We had the good fortune of connecting with Leona Darnell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leona, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
When I started photography (way back in the film days!) I really didn’t know what I loved to photograph. I mean, after I went to the Academy of Art (now University) in San Francisco, I shot weddings, animals, landscape, seniors, babies. You get the idea…I was sorta drifting creatively. I mean I made money and made a wee business for myself, but it wasn’t particularly satisfying.
Being a traveler and explorer by nature, I did not embark on my own path to motherhood until my 40s. After several trials and tribulations, I had my son via IVF in 2013. I never met the “right” partner and remained solo throughout the process.
In the 8th month, I was rushed in for an emergency C-section. I briefly heard my child cry as he was rushed out of the room and into the NICU. The entire event was a chaotic blur from the moments leading up to delivery, the delivery itself and immediately after. It was a full 24 hours before I could even set eyes on him or touch him. Later, at home, I reveled in motherhood, but mourned for all that I missed. I wanted those moments back and wished someone had been there to document them for me.
I thought someone should make that their genre. When I researched it, I found it was a genre-one I never thought about. Well, a friend of a friend suggested I photograph her birth and see if it was something I would like. Well, the rest is history! I sincerely had my “come to Jesus moment” and found what I was put on earth to do.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Birth is art. It is art of the human body. It is miraculous and chaotic. Calm and stormy. Long, but over in a blink of the Universe’s eye. It is the art of the first glance at your child, The first cry of their voice. The first touch of their delicate fingers. All of it is a unique art piece from the moment of the first contraction to the delivery of a whole new human to the calm oxytocin filled moments of your new child laying in your arms looking at you, studying your face as you study theirs.
I am so proud of my work, I could burst at my very seams each time I am in a birth space. I think that comes through in my work. I am so in love with what I do and photograph through that love. I am neither paparazzi nor do I show up to just do a job. I make pictures with utter love.
I was certified as a birth doula in 2021 so I could understand the birthing woman even more. I offer doula work with photography. Adding this element not only has helped me in my work, but has been beneficial business-wise.
People still don’t understand birth photography. They think “why would I ever want that?”, it’s simply not on their radar. That has been a struggle. Education about it is vital. People understanding it’s not all about the lady bits, but the story that is uniquely theirs. People often search for doula and find my site and realize that they can have these wonderful memories as well as labor support. Well, it becomes a no-brainer.
Some have wondered where creativity comes in because “I am just documenting”-but it is so much more than documenting. It is capturing feeling and not just the happy sloppy kind. It is capturing chaos, pain, exhaustion, amazement and wonder. There is a way of capturing that creatively while still remaining true to the story. There is no formula to it, it’s sorta innate I guess.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
It really depends on where I am meeting them. I service Calabasas to San Diego-so there are sooooo many wonderful things to do and places to eat.
Starting in Calabasas, a stop at Tifa Chocolate and Gelato. Using fresh and wholesome ingredients, the gelato can’t be beat. They have inventive flavors and vegan options!
Traveling South, I would stop in for a movie at the El Capitan in Hollywood. A must for any out-of-towner.
Heading West, we would stop to walk along the boardwalk in Venice Beach. What a place to people watch! Then we would head over to the High Rooftop Lounge in Venice for some drinks and a snack. This place offers sweeping views of the Pacific and the City.
Depending on out level of maturity, we might head to LEGOLAND in Carlsbad or the SeaLife Aquarium.
Hitting the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park would be fun for the out of towner wish sweeping views of the Pacific and surfers riding the waves.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
So many are responsible for where I am today. My best friend, David who helped with my own son when I completely changed my focus to birth photography. Erin was my first birth momma in San Leandro. She trusted an absolute newby to the birth world. I will always have gratitude for her. Anastasia, of course, who has always shouted my praises to anyone that would listen. Tom, who helped me build what my website is today. With out him, I would be lost. Of course, my little son who introduced me to birth and made me want to give other mom’s what I didn’t have. I never want a family to feel the way I did. I want to be their eyes and ears while they focus on each other and their child.