Star-Bulletin Features

Julie Aragaki's photographs of pregnant women in their third trimesters give them a permanent record of this rare and special time.

Bare bellies

Pregnancy portraiture captures
the shape of things to come
for proud moms-to-be

By Nancy Arcayna

Pregnancy used to be hidden in oversized maternity clothes. Flaunting your big belly was taboo. But today's modern women are taking pride in their changing bodies and are choosing to show off their beautiful, growing bellies.

Julie Aragaki, photographer and owner of Moments ... Memories, photographs moms in the last trimester of pregnancy, in the belief that there are three major milestones in a woman's life: birth, marriage and death.

Photography has long been a part of the wedding ceremony, evolving from formal portraits and candid snapshots to documentary-style coverage. So why not do the same thing with births, she wondered. Why wait until after the baby is born to start taking photos?

Aragaki said she was intrigued by the Demi Moore photo on the cover of Vanity Fair a few years ago, in which the very pregnant actress was nude, one arm cradling her full belly. After seeing the photo, Aragaki asked a friend if she could photograph her pregnancy. Since then, Aragaki has made a business out of celebrating the female form.

Her photographs cover three phases: the last trimester of pregnancy, the hospital and the baby's early home life.

Julie Aragaki displays albums that show how her photographs may be preserved.

"Most of the time we go into the hospital a few hours after birth," she said. "We will take pictures during delivery if that is what the couple wants. In delivery, we don't shoot the gross stuff. We like to take shots when baby is placed on mom's chest."

But some women do want to document their baby's first moment in the outside world. "We have this one mom who wants us to get a shot of pulling the baby out."

Arrangements have been made for the doctor to prop the woman up when it's time for the baby to arrive, and she will pull the baby out herself.

To photograph the third phase, Aragaki goes into the home when the infant is six months old for "a day in the life of baby."

"We capture expressions at feeding time, during bath and play time. The photographs document exactly what baby does during the course of a day," Aragaki said.

Because photographing each stage is an additional cost, parents often opt for two out of three, Aragaki said. "Most choose the pregnancy and birthing photos."

This collage shows a collection of photographs taken before the birth and right afterward, in the hospital.

Rhona Ako bared her belly when she was nine months pregnant. "My husband thought it was weird at first," she said. She already had two sons, but had never had thought about photographing her earlier pregnancies. "I'm thankful I did it. They are tastefully done -- not tacky at all. Now that the baby is out, everyone thinks it's pretty cool. Pregnancy is such a special and treasured time, I just wanted to have a keepsake photo to document this important family milestone."

Before photographs are taken, Aragaki gets to know her subjects. "I try to come up with a concept that will reflect them, since each portrait is different. I need to know if they are gutsy or timid -- or prefer indoor or outdoor shots."

Some people want a family portrait when mom is pregnant, others want a natural semi-nude scene with the couple on the beach. "We like to shoot real emotion," she said.

PREGNANCY PHOTOGRAPHY has become a fad in California and New York. And why not cherish the moments, said Aragaki. During these nine months, a life has formed inside you, the first heartbeat has been heard, and the mother is nourishing the child-to-be.

"Everyone looks beautiful when they are pregnant. They have this amazing glow," added Aragaki. "I looked better when I was pregnant than I normally do."

Lehua Heine of Na Leo, now in her ninth month of pregnancy, recently had photos taken. "The window when you are pregnant is so small that I decided to record it," Heine said.

"My husband is camera shy and didn't want to be in the pictures, so we only took shots of his hands," she said. Although he questioned her motives, he was pleased with the result. "My kids can look back one day and say, 'That's what Mommy looked like when she was hapai with us.'"

Heine said that during her first pregnancy she was concentrating on all the changes in her body and emotions. "I had a million things on my mind, I didn't even think about taking pictures."

These photos "came out nicer than I imagined -- I look nice pregnant. Plus, it's nice to have a good excuse to be all big and fat. It really makes you think about the whole body image and how we are supposed to be so skinny."

Heine's 2-year-old daughter Malie also enjoyed posing for shots. She is awaiting the arrival of her new brother any day now.

Most of Aragaki's photos are presented in black and white or sepia tone. Beach shots are normally in color.

"One of the last couples I did wanted to be at the beach and were willing to do whatever. She wanted to do a topless pose. Some are conservative, others are willing to show everything. I leave it up to them. I've noticed that the women who are wanting to do this have pride in their bodies," Aragaki said.

"I had some moms who weren't really sure if they wanted to do it, they chose not to and had regrets. I wish I had taken pictures when I was pregnant. My kids are 9 and 12 and at that time no one was doing this," she said. "It's so nice to see that woman are becoming more proud of their bodies. Before, women would wear those really frumpy shirts so they could hide everything.

"I love it when I see a pregnant woman wearing low hip hugger jeans and a really cute crop top."

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