Re-air: The Rise and Fall of Anne Geddes, Queen of Baby Photography

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The Art Angle team is taking this week off for Thanksgiving, but we thought we'd share one of our favorite episodes from the past year to see you through this unconventional holiday weekend.

Picture this: a doughy, apple-cheeked infant nestled in between the soft petals of a dew-kissed flower, sound asleep, like the start of a real-life fable. Almost everyone who conjures that mental image will do so using a nearly identical aesthetic—and whether you realize it or not, that’s almost entirely because of the work of legendary baby photographer Anne Geddes.

After her debut photography book, Down in the Garden, soared to number three on the New York Times Bestseller list in 1996, Geddes’s wholesomely surreal infant images became inescapable. Oprah went on air to declare Down in the Garden the best coffee-table book she’d ever seen, and by late December 1997, Geddes’s publishing partners had sold more than 1.8 billion (yes, with a “b”) calendars and date books of her photography for the upcoming year. Her dizzying success soon spurred the artist to ramp up production, with a standard Geddes shoot requiring six-to-eight months of planning and a budget between $250,000 and $350,000. But who could blame her for going big? Geddes’s empire of adorable infants seemed unstoppable.

Cut to 2020, however, and the picture has changed dramatically—not just for Geddes, but for an entire creative economy driven by analog photography, print publishing, and the high barriers to entry formerly associated with both. Years after smartphones first began putting increasingly high-quality cameras in nearly everyone’s pocket, and Instagram began providing masses of self-trained shutterbugs a free and wide-reaching distribution platform for their images, it’s not hyperbole to say that the pillars on which Geddes built her career have crumbled. So what’s the Queen of Baby Photography to do when her kingdom becomes unrecognizable?

Back in May, Andrew Goldstein chatted with Noor Brara, Artnet’s art and design editor, about her recent profile of Geddes. Together, they discussed the artist’s rise, fall, and reckoning with culture’s digital evolution.

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