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Belly Up



An example of a maternity portrait.

Photo: Jimmy Forrest

In just a few generations, pregnancy has come out of the closet. After all, Victorian women didn’t even use the word “expecting” in mixed company. By 1953, Desi Arnaz could talk about his wife “spectin” on I Love Lucy–but not without the studio first consulting with a priest, a minister and a rabbi about the moral concerns this issue raised. Today’s moms-to-be are not hiding their growing bellies; instead, they are celebrating their changing shapes. Some even document their pregnancy by turning to one of the growing number of professional artists specializing in maternity. Here in Honolulu, the options include belly casting and photo portraiture.

“I think it’s all about women becoming more comfortable with their bodies and with the changes that the body undergoes during pregnancy,” says photographer Jimmy Forrest. “People used to hide pregnancies, and now pregnant women are in bikinis at the beach.” Forrest’s business, Ohana Portraits, has a healthy sideline in maternity portraits. “The snapshots that Dad takes are fine,” he explains, “but they are stark and simple. More women are looking for a fine-art, heirloom-quality portrait, taken during this extraordinary time in their lives.”

Forrest works with an expectant mom for a three-hour session, which includes time for hair and makeup styling. Usually, the mom chooses to wrap herself in a gauzy fabric, but about 20 percent model nude. Some decide to have her husband, or the couple’s other children, featured in the photo, too. The resulting black-and-white portraits are done in a soft, grainy style. They are surprisingly sensuous.

Some women document their changing shape with an artistic medium; here, plaster of paris.

Things get a bit messier with Origin Birth Creations, where business partners Dawn Nobles and Erica McMillan help women create what’s known as a belly cast, or belly mask. The artists first apply Vaseline, then a mix or plaster of paris and gauze, to a woman’s abdomen. “It’s a little cold at first, then it starts to warm up,” explains McMillan. Once the cast is hardened, it’s peeled away, and the family has a lasting piece of art. The session takes two hours, including set-up and clean-up; the mask itself takes about 20 minutes to harden. Some women later decorate the plaster of paris shape by covering it with mosaic tiles or with painted symbols. Children are fascinated to see their moms’ shapes, say McMillan and Nobles. “My daughter loves the belly cast. It’s a way of keeping that time,” says Nobles. “It’s such a fleeting moment.”

Ohana Portraits: 734-5617 or www.ohanaportraits.com
Origin Birth Creations: 291-2650


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Honolulu Magazine April 2017
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