Article from the Jerusalem Post, March 4, 1997
published with permission of the Jerusalem Post
Catherine Steinmann takes photographs of pregnant women in the nude.
She is in Israel, on her 15th visit, for the opening of her first exhibition
here of Pregnant Nudes, presently showing at the Lemberger Museum of Photography,
Tel Hai. Steinmann's photography is art exploring form, movement and lighting.
Her inspiration happens to be women in their ninth month of pregnancy.
"I love that stage, it's very special, so short; it has a lot of
meaning for me," says Steinmann, herself the mother of three. "I
am looking for something different in each subject that comes in, particularly
in the shape of the belly."
Steinmann, 50, was born in Paris. After much travel, including a stint
on a kibbutz as a volunteer, she settled in New York in 1968, where she
worked in the fashion industry. Around 1979, a friend lent her a Nikon
camera. "The minute I saw the magic coming out of the chemicals,
I said: 'This is for me' and that was it." Steinmann gave up fashion
and spent the next 10 years "taking every single York's International
Center of Photography under the directorship of Cornell Capa.
In 1983, Steinmann was taking a course in lighting. She asked her niece,
who was eight months pregnant at the time, to model for her. On showing
the prints to her class, one of the ladies, also pregnant, was so intrigued
that she asked to have her pictures taken. More importantly, she offered
to pay. "The minute somebody pays you, you become a professional."
Today, her home bedroom-transformed-into-a-studio welcomes an international
clientele, some famous, but also many working women. Steinmann works completely
alone, adjusting lighting, moving props, posing her subjects. "It's
an intimate session, between mothers."Sometimes the woman is not
so beautiful," says the photographer candidly, "but being pregnant
is a beautiful stage in a woman's life." Her studies transform "bloatedness"
into an art form that galleries are keen to show, and museums worldwide
are buying. (Steinmann notes that none of her nudes are shown in public
without a written release.)
At first her subjects are nervous. Undressing "is a moment of extreme
vulnerability," but usually after about 15 minutes the women begin
to relax. "I let them talk about their pregnancies. We laugh a lot."
The actual photography lasts no more than two hours. The lights are hot,
especially in summer, and women in their ninth month are in a delicate
state, explains Steinmann. However, it takes three hours to prepare a
session: The photographer herself washes, irons and arranges all the bed
linen and keeps the studio "spotlessly clean." She will then
spend the next four to five days in her darkroom meticulously printing
the black-and-white images that will make up the portfolio.
Steinmann is a master printer who engages in the rare platinum-palladium
process, and a self-confessed perfectionist. Her fees are modest, in the
hundreds of dollars."I am more concerned about taking pictures and
making the client happy rather than charging an incredible bundle and
only working twice a year."
Asked why women want photographs of themselves in their ninth month, Steinmann
answers with many examples. "Often it is a second child, because
the first asks: 'Where did I come from?'" Seeing the pictures of
the mother's swollen form satisfies the child. Others want pictures of
themselves "for the record." One expectant mother came to Steinmann's
studio because she lost her husband and child in a car crash the year
before. Even though she was pregnant again, "her sadness was reflected
in the photos."
Mothers often return to Steinmann once their babies are born for the "after"
pictures. She is following up one set of triplets every five months.
Steinmann's photography is not restricted to nudes or black-and-white.
She enjoys taking pictures of New York architecture. An exhibition of
her architectural work is currently on show in Prague.
Steinmann freely gives of her time to lecture and present workshops, and
has organized a support group for professional female photographers. "I
feel strongly that as a photographer I should help others who may not
have the experience I have. I made every mistake in the book when I started.
I would like to cut years off work for somebody else."