah. “We wanted the photos to be unique.”

Photo shoot of Khyati Shah's son Aviraaj (Photo: Khyati Shah)
Photo shoot of Khyati Shah's son Aviraaj (Photo: Khyati Shah)

Since the baby’s arrival, the Shahs have taken a photo every month at the same spot in their home and wearing colour-coordinated clothes. They have created an email account to which they send these photos. “We will give Aviraaj the password once he is old enough to access the account,” said Shah. “I hope he is thankful for our efforts. After all our lives revolve around photos.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.