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When Americans have a baby, they take a million pictures of the baby. The images may include that iconic shot of the mom, exhausted but smiling, holding the baby for the first time. That's the American custom. In Brazil, people also take pictures, but there's no need to wait for the baby. Many couples book a photographer as soon as they find out they are expecting. NPR's South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on pregnancy portraits.
ALEXANDRE CARNIERE: (Speaking Portuguese).
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Beatriz Costa Vasconcelos is heavily pregnant, and she's standing in the middle of the forest, wearing a lace shirt that's open to better show off her bare belly.
CARNIERE: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Photographer Alexandre Carniere tells the husband to move into the shot and to place his hands on her midriff. Close your eyes, he tells her, and think about your new child. The scene looks serene. Alexandre tells me he's trying to immortalize a moment.
CARNIERE: Our mission is try to capture the connection between the family.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Except so, too, are other photographers who are waiting with their pregnant clients to take a picture in the same place.
It's 8 o'clock in the morning and there's, like, 10, 12 photographers here already.
CARNIERE: Maybe more, yeah.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: If it's Saturday in Rio's parks and beaches, it must be pregnancy portrait day. The first time I went to the pond at the visually stunning Botanical Gardens, I thought I'd inadvertently stumbled onto a human spawning ground or some kind of fertility rite. Every woman I saw was about to give birth. Their hair, though, was perfectly coiffed. Their bellies were bare in form-fitting outfits. Ale Crisostamo is a photographer who's been working with families for eight years. She's really passionate about it, and her images are beautiful. She says there's a lot more competition these days, so she tries to be inventive.
ALE CRISOSTAMO: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "This is a beautiful moment," she tells me. "I like to capture the look in a woman's eyes, the love, the waiting for the big day. The parks - here in Parque Lage and the Botanical Gardens - are the most popular places to shoot," she says. And Alexandre tells me people even come from other cities to take their pictures here.
CARNIERE: Rio, there is a kind of magic that brings people to here because of the nature, the landscapes, the beauty that we have here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So that, but there's also another reason the parks are in demand, Alexandre says.
CARNIERE: People search for these kind of locations because of security as well. Shooting on streets, it's very dangerous, actually.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: They could steal your cameras...
CARNIERE: Yeah, yeah.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Which would kind of ruin the moment. And doing this isn't cheap. Ale's pregnancy package starts off at $550. Alexandre says though he thinks there are a few reasons people want to spend money on this. First, social media - it's huge in Brazil. Second, everyone has a camera - how to get the social media edge - professional pictures, especially if you have friends that have done it.
CARNIERE: More and more families are searching for a professional to do better photos...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Something special.
CARNIERE: ...To - yeah, something special.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I left the park, and I went to speak to a sociologist about the phenomenon to get some perspective. I meet Marisol Goia at a cafe. She has a list of 10 reasons why there's been a pregnancy portrait boom - all of them good.
MARISOL GOIA: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The expansion of the middle class with more buying power, the Brazilian love of family, the fact that pregnant bodies are now seen as beautiful and not shameful," she says. And then she said something that really resonated.
GOIA: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The fact is that Brazilian birthrates are among the lowest in the region, so that pregnancy becomes something almost sacred."
GOIA: (Speaking Portuguese).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the end of the interview, Marisol whips out her own pregnancy album to show me. When I said everyone does it, I meant it. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.
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