Executives by birth artist and photographer Rachel Koshy capture the strength and vulnerability of working women
There is no second take, no flash, no props, no makeup, no stylist. “And there is absolutely no pose,” says Rachel Koshy. “What you get are a few moments of pure truth.”
Kochi-based artist and birth photographer Rachel has been documenting natural births for the past five years. Sometimes the pictures aren’t pretty, says Rachel, but they capture emotion in its rawest form.
When Rachel delivered her second baby at home, in a natural birthing setting, she was amazed at the support she received throughout the process. “I was not left on a table, left to wonder what was to become of me. There were people around me every step of the way. This is the image I always had in mind. I wish I could have frozen those moments, ”says Rachel. This was the starting point of his interest in birth photography.
“Many of us have no records of the birth of our children. We don’t remember what we looked like or what our baby looked like in his first moments of life. It’s an intimate experience that I think needs to be documented, ”she adds.
Few hospitals in India allow photography, so Rachel discussed the idea with Priyanka Idicula, director of Birth Village, a natural birthing center in Kochi and decided to go ahead. The work was as intimidating as it was exciting. “I didn’t know what to expect,” she recalls of her first assignment. “My client was a French woman and I offered to shoot for free. It was one of the most intense yet amazing things I had ever witnessed. It just made me realize how strong women are.
To be Discret
Soon Rachel realized that she would be crossing the thin line between invasion of privacy and the fine art. She learned to be low-key, literally hide in the shadows, and time her shots to capture the best moments. “I know I’m in a very private space. The mother is the most vulnerable and I have a responsibility not to make her feel raped in any way.
In natural birthing centers, mothers are allowed to dress as they wish and most of them wear little or no clothing during childbirth. Rachel told her clients that she would be present throughout. Not all clients have confidence in their bodies; some mothers are shy. “I have the advantage of being a woman. But I sometimes tell them that they could wear a see-through dress if they wanted to. Anytime during work, if they don’t want me to be in the room, I tell them to let me know, ”says Rachel.
She often has to click at difficult angles in low light to capture fleeting moments. She also sometimes ends up as a nurse, doing small errands – helping the mother tie up her hair, for example.
Rachel’s creative process is political in that it breaks taboos around childbirth. “As a society, we take childbirth for granted. We don’t discuss it, let alone photograph it. Now, however, there is greater awareness and many young mothers want their births registered. In its early days, the only customers interested were foreign nationals or those who had lived abroad. Today, the majority of its customers come from South India.
A mother’s journey
Birth photography is not just about the baby’s arrival. Rachel sees it as a mother’s journey. Its frames represent the fragility and strength of a woman in equal parts – exhaustion, pain, a smile, an intimate moment with the spouse, joy and vulnerability. “I don’t promise anything to my clients. I tell them there is no guarantee. I do not edit or retouch the images. Rachel is not troubled by blood or body fluids, but she generally avoids front-facing shots, photographing from the side and back, so that the moment is recorded, but in an aesthetic way.
Putting aside a few days of basic manual photography training that she received from a retired university principal during her undergraduate studies in Kochi, Rachel is largely self-taught. “I had a Yashica, my first camera, which I played with. I had no technical expertise, but wanted to tell stories. Even at home, I would put my parents’ photos together, trying to tell a story through the images. Rachel then did her graduate studies in advertising and journalism at Manipal, but her heart was in photography.
The feedback she receives from her clients is overwhelming, says Rachel. Some of them come back even after a year, thanking her. Although most hospitals ban photography, Rachel says she would like to document a C-section. She also plans to spend more time doing postpartum photography.
“For me, photos really remind a woman of her strength,” says Rachel.