A traditional botsetsi had its own strict rules and regulations, but modern lifestyle has made the practice less reputable that a child can be shown to public through a selfie. Staff Writer MOMPATI TLHANKANE sat down with a local photographer who is making a business out of new borns regardless of the customs of botsetsi
In Setswana culture when norms and taboos were respected, practices like botsetsi epitomised the way of life. Confinement had its own strict rules and regulations and batsetsi (mothers) would not dare disregard them, as that was seen as taboo.
For instance newborns were only seen by a handful of people. Even the child’s father found it difficult to see his own creation until after a certain period of time after birth. The community, whether neighbours or relatives, were expected to stay away from the newborn for as long as it takes until the umbilical stump of the baby fall offs after three months.
However, that cultural practice is slowly fading away. Although there are those who still believe in the traditional botsetsi, many are ditching it as modernity dictates doing things differently.
Encounters with other cultures have made it difficult to keep practising the traditional botsetsi and keep it as pure as it used be. For instance, mothers now invite professional photographers to capture the first few days of a newborn baby’s life.
Let’s admit it, there is always something adorable about the sight of a little baby all sleepy, comfy and snuggling on a soft blanket. Now imagine that being captured on camera, it surely has to beat every picture one has in their gallery and make it to the smart phone wallpaper.
Photos of a brand new life are so tranquil and lovely and we all love them. Parents love to capture their baby’s early days, but this is Botswana and we are all aware of the cultural compulsory confinement of botsetsi. These kinds of posed newborn photographs have now birthed the term “newborn photography” over the past five or so years. These photography sessions often take place in the comfort of one’s home and capture all the special details and small moments. Now a local architect, Martina Jansen who is passionate about babies, has set up her photography business where she works with young families and captures precious moments in the first few days of a baby’s life. Her work shows that she is a committed baby and toddler photographer. Jansen provides newborn, bump, baby and toddler photography by offering a ‘shoot at home’ service for new parents. Jansen who finds this as a real privilege admits to Arts & Culture in an interview that botsetsi practice is one of the challenges she face in her line of business.
“Botsetsi requires a baby to stay confined for a period up to three months, but more people are becoming aware of the things they can do and experience with their babies,” she reveals.
Jansen was initially drawn into the business as a result of the love she had for babies. She explains the reason she pursued newborn photography was the realisation that there is lack of it in the photography industry. Jansen thinks it would be good for Batswana to capture those fresh and precious moments after the baby is born.
“Most people are into wedding and modelling photography but there is nothing suited for the family unit. That is when I realised that there is no one doing it,” she says of his passion.
Jansen started her work in 2017 although her business was only registered last year. According to Jansen, she also captures moments while the baby is being born and does maternity photography. “Not everyone can come into the theatre and capture while the baby is being born,” she reveals. Jansen says her photography sessions could be on location at home or in the studio.
“There is newborn lifestyle photography session with a mixture of posed and natural set ups,” she says. The talented young lady was quick to emphasise that she doesn’t just captures for the sake of the perfect shot.
“Babies are so sensitive so you cant just force the baby into any position. Every photo shoot is specific to the baby because safety comes first.”
She says her photography clients are mostly the mothers she had captured during the pregnancy stage. Looking back she said she has always been a fan of the camera but decided to buy a camera in 2016 to experiment. “My background as an architect helped as well because I was able to use that to my advantage,” she says.
Jansen says she felt that photography was the best way to capture motherhood and babies, adding that natural interactions and emotions between mothers and new babies are best revealed in a picture than with a naked eye. She reveals that it takes a lot of patience to take a photo of a newborn baby; no wonder she had to seek mentorship from other newborn photographers outside Botswana.
Jansen says these babies she captures in camera are very delicate as most of them are as little as 10-day-olds. Timing is everything when it comes to newborn photography. Her other challenge is that sometimes parents don’t understand that for her to obtain those sleepy, posed shots the baby has to be less than 10 days old.
“The younger the baby the better. A baby that old is fresh and they are still flexible and used to that curled up positions.”
She says after two weeks she could take lifestyle pictures, but cannot work with their tiny bodies and achieve those adorable shots. She adds that newborn photography in Botswana is barely new and niche.
“People have to understand that I am not just taking pictures of babies but I shoot them while they are still fresh from birth,” she said. Jansen said she doesn’t just put pictures of babies in public without the client’s permission. There is a whole taboo about the picture of the child to be seen and all that so I can never put any picture out there,” she explains.
Jansen said it would be great in the future if people were aware of newborn photography. “They should open up to other opportunities that are out there. This is something fresh that people can benefit from,’ she says.
She concludes that would continue to demonstrate her incredible commitment to maintaining an extremely high standard of newborn and baby photography.