I Was an Anne Geddes Baby: One Woman Dishes About Her Time in the Cabbage Leaf
The unusual surroundings somehow look hyper-natural, the delicate baby flowering like a bud, begging you to reach out and stroke that super-soft skin.
Whether you love them or find them deeply creepy, you've got to admit -- Anne Geddes' baby photographs are effective and oddly sensual.
But I'd never stopped to think what it'd be like to be one of those babies till I spoke to Maneesha, who has been photographed by Geddes at least four times: at birth (that's her, above!), at age 4, 12 and now at 17, holding another tiny baby.
When I saw her original picture, I realized with a shock that this image was on the office wall of the social worker assigned to me when my own preemie was in the hospital for those scary, stressful first six weeks. And now I was interviewing that same little face I had gazed at so many times before. Life's funny, huh?
MyDaily: How small were you when you were born?
Maneesha: I was born at 28 weeks gestation, in 1993, and I weighed 680 grams, which is just under one-and-a-half pounds. Like a pound of butter, really.
How long were you in the hospital?
I was there for about three months. The photo was taken, like, about a month after my birth. I had to be a kilo [about 2.2 pounds] before they could take the photo.
Have your parents talked to you about what it was like to have a preemie?
Yeah, they have. They say it was all quite surreal, really, it kind of happened really fast. The doctors told my mum they had to take me out three months early, it was quite emotional and happened very fast.
Anne was living in Aukland, New Zealand, at the time, and researching for the book "Until Now." She was looking in hospitals for a small baby and approached my parents and asked them if I would like to be involved in the book, and it went from there. They had heard of her before and seen her images, so they took it as a really nice opportunity and experience to do that with Anne.
Were they worried about having you out of the isolette, being handled?
Well, I was healthy, even though I was born three months early, so there wasn't a great worry there. The doctors approved of it as well.
Do you remember the first time you saw yourself in that image?
I don't have a memory of when I first saw it. It's always been there, just a part of my life. When you're small, you get told things, so I was told that was me –- it's something I've always known about. People think it's quite amazing, but to me, it's just normal.
Do you get a lot of people telling you they've seen the picture, as I did?
Mostly I have people who already know me tell me they've seen the picture somewhere. But I was taking guitar when I first started high school and I brought a little diary to show my guitar teacher, and he said, "Oh, I know that picture!" He'd seen it in the background of a documentary on the Discovery channel, on the wall of the office of a doctor in France. I thought that was interesting.
Does anyone ever make fun of you because you were in this photo?
Just my brother.
Whose hands are holding you?
His name was Jack. Anne was looking for people with really big hands, so she asked for handprints from police officers and that sort of thing. Jack was a school caretaker, they look after school grounds and do security. He was a gentle giant, that's what Anne and my parents say. He passed away.
And the second shoot was when you were 4 ...
Yes, in 1997, when my brother was born. I remember that time –- it was at her studio in Aukland. It was really nice.
And how did the third shoot come about?
When I was 12, she got in contact again for a photo shoot for [Anne's] autobiography, which came out in 2007. We flew back to New Zealand from for a sort of "where are they now." Then, in 2009, she asked if I'd like to do the photo for her new book, "Beginnings," and I agreed.
When you look at the picture, do you feel a personal connection?
Though I'd grown up with the knowledge that it's me, it never really resonated until 2009, when I did the photo shoot with [another preemie named] Gabriella, that I really had the feel of how small I actually was. I'd never seen a premature baby in real life. When we walked into the hospital and I saw her in the incubator, just ridiculously small, it really was surreal. Now, when I look at my picture again, I can say to myself "yeah, that is me." It connected me to that earlier experience.
How would you describe what you're wearing in the most recent picture?
Well, in the book, we all represent an element of nature. My picture depicts a bulb; I'm in a body sock and wearing a piece of material that's pinned to me, so in the picture, it looks just like the bulb on the opposite page. It did get a bit cold.
It seems like Anne Geddes has been this presence throughout your life, like some kind of fairy godmother.
Anne and her staff are like family. I've known them since I was little. Most people think "Anne Geddes, famous photographer," but to me, she's very down-to-earth. I feel very fortunate to have been part of Anne's books and her life. It's been a very positive experience for me.
And what does it feel like to be photographed by her?
She's very, very good. She's always calm, collected, makes you feel at home. Even when I was four, I just listened to what she had to say, and did it. For the recent picture, the doctors looked after Gabriella, and she looked after me. She has a ton of patience. It's really fun.
Was there ever a time when you felt awkward and adolescent, and you could look at her pictures and think, Oh, I'm beautiful after all?
Er, no. No, I've never had that experience.
Maneesha's story can be found in Anne's new book "Beginnings", available for purchase at Amazon.com and iBooks.
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