In the film "Easy Money," Rodney Dangerfield, as baby photographer Monty Capuletti, attempts to photograph a squirming fat boy with the boy's family looking on and swelling with pride.
Grandmother (pinching the boy's cheek): "Monty, have you ever seen a face like this before?"
Monty (rolling his eyes): "Believe me, if I had I'd remember."
Mother: "He has my eyes."
Father: "He has my nose."
Monty (grimacing): "He has my sympathy."
As the scene continues, young Anthony becomes more and more rambunctious. At first Monty tries to calm him down by speaking softly. But patience is not one of Monty's virtues. His voice gets increasingly loud as he tells Anthony, "Stay still. Be quiet. Kid, you gotta stay still." Totally exasperated, Monty finally shouts, "Somebody. Anybody. Will you shut the fat little bastard up!"
A film about a baby photographer is surely art imitating art.
"That movie, I suspect, portrays a different profession," says Shelley Langston, for 20 years a photographer of children. A photographic session with her, either at her Georgetown studio or at the subject's home, usually takes two hours and costs around $300 for black and white, around $450 for color. Neither cheap, nor quick. "Baby photographers, as such, are department stores. They do quick studio setups and give people a cute picture of their baby. When someone comes to me they can't have that kind of thing in mind. A piece of my work should serve as a piece of art as well."
Langston began photographing children when she was an apprentice to her current partner, portrait photographer George deVincent. At first she did it for practice, but soon she became a specialist and developed a fine reputation in the field. Unlike many baby photographers, Langston does not use squeeze toys, rattles or balloons to elicit excited reactions from babies; she says, "I don't want the child to relate to me as a clown." She says of her profession: "People feel that photographing children is easy--until they try it. Fruit is easy. It sits still and has no expression. Children are hard. But children are the most natural, exciting subjects because they haven't been conditioned not to have expressions yet."
Langston says she likes photographing all children; she favors no special age, sex or size--as long as the child hasn't been conditioned to being in front of a camera and hasn't been taught by its parents to pose and smile. "I have to spend too much time unposing that child," she says.
Judy Mosier has brought her youngest daughter, Megan, to Harrie Shinaberry for a 1-year picture. Shinaberry, a portrait photographer since 1947, has photographed all three of Mosier's children at Woodward & Lothrop in Wheaton Plaza; Mosier wouldn't let anyone else shoot her kids. By this time they are all friends.
"Why, Megan," Shinaberry says, "you look so pretty today."
Mosier laughs the laugh of maternal relief. "I got her dressed, got her bathed, got her some new underwear, and now we're finally ready," she says.
The sitting will last about 25 minutes. In that time Shinaberry, using a hand-held shutter bulb attached to a huge tripod, will use a rubber ball, a clown, a stuffed animal and various impressions including a cricket, a babbling brook and a motorboat to delight Megan into enough big smiles to fill a proof sheet. Big smiles are the baby photographer's currency. "I'll put a ball on my head, I'll blow bubbles, I'll make noises, anything to get a smile," Shinaberry says. "With most of my customers, if I don't get a smile out of their child they don't think they have a good photograph."
Department stores are America's favorite baby photography studios. Sears is the most popular nationally, offering packages of 8-by-10s, 5-by-7s and wallet-sized pictures for under $15. Woodies charges a minimum of $25, but during the summer baby photographs are traditionally 50 percent off, and unlike Sears, Woodies schedules appointments and provides parents with assorted proofs from which to pick. Its appeal is to the middle class, whatever that is nowadays.
Shinaberry thinks that the easiest children to photograph are the 1-year-olds; the hardest are between 6 and 12. "They're very conscious of posing and very conscious about losing their baby teeth," Shinaberry says. "And they don't think you're silly anymore; they think you're dumb." Her one rule is that the mother should sit down first with the child on her lap before putting the baby on the posing table. Shinaberry says, "If the mother puts the baby on the table first and then stands up, the baby thinks she's going to leave."
Speaking of mothers, here's Mosier saying: "Mothers are terrible. They're the pits. You get the proofs back and you don't like them--as far as a mother's concerned it's always the photographer's fault; it's never that your child had a bad day."
Shinaberry smiles a smile that says, Amen.
Varouj Boyadjian, son of a portrait photographer of Saudi Arabia's King Khalid, was virtually born in a darkroom. Photography, he says, is in his blood. He has been doing it professionally for 15 years and learned to do babies in Saudi Arabia, photographing many princes and princesses of the royal family. Last year he opened a studio, Azad, in Foxhall Square, specializing in babies. "I like to do babies because of the innocence," he says. "You don't have any of the complications you have with adults--babies don't say, 'Oh, today I look so ugly.' Or, 'Don't take a picture of my big nose.' With babies all you have to take care of is the expression." Boyadjian charges $150 per sitting. "But I don't do it just to fill my pockets," he says. "I do it because there's nothing more important to a family than a baby; the baby portrait is the best souvenir a family can have."
Boyadjian says the most important part of photographing babies is remaining calm; the photographer cannot be impatient. "You cannot tell the baby where to look or how to smile," he says. "Sometimes the baby will get scared of the big light in the studio and start to cry; sometimes the baby will look at your face and start to cry, or run. So you wait until the baby calms down and then you try to be a mime, and do things that the baby will imitate. Because you don't want the baby to be still. It's life, you know. You want to feel it."
Last Saturday Boyadjian photographed Jennifer Greenwald on the occasion of her first birthday. James and Debra Greenwald wanted Jennifer "to know what she looked like at 1." Using a variety of squeeze toys, stuffed animals, balloons and her father's excited coaxing, Boyadjian easily succeeded in getting Jennifer to smile for the camera. After Jennifer's session, Tatiana Haagensen brought her daughter Sacha, 2 1/2, and Sacha's 8-week-old Dalmatian puppy for a sitting, a sort of paw de deux. The child was most cooperative. Alas, neither squeeze toy, balloon nor coaxing could make the puppy smile.
Talk about no respect.