Birth of an artist

Freelance photojournalist Elizabeth Lonky '98 had mixed emotions when her older sister, who was expecting her first child, made the offer. "My sister invited me to be in the birth room, and she just naturally assumed that I would bring my camera," says Lonky. "I was thrilled."

But Lonky also felt some trepidation. Childbirth is messy and occasionally dangerous-not the easiest thing to shoot. Still, the offer was too compelling to pass up. "In my profession, I'm always tuned in to any experience that is both exciting and true to human nature," Lonky says. "Birth will never let you down in that regard."

Her nephew's birth in June of 1999 not only turned out to be a matchless experience, it set Lonky on a new career path. Day One Photography was born. In addition to birth photos, Day One offers a "newborn at home" infant series, a "growing" series, and a package called "Big Events for Small People." It has made up the bulk of the Lonky's photographic work since 2001.

Based in Los Angeles, Lonky can appreciate the facilities at major hospitals like Cedars Sinai, where the birthing suites are huge. Having clients who are very distracted is also a plus. "The parents are generally so involved in what they are doing that they totally forget I'm there-a real joy for a photographer," says Lonky. "I work to capture the range of emotion these people are experiencing. They go into the hospital as a couple, but they come out transformed into a family."

In preparation for the big day, Lonky and her business partner, photographer Shlomit Levy-Bard, meet with clients in their homes to discuss the project. The photographers ask clients to get prior authorization from the hospital for them to attend the delivery because restrictions can vary. Generally, only one of the partners will shoot a birth, but they sometimes relieve each other in the case of a very long labor.

The hand-printed photos are black and white for artistic and practical reasons. "Black and white minimizes the bloody aspect and is a better medium for telling the story that is unfolding," she says. "It's less distracting than color."

Lonky's father is a physician and she often accompanied him to the hospital when she was growing up. "I'm very comfortable in that environment," she says. "In this line of work, you can't be squeamish."

You also need to be sensitive to medical issues. "Some of these new moms are quite a bit older and are categorized as high risk," Lonky says. "The doctors are often reluctant to have anyone present in a situation where something could go wrong. It is difficult to photograph a twin birth for that reason, although I am excited to be photographing a triplet birth later this year."

It's not a career Lonky even dreamed of when she enrolled at Kenyon. She intended to major in English, become a writer, and pursue photography on the side. "I came in a writer interested in photography, but I left a photographer who writes," she says. "Professor [of Art Gregory P.] Spaid was a wonderful teacher. He gave me space for creativity by not looking over my shoulder and taught me methods for getting access to subjects."

A California native, Lonky viewed Knox County as decidedly foreign. "My experience abroad at Exeter was actually an easier adaptation," she recalls. But she mined the county's treasures by doing photojournalistic pieces on the Woodward Opera House and the veterans who hang out at the Mount Vernon VFW.

After graduation, Lonky enrolled at Santa Monica College, where she took courses in commercial photography, and then at the Art Center of Pasadena to study digital and computer graphics. She is still interested in writing and is taking creative-writing classes at the University of California in Los Angeles.

She began her freelance career after a series of photography-related jobs. When Day One gathered momentum, Lonky joined forces with Levy-Bard, a photojournalist she knew from the Los Angeles Times. "It is a happy alliance because Shlomit is wonderful at the accounting and marketing parts of the business," Lonky says.

Because of her unusual profession, the twenty-five-year-old Lonky works crazy hours and is often called away from family celebrations. "It is a lifestyle choice and sometimes my family and my peers have a hard time understanding it," she says. "Not many people my age are running their own businesses."

Lonky is an advocate for other young business people and welcomes calls from Kenyon students and fellow alumni to talk about finding mentors and developing networks. She may be contacted via e-mail to Visit her web sites at or

-Linda Michaels

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