Babies and cow boy hats

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“I think it’s a little bit overkill” said the father, a tall German man with a shaved head and a thick accent. He just saw me getting my hands sprayed with disinfectant for the 3rd time, wearing a pink nurse’s gown and a face mask. More than the money and the much needed change of pace from teaching, I also figured that I would learn a trick or two. 

The company specializes in photographs of pregnant women, but also weird, 3rd renderings of scans and oddly posed photos of babies that aren’t even conscious of anything… I worked on the latter, being asked to photograph babies barely a month old, that only do 3 things: cry, sleep, and defecate. 

I was working with another photographer and an assistant who had mastered all of the tricks of the trade. The assistant, a lady in her 30s from the Hubei province, wouldn’t stop smiling and making sure that I understood her mandarin through her “thick” northern accent. The photographer basically only knew colors and a few adjectives in English. The whole experience definitely gave a boost to my Chinese. 

I have to say that the whole situation felt quite eerie. We were sent off-site to go to a “club” where women who have recently given birth go and recuperate. It is basically a very expensive looking hotel with nurses, all packaged in colonial style buildings. 

When I entered the room, I felt like I was invading the privacy of these people, even though they had actually asked (and paid) for it.

Throughout the day, I kept repeating to myself: why? Why? 

Why pose the baby to make it look like he is thinking about something? Why pull and twist his body around to make him look like he is doing something that he is obviously incapable of doing by himself?

I couldn’t help but think of the reaction that is triggered among humans when an animal behaves in a “human” way. When a monkey begs for food, is taught to ride a bicycle, or the dancing bears in India, being pulled around with nose ring. These are behaviors that are induced by humans and which for centuries have entertained them. In a perverted way, in my opinion. 

And yet again, we try to impose a behavioral image on a being that hasn’t asked for anything, that is just living there, barely getting accustomed to the seemingly simple state that is existence. They put little hats on him, dress him up like a doll while the assistant makes sure that he is sleepy enough to let himself be manipulated in this way without crying.

At some point, the father looked at me and asked me “does he really have to be naked?” I shrugged, turned to the other photographer, who turned to then assistant, who then herself turned to the mother. She smiled and nodded energetically. The taste between German and Chinese baby photography were obviously different. 

Overall, I had the same feeling that I had when I first heard of children being given an extra English name because « foreigners just can’t remember Chinese names ». We would just fabricate an identity and display it. 

« I don’t like the very small cow boy hat ». Said the father, sitting on the side of a designer sofa. I told him that it would be a good way to threaten the kid when he will be a teenager. « Or make him run away » replied the father. True. 

« I find it funny » said the Chinese mother, overhearing our conversation, through a frozen smile on her face. 

The father looked at me and shrugged.

The baby would wear the tiny cow boy hat.

Sorry about the lack of tiny hat photos, but unfortunately I was shooting with the company’s kit, so I couldn’t get access to all the exciting little costume photos I shot all day. 

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