This month Home Birth South Africa spoke to Samantha Squire-Howe, mother, birth photographer and doula. And also the 2015 Midwifery and Birth Conference official photographer. Based in the Southern Peninsula of Cape Town, she runs Twinkle Star Photography – her passion for her work is evident in her photographs.
Tell us about yourself and the birth work that you do?
My name is Sam Squire-Howe and I am a professional Birth Photographer (Twinkle Star Photography). I am based in Cape Town and travel to births in all the surrounding areas. I attend both hospital and home births, natural births and c-sections. I am currently busy certifying as a Mama Bamba doula as well, which I am so enjoying. I feel being fully equipped both emotionally and mentally to be present at a birth, is so important. I am hugely passionate about discreetly documenting this incredibly profound experience. Witnessing the moment someone becomes a parent, is beyond a privilege for me. I have seen through my work, what a gift it is for parents to have these precious memories captured. Birth is such an intense experience. Often it goes by in what feels like a flash and a lot of the details get lost in a blur. I have also found when birth doesn’t go exactly to plan, that those images are a valuable tool in the healing process for a mom. My own birth experience really taught me that at the end of the day, sometimes your birth doesn’t go according to one’s picture or plan. Sometimes it is hard to let go of the way we wanted it. Seeing beautiful images of the story, just the way it unfolded is incredibly healing.
How do you feel about capturing home births?
Although I completely love being present at all types of birth, I must admit being present at and capturing home births is definitely my absolute best! I am so pro-home birth and really wish I had made that choice with my own birth. It is wonderful documenting birth in such normal, natural surroundings – completely unmedicated. I love that the mood of each home birth is so unique to each family and couple.
How did you get involved in home births?
As soon as I specialised in Birth Photography, I began documenting home births. In fact, the first ever birth I photographed was a home birth. To me home birth is just the most natural thing. I had already read up and researched so much about birthing at home while pregnant with my daughter, 10 years ago. Quite a few of my friends have chosen to birth at home, so it has been very familiar to me.
Are there any challenges to photographing a home birth?
The only real challenge is a technical one and that is that often, one is photographing in very low light – compared to say a hospital situation. I often find myself shooting in what feels like the pitch dark. This is lovely for the birthing mom, but you really need to know your way around your camera and how to make the most of the little bit of light that is available! I pride myself in capturing these sacred moments without disturbing the scene at all. I don’t use flash for this reason. Not disturbing the atmosphere at all is of paramount importance to me.
Tell us something that has stood out for you in the work that you do?
Shew, this is a hard one. There are so many things. I think the most incredible thing for has been the response to my images. In today’s society birth has become so unknown to us as women. Gone are the days of the past where by the time we gave birth for the first time, we would have already attended many births of the women around us – our mothers, aunts, sisters and friends would have shared this experience with us, in a circle of woman. Birth would have been so familiar and natural and real. Now the doors are closed and birth has become something hidden and taboo. As we all know, a picture speaks a thousand words. Birth Photography has a very noble task today. This is one of the ways we can normalise birth again. Make it something familiar to woman. Something not to be feared. I feel so strongly about this. Women are hungry to be reminded of the power and beauty of what it is to birth a child. I love being a part of this revolution.
What are the challenges/misconceptions you’ve encountered about birth photography?
I think the biggest challenge (especially here in South Africa) is that most people don’t understand what Birth Photography really is. Everyone seems to just picture that crowning shot. You know!? But it is so not about that. It is about having one of the most important days in your life discreetly, beautifully and authentically captured. It is about the story of the birth – the labour, the moments of the birth and the first few hours of your baby’s life. The other misconception, I find, is that people don’t realise how in the background one is as the photographer. So often my clients will comment how amazing it was, that most of the time, they were not even aware I was there. To me in my role as photographer, that is an art and the biggest compliment.
You’ve been selected as the Cape Town Midwifery and Birth conference ‘s official photographer this year, what are you hoping to gain from this collaboration?
For me, I so enjoy hanging out with fellow birth junkies! It feels like I am with my tribe. Plus, I have always loved capturing woman in my photography. So I love documenting these kinds of events – the passion and beauty of these dedicated, warm, wonderful people. So passionate about empowered birth. So passionate about birth education and supporting women’s choices. I can’t think of anything better. Last year, I wasn’t able to be at this event and I so loved seeing the photographs and getting a glimpse of what I had missed. I also loved watching all the talks on YouTube. I got so much out of it. So the photographs and videos make this event accessible, even to those unable to be there on the weekend.
For more info on Sam and to see her work, please visit her website www.twinklestar.co.za