The Story Behind The Picture
"Maneesha is the smallest baby I have every photographed. She was born prematurely at twenty-eight weeks gestation, weighing 608 grams (a little under 1.5 pounds), and was just about to leave the hospital after her long stay. I am sure I'm not the only person fascinated by the continual progressive medical advances to save babies who are born too early and would not otherwise survive.
At around this time, I was beginning to photograph more and more newborn babies as opposed to older children. I thought it would be wonderful to show how tiny these premature babies are — but also how perfect. I felt the best way to do this would be to contrast the baby in some very large hands — but where to find them?
I telephoned the local police station and fire brigade — after all, aren't policemen traditionally supposed to have big feet and hands? Of course they all thought it was hilarious, but were most helpful because the fax machine ran hot with outlines of hands coming through. I also placed an advertisement in the local paper for 'a man with very large hands for a photo shoot'. As you can imagine we had some interesting replies. Eventually, I auditioned about ten (mostly embarrassed) men, some of whom were brought in by their wives, not necessarily willingly! Jack's hands happened to be the second largest, but he had a warm, gentle personality, which was essential for the shoot. I just felt he was perfect for the job.
In the meantime, I started making enquires to the neonatal ward at our local hospital. I had a meeting with one of their specialist pediatricians and outlined my idea for the image. Naturally I was concerned that there be absolutely no risk involved; in fact, I was so concerned that without realizing it I must have kept repeating this point to the doctor. He finally said that I should stop worrying so much, he understood what I was trying to achieve, and he would help to put me in touch with the parents of a baby at the hospital who he thought would be perfect.
I was introduced to baby Maneesha's parents, a lovely couple, who agreed to be a part of the shoot. Maneesha would soon be ready to go home for the first time, and her parents were understandably very excited. When I first saw Maneesha in her incubator, she looked so incredibly small and fragile. She was attached to all manner of wires and tubes which, to a layperson like myself, can be quite intimidating. On the side of her incubator was a label saying 'I'm in the Kilo Club' and I learned that 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) is a significant weight milestone for premature babies. Maneesha weighed just 1 kilogram at the time of the shoot. Even her pacifier was minute; they make a special size for premature babies.
Maneesha's shoot took place at the hospital, in an anteroom directly outside the neonatal ward. I set up a small background in this very limited space, some simple lighting and a chair for Jack. One of the reasons for using this small room was because it could be effectively heated — most important, as Maneesha would be naked and the temperature needed to be similar to her incubator.
I can imagine how emotional it must have been for Jack to hold such a tiny and precious human being. It certainly was for me. That day Maneesha had been completely disconnected from all her machinery, and I remember when I settled her into Jack's huge hands and was photographing her, the look of amazement and wonder on her mother's face.
I next photographed Maneesha when she was a very healthy four-year-old and I have a funny story to tell about her at that time. I wanted an updated photo for my book, Until Now, to show what wonderful progress she had made since she left the hospital. By then she had a new baby brother and they both came to the studio. They were sitting side-by-side on a chair in readiness for a portrait together and, in true sibling-rivalry form, Maneesha obviously decided that she was not prepared to share the limelight. Without taking her eyes off the camera and with a huge smile on her face, she promptly pushed her little brother Aakash, sideways off the chair! No harm was done, apart from some slightly wounded pride, but I suppose that's what all the little brothers of the world have to suffer from time to time."
A Labor of Love
by Anne Geddes
And now from the sublime to the