Being Mama: Jamie Beck
The creative eye behind Ann Street Studio speaks candidly on the challenges and beauty of her picture-perfect life in Provence.
Linen-clad babe in arms, against backdrops of sepia-toned interiors and sundrenched orchards, Jamie Beck’s self-portraiture could be mistaken for a moody Caravaggio or sweet Botticelli artwork. But she and her husband Kevin Burg– the duo behind Ann Street Studio and inventors of the cinemagraph– are on the cutting edge of their creative field, as Google, Microsoft, Armani and Chanel (to name but a few of their clients) will attest.
The former New York City slickers just happen to live in Provence – an unfathomably beautiful, history-steeped region in the southeast of France – where they’d planned to relocate for one year (it’s now been over three). Since moving to the land of lavender fields, delectable market produce and handmade lace, Jamie, a Texas-born photographer, has enchanted her following with achingly beautiful snapshots of her surrounds – and recently, a new face entered the frame.
“We always knew one day we wanted to have a baby but it just never felt right in New York,” says Jamie, several months after welcoming her daughter, Eloise. “We worked so much, our balance was way off and we didn’t know how to fix it. After moving to France we found our recipe for work-life balance and then we were ready to bring Eloise into the mix.”
Jamie’s decision to up and leave city life came mid-flight. “I thought the plane was going to crash and the first thing that came into my mind was ‘Great, now I’ll never know what it’s like to live in France’,” she recalls. “I figured, if that’s what I thought I should probably go and do it.” Paris, she reasoned, would have been similar to New York, but Provence – in a particularly pretty patch she’d previously visited on work trips– presented the polar opposite.
“My first Sunday here I went out to get food and nothing was open, and it just never dawned on me that people lived like this,” says Jamie, adding that even during the week, ‘business hours’ are few and far between. “I missed seamless web, Uber, sushi, Indian food and tacos, but then we just taught ourselves how to make everything we longed for and it’s actually better! It also showed me a way of life that centers around something other than money.”
Unlike many, Jamie’s pregnancy was as idyllic as it appeared on Instagram (“I had an amazing pregnancy! I feel so lucky”) and then one week after her due date, at 11.58pm on New Year’s Eve, her water broke. “With that, we were on the dark, frosty country roads of Provence making the hour drive to Pertuis nervous and excited and filled with that sort of panic realization there is no turning back now,” she wrote in her birth story blog post.
Jamie was given a 48-hour deadline from when her water broke to deliver naturally. When that didn’t happen, the induction process began.
“I had spent so much time preparing for my natural birth – mentally, physically and scientifically – that I couldn’t believe at first it wasn’t happening the way it’s ‘supposed to’,” says Jamie who, endless bouncing on a birthing ball and an epidural later, still wasn’t sufficiently dilated. At the last possible moment, a c-section was called for. “I just had to tell myself I did everything I could and now I just have to let it go and trust the people around me. It was time, and in that moment it didn’t matter how she got here. The second they brought her to me I had totally forgotten every plan I had or dream of childbirth. None of it mattered, it didn’t matter I was strapped to an operating table, she was here and it was perfect.
“We found out that Eloise had her cord wrapped around her neck twice and looped around her shoulder, which is most likely why she wasn’t moving down into the birth canal. If she had, she might have suffered brain damage or worse. If there is a next time for me, I won’t be so hung up on giving birth naturally. If it happens, it happens, but I won’t wait so long next time to progress labor.”
Jamie likens Eloise’s first days and weeks to a “crazy rollercoaster”, and (mercifully) captioned her dreamy Instagram images with honest commentary. “Oh god, week two, three, four… the hardest of my life,” she says. “Up was down, down was up, I was just totally lost. It’s a blur now thinking back on it. It’s like my brain switched off. I couldn’t manage to cook a meal, answer an email, leave the house… I was just trying to survive every second of every day.”
It was during this time that Jamie feared she was losing herself. “I literally thought I had ruined my life having this baby. It was hard. I reached out to friends who have been through all the same thoughts and feelings I was having and they encouraged me that it shall pass – the baby will sleep eventually, she will stop crying, I will get the hang of it, and just try to be present and enjoy what I can. Focus on the sweet little innocence of holding her, she’ll never been that little again. Around week six it was as if a cloud lifted. She stabilized and I could feel like myself again.”
While her days post-baby would typically start with coffee in bed and saunter through some errand-running in town and an afternoon of photographing and editing, Jamie says her current schedule “is a bit more unpredictable”.
“I usually get up with Eloise around 6-7am for a feed then she sleeps for another couple of hours. Typically I read the news at this time and pump. When she wakes up for her ‘breakfast’ I nurse her in bed and have my coffee with oatmeal which I hear is good for breast milk.” Kevin runs the errands in town these days and, when Eloise allows it, Jamie puts together a studio set-up, takes some quick shots and edits while she nurses.
“I don’t want to paint an unrealistic portrait of early motherhood so let me be clear, it is not easy to do!” she says, when asked how she manages to create gobsmackingly gorgeous images at a time when most of us can barely manage a grainy, nipple-free selfie. “It is only because of my great affection and desire to create photographs that I have managed to create the few moments I have so far. Right now I just hope for a day where she’s in a good mood, I have good light, then I try to feed her before the photograph and hope for the best. She’ll only participate for a few minutes so I try to get the shot of her as quickly as possible then I build out the rest of the frame after, while she sits in the bouncer seat just out of frame.”
That bouncer seat is one of the few baby items you’ll find in Jamie’s abode (“I keep it super-minimal around here”), along with a SNOO Smart Sleeper bassinet. Her attitude to her post-baby body, however, is far less stringent.
“I didn’t get out of the house until after six weeks. I began long walks with the baby around week eight, but I am not stressing about ‘getting back in shape’. It will come as my energy comes back. The most important thing right now is bonding with baby. I’m actually embracing how becoming a mother is changing me and that includes the way I dress and how I want to present myself,” says Jamie, who has collaborated on two seasons of women’s resort wear pieces with lifestyle brand Luxe Provence. “I’m using the changes in my body’s physicality to mirror my new role in life as mother to warrant some new wardrobe pieces that make me feel good both mentally and physically and do not require a workout to do so.”
Currently working on her first commercial project postpartum, Jamie says she sees the world “more sweetly, more innocently than before”. “Motherhood has also helped define how I want to work and what I will do for work, because nothing is more important than my time with Eloise in these precious new moments I’ll never get back again. So if you’re going to distract me from that, it should be good and it better pay well.”
Does living in Provence lend itself to bringing up bébé? According to Jamie, yes and no. “Not speaking the language can be challenging but not impossible. The biggest challenge in having a baby in a foreign country is being unfamiliar with how they do things. It took us a while to work out if we’d registered her birth properly or if there was more to be done… What has been truly wonderful with living in a small French town is the community. Even the people I can’t communicate with want to meet Eloise. It’s such joy to see how they treat her and sing French nursery rhymes. It’s so charming.
“I’ve loved seeing the cherry orchards blooming to the sound of Eloise giggling. I can’t wait to watch her taste foods for the first time and chase her crawling around a picnic blanket. We hope to buy a home this year and for the first time in our lives put down roots. I am anxious to get back to my personal work and explore the world through new eyes as a mother – to photograph that experience as I unlock a new era of creativity, and to allow Eloise to teach me what magic truly is.”