The first time Christian Berthelot experienced a caesarean birth—or any birth for that matter—was when his wife underwent an emergency C-section to save both her and their son. Berthelot felt like he was living in a parallel universe filled with confusion.
“In the operating room, the parents do not see what is happening on the other side of the operative field,” he wrote via email. “We hear and we waited, we imagined. And then it got there and it was the first time we see our baby.”
Around a week later, Berthelot met Jean-Francois Morievnal, an obstetrician in the hospital where his son had been born. The two spoke about their mutual love of photography and, about six months later, Morievnal proposed the idea that Berthelot begin working on a series about midwifery in the operating room with a focus on caesarean births.
It turned out to be a complicated process. For six months, Berthelot underwent training about how to work in a surgical environment and began seeking permission to take photographs both from the clinic and from the mothers who would be giving birth.
“And there was my mental preparation for what I was going to see,” wrote Berthelot.
One evening, Berthelot was told to be at the clinic by 8 a.m. the following morning to photograph a scheduled caesarean birth.
“I had the impression of finding myself from the year before,” Berthelot said. “I thought back to the birth of my son. The whole team was there and attentive. The doctor watched me from the corner of his eye to see how I would react, if I was going to faint or run away. I hid behind my camera and I did my job.”
After looking at the photographs he felt there was more to be done and believed the best way to create new work would be to focus primarily on the newborn. “I saw the artistic potential of my new little models,” he said.
Berthelot and Morievnal offered any new mothers who participated in the series a copy of a photograph of their baby—so far they have photographed 40 caesarean births. Berthelot said witnessing so many births has changed his perspective about the process and has decided to focus solely on the first few moments of life, though he knows viewers may find the images a bit raw and tough to look at.
“I know there are people who react very badly, who find it disgusting, they tell me that I do not have the right to show the children in the bloodstream,” he said.” Some even told me that it is not real, it is not true. This is absurd. Children are not born in cabbages or roses. And there are those who are fascinated, I give them the opportunity to observe in detail the violence of birth, but there are also people like my wife, who encouraged me to do this work, because caesarean is beautiful birth.”
“What continues to amaze me is that it never stops. With each passing moment, a child is born, from all over the world, all the time, births never stop.”
Caesar is part of the Circulation(s) festival on view at Centquatre in Paris from January 24 through March 5, 2015.