Anne Geddes, inspired to photograph new beginnings in nature and in life, has created a book of new images titled "Beginnings." In her book, Anne includes a photograph of Maneesha holding a precious, prematurely born baby, Gabriella, who is the same weight as Maneesha was -- 1 kilogram, or 2.2 pounds -- when Anne first photographed Maneesha in 1993. Anne reveals how she felt taking this image of Maneesha, now a beautiful 17-year-old, having watched her grow from a frail preemie baby into a young woman.
Maneesha is pretty much a shining example of how a little one like Gabriella can start off in such a fragile state and grow into a beautiful young woman. And I think I have an even deeper sense of the fragility and preciousness of life now than when I photographed Maneesha nearly 16 years ago, born so vulnerable, weighing less than 1.5 pounds.
Maneesha was the smallest baby I had ever photographed. She was born prematurely at 28 weeks' gestation, and was just about to leave the hospital after a long stay. Naturally, I was concerned that there be absolutely no risk involved. I must have kept repeating this to the specialist pediatrician at the hospital without realizing it. He finally said I should stop worrying; he understood what I was trying to achieve, and he would put me in touch with the parents of a baby at the hospital whom he thought would be perfect.
When I first met Maneesha, I was beginning to photograph more newborns as opposed to older babies. I thought it would be wonderful to show how tiny these premature babies are -- and also how perfect. I felt the best way to do this would be to contrast the baby in some very large hands; the fax machine ran hot with outlines of men's hands coming through. Jack's hands happened to be the second largest, but he had a warm, gentle personality, which was essential.
Jack Holding Maneesha
I can't imagine how emotional it must have been for Jack to hold to hold such a tiny and precious human being; watching them both was certainly one of my most moving experiences. That day was the first time Maneesha had been completely disconnected from all of 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 healthy, adorable four-year-old, and I thought of her again for this new project about beginnings. The night before the shoot I spoke to Gabriella's mother (as I had done with Maneesha's parents years earlier), because I wanted Gabriella's mother to feel as if she knew me a little bit better, and wanted her to know what a privilege it was for me to have the opportunity to photograph her beautiful little girl.
Tiny babies are the human face of beginnings, yet all of nature is caught up in this insistent stream of seasons, of aging and rebirth, of concealment and bursting forth. I have always been fascinated by elements of nature at the moment of transformation. Buds, bulbs, seeds, pregnant women and, of course, newborn babies -- all are inextricably linked in the wondrous cycle of nature. Looking at bulbs, so small and knobbly, who would suspect that I was going to make them into photographic models? Yet look again at their beauty: pendulous with the nutrients they store through the winter to nourish new life in the spring. In the curves of a bulb, the intricate and delicate colors, the patina of layered skin, is the beauty of possibility, of potential and promise.
This is how Gabriella, born so tiny with so much promise, came to be modeled as an Ornithogalum bulb. I hoped to bring people along on my journey of beginnings in two ways: by focusing in on the richness, abundance and meaningfulness of individual elements, to see the beauty in the everyday, the breathtaking in the ordinary miracles that surround us, the remarkable aspects of nature; and I hoped they could also experience the profound sense of wonder and joy at seeing these two miracles of life, Maneesha and Gabriella, who represent absolute promise and potential, and who now with all the continual medical advances, have the opportunity to fulfill that potential. During this "Beginnings" project, I came to understand the deeper value of encouraging people to look at their babies and realize how precious, beautiful and important they are as human beings, that they should all be cherished, encouraged and nurtured.
There were so many elements coming into play in that room at the Children's Hospital at Westmead that day. Gabriella looked pretty feisty, and I remember saying to her mother that she had good cause to be. The lighting looked beautiful and Maneesha was ready; if we could just get little Gabriella off to sleep, then we'd be right. After all the hours of preparation, two seconds is all it would take.
I knew that Maneesha, this lovely 16-year-old girl, could not be forgotten through the whole process. I assured her, "Don't worry about anything. Gabriella is fine, her parents are here. You look beautiful; everything is in place. Just watch me; when I go back to the camera you just watch me, and I'll tell you what to do." I had to make sure that I kept that energy going, that I maintained a connection with Maneesha, and I really think that I did.
Maneesha Holding Gabriella
I had bought a little bracelet for both of them before the shoot, so they've got identical bracelets, and they have this link going forward. Maneesha and Gabriella will always share a very special bond.
When "Beginnings" was published this fall, Maneesha dedicated a copy for Gabriella. She wrote, "Miracles really do exist. All you have to do is look in the mirror. Love always, Maneesha."