Anne Geddes: It's not actually babies, it's life


Anne Geddes: Its not actually babies, its life

Internationally renowned photographer Anne Geddes talks to City Times about her latest book Small World, where creativity comes from, and her 30-year career photographing babies

By Maan Jalal

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Published: Sun 9 Jul 2017, 12:34 PM

Last updated: Mon 10 Jul 2017, 5:38 PM

It's always an image that makes you stop what you're doing. You stare to really take it in. You've seen it before, not exactly the same, but similar in style. There is a purity to it, a kind of magic that you can't really express through words. Sometimes all you can really say is, 'that's cute . . . that's beautiful . . . wow.' But we definitely don't think that any of those reactions really do the work of internationally renowned photographer Anne Geddes any justice.

To say that Geddes is one of the most unique and influential photographers of contemporary times is an understatement. A baby floating on a bed of flowers, little toddlers popping their heads out of flowerpots and pumpkins, a newborn resting in a hand, baby butterflies, angels, bees, baby lima beans and our favourite - a flower baby on a lily pad.

Beyond their obvious cuteness there is something much more telling in Geddes's work. Whimsical and dream like, vibrant and delicate, powerful yet simple, planned but spontaneous, composed and natural, Geddes's eye, her message, is about life itself. New beginnings, purity, vulnerability - these are the stories that come through her work that has made her images and her name renowned.
In her autobiography, Anne explained an incident when she was 6 or 7 where she told her mother, who was pinning clothes on the line at the time that, 'there's something I need to do but I don't know what it is'. It was a moment that Geddes knew that she had something to do, something that would make a difference somehow. And she has.
Anne's books have been published in 83 countries and according to, she has sold more than 18 million books that have been translated into 23 languages. Her latest book Small World is a retrospective of her work that draws from her complete archive reaching back to the late 1980s with many previously unseen images as well. We spoke to Geddes to discuss her career to date, where creativity comes from and creating timeless images.

It must have been very surreal for you to look through old work while you were creating this book.
Well that's true. The preparation for this book has taken 12 months of going through everything and it's interesting for me in a lot of different ways. People don't realise that the first 10 years of my career I spent doing private portraiture, of course I still do the occasional portrait. But when I first started out what I was wanting to achieve was to create timeless images for a family that were just classical images that would stand the test of time. Going through those early portraits, it was very satisfying to see that actually, that's what happened with the imagery. The final section of Small World, contains some of the oldest photographs in the book and they do look like they could have been taken yesterday which I think is a great compliment I gave myself for all that work that I put in over the 10 years of portraiture.

That's forward thinking for a young photographer. Have you always tried to be an innovator in your work?
I think for many artists, their work comes from within. And when I first started out that's exactly what I did. I have very few photographs of myself as a baby. With the ones I do have there is no personality. So that's really what I did with my portraiture. I strove to change the face of children's portraiture to show more of the character of the child because I used to say to the parents who came to the studio, don't worry about what they are wearing, don't worry if they want to wear miss matched shoes or whatever. It doesn't matter because all being well, you'll know your child longer as an adult than as a child.
If you want to take yourself forward 20 or 30 years and look back at an image of a 2-year-old you want to get a sense of what they were like at that time.

You've created this movement of people wanting to photograph their babies in different ways and many photographers have been influenced by your style. How do you feel about that?
I'm very disconnected from it. It's just not what I do and I'm always a bit puzzled when people say, 'some people are copying you.' And I look at their images and think 'that's not what I do'.
I think it's just because it's a photo of a baby. I've got to be honest, a lot of that newborn photography out there is just painting by numbers, they all look the same. You can't distinguish one photographer from the other and those images are going to date so quickly. I don't want to discourage anybody who wants to be a photographer and I know a lot of people look up to me and my work. If you look at my imagery it's just not like that at all so I guess it's a back handed compliment that any photograph of a baby, people think of me.

Where do you think creativity comes from?
I think most artists would probably not have a clear answer to that. But I really always had a feeling that I would be able to make a difference whether it was an artistic gesture... But I'm always happy - I love being in the studio. I love creating things - it just makes me feel lighter. I think it's just part of me. That's not a very good answer is it? (Laughs).

You've taken photos of hundreds of babies - do you think you'll ever move on from that subject matter?
It's interesting. I get asked that a lot. If you were talking to someone like Annie Leibovitz or Mario Testino would you say that? Do you get sick of doing what you're doing... When are you going to move on to something else? People always say that to me because I'm photographing babies. But they are my subject matter and they are my passion they are the core of my creativity. It's not actually just babies, it's life. It's a celebration of new beginnings and everything that they represent. I think a lot of people miss that message in my work.
Sure babies are cute and beautiful, but it's everything that they represent. They will always be my subject matter. Everything that babies represent is so important you know. When nothing good or bad has happened, they are just goodness. There is no such thing as a mean spirited baby. What we instill in them as they grow is what makes them into the people that they are. And I think that's why I keep returning to the subject matter, it's because of what they represent, they are absolute purity. It's hard for me to come up with an original word for the subject matter so I guess that's my best way to describe it.

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