Born premature, Zackaree Harrington was whisked into intensive care before anyone could photograph his first moments outside the womb.
"I had no photos, really," says his mother, Jamee Harrington of Eagle Point.
Find a worldwide directory of birth photographers at www.birthphotographers.com, administered by the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers. Find more information about photographers interviewed for this story at www.amandawardphotography.com, www.crystalgarcia.com and www.melissacatephotography.com.
Three years later, Harrington, 24, vowed to commemorate every detail of her second child's arrival. On Craigslist, she found Amanda Ward, who specializes in birth photography, a growing niche locally.
"She can really tailor to whatever your needs are," says Harrington.
Like several birth photographers in the area, Ward worked as a portraitist before refocusing her business model. A mother of two, Ward heard about birth photographers nearly two years ago from a friend who hired one in California.
"My first reaction was to scoff at that," she says. "I thought, 'Why would you want a photographer right in front of you while you're giving birth?' "
Then Ward, 26, saw how birth photos made the experience a "classy thing and not the scary thing that the media tells us it is."
Comparing the handful of snapshots from her children's births, Ward wished she had more mementos.
"Your birth story should be about your entire labor story," she says.
Ward set out in January to tell the stories that unfold every day in hospitals, birth centers and homes around the Rogue Valley. She's documented a dozen local deliveries with tips from Austin, Texas, photographer Lyndsay Stradtner, founder of the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers. Although Ward says demand for the service is "not that high" locally, she thinks birth photography eventually will be as common as wedding photography.
Wedding photography fueled Crystal Garcia's career before she passed on ceremonies joining couples' lives in order to witness new lives entering the world.
"I didn't ever want a birth and a wedding ... on the same day," says the 26-year-old.
Two years after moving with her husband and children to Ashland from Louisiana, Garcia has contracted with the town's Oak Grove Midwifery to photograph its clients' births. Trillium Waterbirth Center in Medford provides a similar service through Melissa Cate Photography.
"It's such a keepsake for the families," says Augustine Colebrook, director of Trillium's midwifery practice, Wise Women Care Associates. "I think it's a beautiful addition to the birth."
If not included in midwifery services, a birth-photography session costs between $300 and $500, depending on how far photographers must travel. Ward, Cate and Garcia all pledge availability from active labor through the baby's first bath or attempts at nursing. Six hours is a common duration, says Cate, but she photographed a 60-hour labor at Trillium this year.
"Moms should never feel rushed to get through it," says Ward.
Using neither auxiliary lighting nor flash, the three photographers say laboring women often don't realize there's a camera in the room. While the photographers frequently attend home deliveries, all three have shot in hospitals, which they say are becoming more accommodating locally.
"I'm just a fly on the wall," says Ward. "I get as much as I can."
Birth-photography clients typically fill out advance questionnaires specifying shots they want and any shots they don't. Some women want "PG-rated" photos while others are completely open-minded, says Cate, a 25-year-old mother of two.
"Some clients want everything — they want the crowning," she says.
Ward says she shoots births exclusively in black and white because the medium "tones it down a little bit" and suggests a narrative. Slide shows typically are included in birth-photography packages, sometimes an album of small-dimension prints, with the option to order enlargements. Many families sign release forms so photographers can post their images online.
"I knew they were going to be photojournalistic," says Harrington of Ward's work. "She was able to capture moments that I didn't even know were occurring."
Hiring a birth photographer also frees up family — women's partners, in particular — for playing vital, supportive roles instead of fumbling with a camera. And the service allows midwives and other professionals to focus on their jobs rather than a lens, says Colebrook. About 75 percent of Trillium clients use its birth-photography service, she says, acknowledging that it's "still a little bit fringe."
"Some people are just more private," says Colebrook. "Some people just don't want photos of it."
Ruling against images that could embarrass her children years later, Harrington used Ward's photos for daughter Emilee's birth announcements earlier this year instead of formal studio shots. And the slide show, beginning with Harrington's scheduled induction at Rogue Regional Medical Center, depicts the raw emotion of childbirth in a way that makes her proud to share it.
"It was literally a birth story," says Harrington. "I cry every time I watch it."