Three photographers discuss the magic and mess of capturing family photos
By Laura Ross
The gaze of a weary yet blissful new mom as she looks at the miracle that is her newborn baby – it’s that instant that a photographer dreams of capturing for a lifetime.
It’s the moment when a mother’s love shines through most beautifully.
Photographer Irene Bibee knows that longing a little too well.
“To see a mom with a baby just takes my breath away,” Bibee said. “I remember how their fingers are, how their smiles twitch, how they squeak. I love seeing the moms overjoyed and seeing in their eyes as they ask, ‘Is that me? Is that my baby?’ Their reactions are wonderful. We cry, we laugh. It’s so much fun to see that in a photo.”
Bibee focuses on newborn and children’s photography in Louisville, but her journey started a world away in Uganda. She fled unrest in the East African country 20 years ago for a new start in the United States, but in the turmoil, she had to leave behind her most precious gift – her two young daughters.
“It’s complicated in Africa,” she explained quietly, her eyes flicking away to a photograph of her daughters, now in their early 20s. “I couldn’t see them, and they couldn’t come here. It is so hard, but it built a passion in me for helping others deal with their hardships.”
Once in the United States, she became a nurse and focused on caring for families. Her partner at the time was a budding photographer, and as he built his craft, Bibee acted as a model and muse and tinkered with photography herself for fun.
She later moved to Louisville and met and married her husband Bart in 2012. Shortly after, they welcomed their first child together, Emery. Another daughter, Elyse, followed in 2018.
“I have a wonderful husband now and two children here, but I lost that time with my first loves – my babies in Africa,” she said. “I taught myself photography so I could be sure I had images of my new family forever.”
When Emery was born, Bibee purchased a quality camera and started shooting. She took classes and learned her craft. A few years later, she took a leap, quit her nursing job and turned to children’s photography full time. She offered to photograph new mothers in the hospital and then began gaining clients through word of mouth advertising. Today, she operates a cozy studio in Jeffersontown called Vine & Branch, and she often shoots on location at a family’s home or favorite outdoor spot.
Bibee has a calm, nurturing approach to photographing mothers and infants. She uses her experience from nursing and her mother’s intuition to bond with subjects. The trust she builds comes through in her stunning personal images.
“It’s such an emotional time for women,” she explained. “Postpartum moms have such unstable emotions and have so much going on in their world with this precious new baby. I try to help them build a sense of confidence. I help them see how beautiful they are, I offer advice. I even can help with nursing advice as I’m a trained lactation consultant.”
She laughed, “It’s the African way of mothers supporting mothers. We have all been there and we need to lift each other up and show how lovely we are.”
“My photography drew me to mothers and babies,” she continued. “I live vicariously through their experiences in parts that I missed with my first two children. Documenting moms and babies heals that part of me, just to see that bond. I fall in love with that every time.”
A Moment In Time
Children’s photography is a big business. Gone are the days of packing up the station wagon and heading to a dark portrait studio for a stilted, posed family photograph. Today’s parents want a story behind a photo, a frozen image of life in the hectic modern world. The explosion of social media only strengthens the desire for unique settings, candid, movie-set quality photos and lifestyle vignettes.
Christina Bueno brings a mother’s eye to helping create those memorable scenes for families. Like Bibee, Bueno landed in Louisville from another country. A former human resource professional in Brazil, Bueno and her husband moved to Kentucky in 2011. Her passion for photography began a year later with the birth of her daughter Laura (a second daughter, Julia, was born in 2014.)
“My visa didn’t allow me to work, so I filled my time doing courses in photography that I never had time to do in Brazil,” Bueno explained. She practiced her new passion on her children and friends’ children and built a following. She created her business, Click My Kids, in 2016.
Bueno likes the flexible schedule of photography, which allows her time to be with her own small children. She enjoys family lifestyle photography and has settled her niche on photographing children from toddlers on up.
“I like documentary pictures where I’m at a house and I just want the family to have fun,” she said. “Play, be comfortable. I’ll be there clicking and shooting angles and capturing the family bond. I don’t like props and a lot of makeup. I want families to look at the pictures and remember who they were at that moment in time.
“I like to show the beauty of who you are,” she added. “I want them to say, ‘Wow, that was my life.’ Even a child brushing their teeth is beautiful if you capture that angle, that moment, that comfortable spot in time. That’s what you’re going to remember, not that you were posing at some farm you’ve never seen again.”
While children can be fussy, Bueno knows patience is key. She encourages kid-level conversation and is always the first to roll on the floor with a child or chase them happily through a yard, shooting images the entire time.
“I prefer kids to babies,” she said. “They are so innocent and it’s a challenge for me to capture that gorgeous, natural expression. I like when they are playing or reading or just being kids. You get something so beautiful in their expressions and it just works.”
Bueno has expanded her business to work with area schools in a program she calls Fine Art Portrait. Instead of relying on traditional school portraits, she partners with a school or preschool and spends time there, taking candid shots in the classroom and on the playground. She also photographs students individually or in small groups.
“I interact, ask questions and look for that beautiful relaxed smile,” she said. “When the parents see the expression in their child’s eyes, they see their real child, and that image is so much better framed on a wall than a regular school portrait.”
Katie Neace Uttich of Katie Marie Photographie, agrees with her peers. “Everyone has a story,” she said. “We all have hardships and joys, and life is just something to be told. I give them that story. I’m proud of my work, but I like to see the families share their joy in the gift of the photo.”
Like Bueno and Bibee, Uttich became serious about photography when her first child, Bennett, was born. She had a marketing background and had dabbled in photography in college but found her calling while taking images of her baby. She went back to school to study photography and began shooting families and children in their homes and in outdoor settings.
She quickly learned the quirks of outdoor photography in Kentucky. “We have a beautiful landscape, but the weather can turn on a dime,” she said. “We don’t have the luxury of beaches and mountains. I love shooting during the golden hour, but you can’t always guarantee that. I communicate with the family and make the location as personal as possible because you want it to be authentic and genuine. This is capturing how people live.”
She opened her studio next to the new Falls City Brewery just east of downtown Louisville in August 2018, where she focuses on family portraits and photographing infants.
“Whether it’s a newborn in the studio in a basket or a 2-year-old who doesn’t want to look at me, I am happy to photograph them,” she said. “That phase of childhood is so short, and you get people who say, ‘Oh, they’re being terrible,’ but they’re really not. They’re being themselves in that moment and that moment is fleeting. I always say, ‘Find the beauty in being little.’”
Like Bibee, Uttich revels in the emotional moments between mothers and babies. “Your emotions are so dazed and confused just after birth that you can’t recognize yourself,” she said. “But then that baby grabs your finger or pulls your necklace and there’s that tiny moment you’ll always cherish. I love capturing that because at the time, most moms are so overwhelmed, they don’t see the beauty in that moment, but they will treasure it later.”
Uttich notes how social media has changed children’s photography. “It’s instant storytelling through imagery,” she explained. “Tell your own story how you want. Bring your favorite book or teddy bear. Have your paci in your mouth. The old sneakers are OK… wear them. Focus on the tiny hands and dimples. One day, you’ll wake up and they’ll be gone. Tell that story now.
“We all have our own beauty and style,” added Bueno. “It’s what speaks to you. Photos transport you to that perfect moment, often when we need it the most.”
“I was a hospice nurse for nine years and was heavily involved in a family’s grief process,” pondered Bibee. “But now I’m on the opposite end and dealing with the joy and promise a newborn brings. I try to give families a masterpiece they won’t get anywhere else. I struggled to get where I am. A lot of families helped me, and I need to give back to others in thanks for those who supported me. I wouldn’t trade it for the world right now. I can spend time with my children, I bring joy to other mothers and babies and I’m happy. I fall in love with my work every day.” V