About seven months into her pregnancy, Grace Martinez had a revelation. "I kept coming across ads for Jennifer Loomis," says the Everett resident, "and I commented to my husband that the women in her photos always looked so beautiful. I didn't feel that way. I was worried about gaining weight, worried about carrying a life. I felt more fat than pregnant."
Martinez's husband surprised her by arranging a photo shoot with Loomis, in which he took part. "When we saw the photos, I felt like it wasn't me," Martinez says. "She made me look beautiful."
Loomis, 36, has met hundreds of mothers like Grace Martinez, having photographed more than 900 pregnant women in the last 14 years ― from Fortune 500 executives to low-income moms (Loomis offers two sliding-scale shoots per month). She has photographed celebrity mothers, lesbian mothers, young mothers. She photographed Aleta St. James, who gave birth to twins last November, just before her 57th birthday.
Though Loomis is primarily based in Seattle ― she has studios here and in San Francisco, and she also shoots in New York ― her work is ubiquitous. If you've had a baby recently, you've probably seen her photos on the walls of your local mothers' resource center. She has regular shows: Her newest opens May 7 at Seattle's Gracewinds Perinatal Center.
Looking for real emotion
Along with Annie Leibovitz, whose studio gave Loomis her first big pregnancy photography referral ― and who caused a stir with a photo of Demi Moore naked and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair ― Loomis was one of the first maternity photographers out there. When she was starting out, Loomis says, "No one believed I could do this. And I thought maybe they were right." So instead of setting out to be the next Annie Leibovitz, Loomis pursued a master's degree in photojournalism at the University of Missouri. As part of the program, she documented Japan's elderly population as well as HIV and prostitution in Africa.
"I think I'm the only maternity photographer with a degree in photojournalism and fine arts." And that, in a nutshell, is what sets her apart. "My biggest criticism of pregnancy photography is that it doesn't feel real to me," she says. "What I'm looking for is real emotion, and photojournalism teaches you that."
Identifying the kind of real emotion that makes a great photo takes patience ― and compassion, Loomis says. "When you're working in Japan, emotions are so far beneath the surface that you have to hunt for the real moment. Seeing a grandfather hug his grandson is a real moment."
In pregnancy photography, the challenge is even greater because, except when a woman's partner is involved in the shoot, there's no hug, no interaction to add drama to the photo. It's just the woman, standing in front of the camera, often only partially clad, feeling more exposed and vulnerable than ever before.
But Loomis puts women at ease. She plays music and talks and laughs and asks questions: "How do you stand? How do you hold your hands?" If a woman's partner takes part, Loomis tries to elicit natural interactions: "How do you hold her? How do you love her?"
Though she has not yet had any children (she's hoping to rein in her travels and start a family soon with her boyfriend, Patrick), her compassion makes her an expert on the physical and emotional side effects of pregnancy. "I talk to my moms about how it feels to be pregnant. I tell my mothers they don't have to be on their best behavior," she says, emphasizing that it's okay for mothers to feel scared or sad.
"Just this morning, I photographed a woman who'd been on bed rest for 28 weeks," Loomis says. "She could only stand for three minutes at a time. So we talked about that." Just as she talked with the woman who'd had seven miscarriages. And the one whose partner was with her for five years and then left her the day he found out she was pregnant.
Samantha Muse, a Bellevue mother of two who had Loomis photograph both pregnancies, says, "Jen is able to help you admit a certain response you didn't know you had in you." Muse brought several outfits to the first shoot but then ended up thinking, Why bother? Now, she says, her favorite photo is a silhouette of herself 37 weeks into her second pregnancy, fully naked.
"I went through seven years of infertility, so it was such a joyous time," Muse says. "Jen captured the beauty of being pregnant."
INFO: See Jennifer Loomis's newest work May 7-Aug 7 at Gracewinds Perinatal Center (1421 N.W. 70th St.; 206/781-9871). Her work can also be seen at various locations in Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Issaquah, and Tacoma, and on her website ( www.jenniferloomis.com). Photo shoots start at $400; call 206/329-4772 for details.
Photograph a special time
Here are Jennifer Loomis's tips on how to capture your pregnancy, month by month.
- Keep the backdrop consistent for every photo. This will make monthly comparisons easier.
- Use indirect light. Direct light is unflattering.
- Go with black-and-white film. Color film shows too many imperfections. The point is to show the shape of your body, not the details.
- Stand, don't sit. If you sit, you'll look scrunched.
- Bare only what you feel comfortable showing. Nudity is not required. You can wear tight clothes or an open sweater. And you can crop the frame under the belly.
- Don't skimp on film. Shoot an entire roll, not just one photo. Odds are you'll get something you like if you take multiple shots.
- Experiment. Incorporate something that means something to you that month: a smell that drives you crazy, a color that speaks to you.
- Take notes. Write down when each photo was taken. You may think you'll remember, but you won't.