If there is one fleeting but life-changing moment of parenthood, it has to be the first meeting between parent and child. It’s a “hello” exchanged between hearts, a love beyond words, and a tender embrace. And, lucky for us, it can all be captured on camera.
Bel Pangburn and River Bennett, two photographers from Sydney, Australia, are the women behind the The First Hello Project, whose mission it is to immortalize these sacred moments through their photos.
Bel and River, both mothers themselves, were discussing their photography goals when River mentioned that she’d like to photograph the miracle of birth one day. Soon after, she was asked by a couple to be present at their baby’s birth. And (you guessed it), it wasn’t long before she completely fell in love with the experience.
River reflects, “We loved how it released the husband to be present for his wife, and not be caught up in taking pictures, and also how incredible is was to capture the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when a parent meets their child for the first time.”
After this, Bel and River sat down over a glass of wine to brainstorm how to start a birth photography business. It took a few days for them to nail down the name, The First Hello Project. The name was a perfect fit as it encompassed all of those beautiful firsts when becoming a parent; the first breath, the first touch, the first cry, and the first “hello”.
“Together we have had the privilege to document some of the most incredible moments of raw emotion in birthing suites and homes around the world,” says River. “We love what we get to do and, more than anything, we love that we can celebrate life.”
River and Bel also focus on capturing first moments from other family members, such as grandparents and aunts/uncles. These moments are special in their own ways. One of their favorite assignments was documenting a father as he delivered his daughter with his own hands. The obstetrician was carefully directing him from behind, but it was the father who welcomed his daughter into the world with tears in his eyes.
The First Hello Project partners with the Love Mercy Foundation to donate part of their profits to contribute to the construction of a much-needed maternity ward alongside the Kristina Health Centre in Northern Uganda. According to River and Bel, pregnant women in Uganda are forced to walk long distances and often don’t have access to life-saving maternity services. The women are forced to give birth at home, or on the way to the hospital, which contributes to the maternal and infant mortality rates in Uganda being among the highest in the world.
“We believe photography can unlock the human heart,” River says. “We, as creatives, need to be brave enough to step into those intimate spaces that some may shy away from to capture it. The world needs images that will set hearts on fire.”
And what better way to push the boundaries than stepping into the birthing room itself to witness and record one of life’s biggest mysteries — the phenomenon of birth, the wonder of life, and the deep-rooted bond between baby and parent. River and Bel beautifully capture it all through their lens. The very first hello, and the hope of many more in the future.