The evening prior to French photographer Christian Berthelot’s first encounter photographing a Caesarean section was an anxious one. It also brought back memories of the previous year, when his own child came into this world through a similar C-section procedure.
Covered in blood and vernix, the child had cried out, signalling its first yell into this world proclaiming new life. A Caesarean section is a surgical process in which one or more incisions are made through a pregnant woman’s abdomen (laparotomy) and uterus (hysterotomy) to extract one or more usually full term babies. The first modern Caesarean section was done in 1881 by German gynaecologist Ferdinand Adolf Kehrer. Since that time, literally millions of babies have been delivered via a C-section.
Over the previous year, Berthelot had established a working relationship with obstetrician Dr. Jean-Francois Morievnal, also a photography buff who had invited him to observe and chronicle the surgeries, a role and task that needed months of training and gathering of consents, both from the hospital as well as from the expectant mothers.
After Berthelot’s first shots, he came to the realization that his passion was in the figure of the infant, aiming his camera as the first moments of life erupted. His series of forty newborns aptly called Caesar, has attracted ambivalent reactions due to its uncensored quality as it presents childbirth with no sugar coating whatsoever.
It is in these first few moments of breathing into this world that Berthelot captures with such brutal, uncensored drama the first few moments of a newborn infant.
He recently related his own experience when he first encountered his own new born. “When I saw [my son] for the first time, he was bloodied and covered in this white substance called vernix. He was like a warrior who has just won his first battle, like an angel out of darkness.” It is from this standpoint that his photos, though they may make you grimace, take on a much more profound and beautiful meaning.