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Photographer: Anne Geddes

Though Anne Geddes is a household name for her stylized images of infants, she was surprised by success when she took holiday photos of her daughters one year. She describes why babies fascinate her and how she keeps them happy during shoots.

AIRED: February 15, 2021 | 0:25:59
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TRANSCRIPT

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[ Ambient city sounds ]

[ Indistinct talking ]

Geddes: We're here in our apartment

in Tribeca, in New York,

which I use as obviously living space,

but also creative space as well.

Geddes: We're gonna have fun.

I'm gonna be able to tell lots of stories

and introduce you to my beautiful...

Geddes: For many years, I had my own studio.

You know, we spent 18 years in New Zealand,

where I first started.

And then, you know, I had a studio in Sydney in Australia.

But now within 10 minutes walk of here,

there are studios that you can hire.

So I think it's really nice to have this lovely,

intimate, creative space

and then go somewhere and do the work.

I was born in 1956

in North Queensland, in Australia.

And my father was, what we call over there,

a grazier, a cattle rancher.

I grew up on a beef cattle property

and I was one of five girls,

the middle of five girls, two older and two younger.

Yeah, I had a pretty traditional childhood...

...with a very strict father who possibly didn't appreciate

the fact that having five girls is pretty miraculous.

It was the '50s, and I always joked

that my parents probably tried five times for a boy,

you know, someone to take over the property and so on.

I always saw myself as some -- at that stage,

as someone who would be living in the country.

But I always had this notion, even when I was a small child,

that there's something that I could do to make a difference.

And I talk in my autobiography, "A Labor of Love,"

about this moment where

I was probably 7 or 8 years old

and we were out on our property way -- very isolated, you know.

And I was standing on the grass near the clothesline,

and my mother was hanging the laundry on the clothesline.

And I remember exactly where I was standing.

It was very hot.

And we were always bare feet when we were children, you know?

And so I was standing in bare feet on the grass,

which was prickly because of the heat.

And my mother's hanging the washing.

And I was just standing there, and I said to her,

"There's something that I need to do,

but I don't know what it is."

And she looked at me really strangely

and said something like,

"Well, why don't you go and ride your bike or something?"

And I said, "No, that's not what I mean."

And she was just -- "Oh, okay."

And then that moment passed,

and I still -- it's at the core of me now.

I totally remember that there was something,

but I just didn't know what it was.

And I still have that now, right, in terms of my work

and what I'm trying to achieve with my work.

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I went to a very small country primary school

for the first, you know, seven years of my schooling

and then high school.

I never went to university because I was so --

there was nothing on offer for me to be attracted to.

And so I took myself off traveling

and spent two years in New Zealand

just doing hospitality in different hotels

around the country and actually lied about my age.

I was only 17,

and I said I was 18 to be able to even go.

My husband, Kel, was in television for 30 years,

and we ended up going to Hong Kong for his work.

And he had a very old Pentax K1000 SLR camera,

which he loaned me, and this is how I started out.

You know, I was -- I'm entirely self-taught.

I put a sign up on the notice board

in the local supermarket

just down the road from us in Hong Kong.

And I started doing family portraiture and --

in people's houses

and in their gardens and things like that.

And, you know, it took -- it took maybe five years

before I really stepped into my own style and rhythm.

And I think that's something that's important to spell out

to any artists who are kind of looking

for any sort of guidance.

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When I started to do my portraiture

of families and young children,

I found that I really wanted to bring out

the personality of these little people,

because there really is -- there's another world

happening at knee-height

that a lot of people just don't notice.

What I tried to do from the very start

was to create classic, timeless portraits

with the essence of that child's personality.

And the biggest compliment, to me, was really afterwards

when the parents would say to me,

"Oh, that's exactly what they're like."

So then I started doing my own images

in my garage in the back garden in Melbourne.

Kel, my husband,

who always insisted that I call myself

a professional photographer,

came home one day with a brass plaque,

with "Anne Geddes, photographer" on it,

and we put it on the garage door.

I remember one of my very first pictures

was of our then 2-year-old daughter, Stephanie,

and it was taken in that Melbourne studio.

And she -- Stephanie is standing there

in these little dungarees and her sneakers

and with her hands in her pockets.

And it was just such a simple little image.

So I entered the image in a competition

with a lab called New Lab in Melbourne,

never thinking at all that, you know,

I would win second place.

And when they called my name, I was like, "Oh, my goodness."

It's just unreal. I was so excited.

I -- I just couldn't believe it.

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It's hard photographing little children,

you know, I can't deny it.

It takes an enormous amount of energy and concentration

to do that regularly.

What I decided to do was one day a month,

I would do an image just for myself,

not photographing to anyone's agenda.

And so I started with an image of a little baby called Joshua.

It was a black-and-white image,

and he was in calico fabric like a sling.

This was the way that the Plunket Society in New Zealand,

which is -- the Plunket society is

where you take your babies to be weighed.

But I remember printing this image and taking it home

and putting it on my dining table that night,

and this huge sense of satisfaction

that I got from just looking at it,

thinking, "Yeah, I like -- I like that.

I like -- I don't have to ask anybody else

whether it's okay, you know?"

And that -- that time once a month just for me

was really, really important.

And that's where my imagination started to

go into the second image, which was an image

that probably everybody who knows my work knows,

of the little twin babies recent Rhys and Grant,

these chubby little 6-month-olds

just sitting there looking at each other.

And the way I got them to look at each other,

just as an aside, was I had an assistant

who lowered a balloon on a string

down between their heads,

and they both looked at the balloon,

and she whipped it up really fast

because you've got 6- to 7-month-old twins

sitting in a studio.

They don't want to look at each other.

They just want to look at everything else, you know?

But that led to me

doing my first coffee table book,

"Down in the Garden."

And it's the book that really

opened up the world to me

in terms of people's reaction.

And I think that's why it became so popular.

That's where the flower pots started

and ended, I might say.

But the book -- it just --

it just kind of filled a niche in

at right at that time.

And the biggest thing that happened

for "Down in the Garden" was Oprah Winfrey,

who had seen some of my images

in calendars and the greeting cards

and asked me to come and be on the show.

She was going through all the images

and, you know, just raving about it,

and at the end of the segment, literally picked up the book

and said -- of course, it was just before Christmas

as well, right? --

and said, "This is a great Christmas gift.

It's the best coffee table book I've ever seen," right?

And it just went right -- woof! --

right up "The New York Times" best-seller list

and exploded.

[ Laughter ]

Woman: Joey, it's Anne Geddes. She's a famous artist.

Anne Geddes is known around the world

for her whimsical pictures of babies.

Anne Geddes is unquestionably one of the world's preeminent,

most respected and prolific photographers.

Reporter: Anne Geddes is taking her adorable baby photos

under the sea.

Geddes: "Down in the Garden" had gone to

"The New York Times" best-seller list twice.

So, you know, it was quite a cumbersome process

to get to the third book, "Pure,"

which is one of my favorite books that I've done

because in "Pure,"

the images contain the essence of who I am as a photographer,

because "Pure" -- where I started exploring

the meaning of new life and the beauty

contained within, you know, the whole pregnancy process,

conception and birth, and what the baby looks like.

Babies as art is a difficult discussion point

for a lot of people in galleries and in the art world,

which I -- I always find puzzling

because they're so important to us, aren't they?

I mean, babies just transform people's lives.

They -- they make women into mothers and men into fathers

just at that instant when they're born,

and they bring such joy to the world.

They represent us at the very beginning of our lives

when nothing has happened to us, nothing good, nothing bad.

They're just total purity right there.

When they're first born, they're totally guileless.

But, you know, I have photographed thousands of babies

and I never tire at the awesomeness

of looking at a naked newborn baby.

I mean, it's -- they're just incredible.

And to look into the eyes is like seeing into the soul

and for everything they represent to us.

You know, it's a pretty awful world out there

at the moment on all sorts of levels, you know,

and people's ideas and politics

and little children starving and wars.

And what are we doing to ourselves?

You know, that's what my work is about.

It's -- look at our eternal chance at new beginnings.

The lower body sits with padded tummies,

and we've the shoes inside.

Do I cast babies? [ Laughs ]

Some of the babies I photograph are 10 days old.

You know, I have photographed babies

who are a couple of days old in New Zealand and Australia.

It's their first time out of the home.

No, I don't cast babies because, you know,

I think they're all --

they all are all beautiful for what they represent,

you know, and they're all different.

And they really are -- you know, 1-, 2-day-old baby --

they really, they have their own personalities as well.

And so, no, I don't. I don't.

[ Speaking indistinctly ]

-Okay, go on. -Ohhh!

How do I direct the babies? [ Laughs ]

The babies are undirectable.

Babies are like the biggest egos in the room

when you're shooting, and they need to be.

Everything needs to revolve around them.

Look, you just need to know my --

all my years of working with babies has given me,

you know, insight into what they're like at different ages.

And, you know, there's a vast difference

between working with a newborn, for instance,

3-month-old, 6-month-old, 9-month-old.

They're all a little bit different.

But it's very important to limit your expectations

of what babies are capable of.

And so, you know, everything revolves around them

when they come into the studio, and all of my lighting

and everything is done the day before.

I have dolls of different sizes and weights, for instance,

to use when I'm doing the settings and whatever,

because, you know, if you're photographing an adult,

you can say, you know, like we were doing here --

"Would you mind sitting there while we fiddle with the lights

and get it right?"

And you can't do that with a baby.

So you just got to have everything ready

when they come in.

You know, I work with the same team of people.

Everyone is very, very professional.

Everybody knows exactly what they're doing.

But it doesn't look that way, you know,

and that's how professionals make it look so easy,

but it's a very, very controlled environment

when I'm in the studio.

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I know that what I am doing is the right thing

in terms of speaking to babies, being an advocate for children,

representing them in the art world.

I know at my core that I am very satisfied with what I do.

And I see it every day with people's reaction to my work

and telling me stories about their babies.

And, you know, for instance, I do a lot of work

with March of Dimes here in the U.S.,

who do incredible research into premature birth.

But that image of Maneesha --

it's a simple black-and-white image of her

in this gentleman's -- his name's Jack --

his huge hands,

has touched so many people around the world.

And Maneesha is now 24. She'll be 24 this November.

And, you know, she's like part of our family,

and she's a photographer in her own right now.

And she's been traveling around the world,

and we're in touch all the time.

But I can't tell you how many times --

hundreds of times --

people have approached me and said,

"I just want to tell you

that that image was so important to us

when we had a little premature baby.

And it gave me a sense of hope that my baby may survive

because of what happened to Maneesha."

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This book, "A Small World,"

was only released a few months ago,

and I did this with Taschen,

and it was a really interesting experience

because prior to this,

we had mainly self-published books.

And when Taschen approached me to do a retrospective,

I thought it would be really interesting

to work with another team of people

who would, you know, help to edit the images.

But I'm most proud of, I guess, the classic work

that I've been able to do that, you know, has a --

like, for instance, with this image, you know,

she's got such a quiet dignity.

And this is one of my all-time favorite images of Jack,

the gentleman who was holding Maneesha in the preemie image.

And in this image here,

he's holding three little identical triplets

and, you know, just showing the absolute vulnerability

of the tiny bodies.

And the fact that these girls are now in their late teens

and got their own Instagram feeds

and all of this sort of thing -- it's kind of --

I feel like I'm the mother of all of these babies.

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This image here of Phillipa and her mother, had --

she lived in North Island in New Zealand,

and this was done in Auckland.

And I talked to her on the phone a few days before,

and she said, "Well, I grow roses,"

and she said, "Well, do you want me to bring some roses?"

And I said, "Yeah, well, bring a bunch or bring a whole lot."

And so she turned up with buckets of roses in her car,

and we had to de-thorn them all.

And little Phillipa, who was like --

how old was she here? -- 8 months old.

I came in to the reception area in my studio,

and there was this little person sitting there, you know,

with her red hair and little dress on.

And she looked up at me, and she smiled at me like this.

And her mother came in with another bucket of roses

and said -- I said, "Oh, my God, that's so --

look what she -- that's so cute."

And she said, "Oh, I hate it when she smiles like that."

And I said, "No, no, it's amazing."

And photographing young children and little babies like this,

you've really got to be attuned to it,

and you've got to be really quick,

'cause that was just such a fleeting moment.

But you can never forget those moments

that are actually really special, yeah.

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To be inducted into

the International Photography Hall of Fame --

when I got that letter, I was shocked.

I have learned for so long to not expect things like that

in terms of my work, to be honest,

and to the point where I was almost immune to it,

you know, not exhibiting or -- I --

and I'm incredibly honored

to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

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Man: Please help me welcome Anne Geddes.

[ Applause ]

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I'm a bit taller than everybody else.

[ Laughter ]

What a wonderful honor for me

to be included in this year's class.

And thanks so much to the Hall of Fame.

35 years ago, when I first picked up a camera,

I couldn't have dreamt that I'd be standing here today

accepting this esteemed honor.

And my mantra for all these years has always been,

protect, nurture, love.

Thanks to my family and all those who have supported me

over so many years.

Time certainly brings its own gifts.

Thank you.

[ Applause ]

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