Letting It All Hang Out:
Pregnant Women Pose
For a New Type of Family Portrait

August 11, 2005; Page D1

At eight months pregnant, Lisa Algert was feeling sluggish and large. Taking off her clothes to pose for a professional photographer was pretty much the last thing she could fathom doing.

But when her prenatal yoga instructor passed out business cards for Jennifer Loomis, a photographer who specializes in shots of pregnant women, Ms. Algert gave her a call. “I thought I’d just do clothed, full-body shots,” she says. She ended up feeling so comfortable that she posed for a nude torso shot as well. It now hangs in the master bedroom of her Pacific Heights, Calif., home and sometimes she shows it to guests.

“I didn’t think I’d like the image but I was totally blown away by how beautiful it was,” says Ms. Algert, now a mother of an eight-month-old son.

Indeed, the maternity photograph is becoming a rite of pregnancy for an increasing number of women, many of them over 30, with money to spend and a yearning to savor every part of the experience. In some circles, it is becoming an integral part of the nine-month buildup, along with childbirth classes, baby showers and counting calcium servings. Women who wouldn’t think of going to a professional photographer — who regard something like an engagement portrait as anachronistic — are paying hundreds of dollars (or more) to sit for a nervier type of picture. Women who normally wouldn’t dream of taking their clothes off in front of a camera feel compelled to do it while weighing some 30 extra pounds.

It is all a part of the increasing glamorization of pregnancy, an attitude spawned by celebrities and the celebrity press, which seems fascinated by the reproductive life of the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Britney Spears. Ordinary women are embracing the mind-set by doing everything from wearing clingy maternity clothes that flaunt, rather than hide, a bulging belly to passing around sonogram pictures of the fetus at the office.

“Pregnancy is no longer a just means to an end,” says Julia Beck, founder of Forty Weeks, a business that provides consulting and branding advice to companies targeting the expectant and new-parent market. “It is something women are embracing and celebrating.”

Of course many women are horrified at the thought of posing while pregnant, but maternity photographers say that most of their clients aren’t unconventional 20-somethings. Rather, they are professionals over 35 who relish being pregnant, either because they have waited so long for it or because they suspect it will be their final time.

“This was potentially my last pregnancy,” says Julie Wallace, who is 38. “I wanted to remember it.” Ms. Wallace had gained more than 50 pounds when she hired Paul Wendl (at about $700), an Atlanta photographer, to take her picture a few weeks before her due date. But she did have a requirement: ” ‘Can you remove stretch marks?’ ” (Mr. Wendl assured her he could.)

Maternity photography used to be the purview of a few edgy urban artists, following the lead of Annie Leibowitz who generated shock waves when she photographed Demi Moore naked and pregnant for the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991. But the pregnancy genre is going mainstream and is now part of the spectrum of life events that photographers advertise they can document: “Engagement, Weddings, Maternity, Newborn, Baby, Toddler, Family, Graduation, Pets, Sports” reads the list of offerings by Natural Expressions Photography in Dallas, where portrait packages range from about $150 to more than $300.

The maternity shot provides a neat and profitable bridge from the wedding to the family portrait. “It helps get them through the door,” says Mr. Wendl, who says many maternity subjects later hire him to photograph their children. Even J.C. Penney Co. offers a maternity package at its 400 photography studios.

Ms. Loomis, one of the few photographers who focuses almost exclusively on maternity clients, was inspired by the Demi Moore photograph and considered specializing in pregnancy photography in the early ’90s. But, she says, “Everyone thought I was crazy.” She gave maternity photography a try again in 2000 and now operates in three cities — Seattle, San Francisco and New York — and brings in revenue of about $300,000 annually. (Her sales last month were 25% above sales a year earlier.)

“The message I’m trying to communicate is one of strength, transformation and beauty,” says Ms. Loomis. “I’m helping them capture one of the most interesting times of their lives.”

Some women are going to a further extreme and hiring photographers to come to the delivery room to shoot the whole birthing process. Suzanne Jamieson, whose San Francisco business MamaPics offers both photography and painted portraits of pregnancy, charges $1,400 for a four-hour delivery-room shoot, more for additional hours. She is prepared to rush to the hospital in the middle of the night to get all the key shots.

“I’m trying to catch all the moments — the contractions, the deep pushing, the moments of birth, the new parents and the baby right when it’s born,” Ms. Jamieson says.

Most regular maternity photographers are looking to avoid such drama, however, and recommend scheduling a shoot about four to six weeks before the due date — late enough to capture the full pregnant image but not so late as to risk having the mother go into labor during the session.