We had the good fortune of connecting with Leona Darnell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leona, how do you think about risk?
Risk has never been a dirty word for me and my entire life has been built around this word. The most significant risk I took in my life is deciding to become a single mother 7 years ago. The partners I have been with were simply not the right fit and I was 44 and not getting any younger, so I turned to a donor registry and IVF. After several trials and tribulations, I had my miracle son in 2013. 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 come from a photographic background and studied at the Academy of Art in San Francisco when image development came from the darkroom and the smell of chemicals filled my senses. That day in 2013, two worlds collided and after doing my first birth photography session, that was it. Finally, I was grounded. Birth photography made my life complete. I took another huge risk career-wise when In 2017, when I packed my bags and moved here to Los Angeles to bring birth photography to a new audience. I want to be the eyes of the mothers and fathers, to allow them to concentrate on the precious gift of their child’s arrival while I creatively and respectfully document their journey into parenthood and their child’s journey to the world. I never want a parent to feel that he or she missed anything during such a monumental event.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Being a creative is both a blessing and a curse. Being a blessing, the art of photography fills my soul, but it wasn’t always like that, After 911 and leaving my position at United Airlines, I studied art and photography at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I photographed everything and quickly realized that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I did. I continued on this road until one day I thought this wasn’t for me and I had to suit down with myself and have a heart talk. Maybe if I just photographed what I wanted and found an avenue that filled my soul, people would come. I dropped all weddings, corporate headshot stuff and concentrated on family portraits and senior portraits. I was pretty happy with that, but it still didn’t make my heart sing. When I finally became pregnant at 44 and had my child at 45, I looked into birth and maternity. After doing my first birth for free (thank you Erin!!) I finally found what my creative purpose was. Adding to that, I only did maternity portraits that spoke to me–in studio with a fine art flare. My take away–or lesson if you will–was to find what made my soul full and only that and people would come. All this is a blessing–but a curse? The curse–or the rub if you will–is I have to “sell it”. I think many creatives have issues with the business side of things. I have to not only be the creator, but I have to market myself, price myself, work the numbers–all the “icky stuff”. I have always had some problems with self worth—or is my work good enough–am I good enough. I have had to do a lot of mental/soul work to rise above the negative voices in my head. I don’t even know where they come from! Maybe that makes me real? I strive to continually improve. I come into birth work and maternity work to achieve what I myself did not have. I couldn’t afford maternity portraits and I never even heard of birth photography. I want to give families a gift that I was never able to attain. I want them to absolutely revel in the art I give them. I enjoy what I do so much that my clients equally value what I give them.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Let’s pretend for a moment that it is pre-COVID times and my BFF came to Los Angeles to visit. Boy would we have fun!!! Of course we would hit Disneyland because who doesn’t like a talking mouse, rides and expensive indulgent treats?? Speaking of indulgent treats, we would definitely hit the House of Pies! If pie wasnt her thing, Canters Deli on Fairfax would be a must! Not only fab sandwiches, but the cheesecake? Oh Lord!! After we are nice and full, we would probably have to walk it off on Hollywood BLVD. People watching there is the BEST! Also looking at the walk of stairs is a fun activity. Seeing a movie at the El Capitan would also be on the schedule—gotta sit in the balcony seats!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Gosh, this is a tough one. I have always been so independent, but my friends who support me are invaluable. Specifically my great friend David Drew who helped and continues to help with my son, Luca, and is always there when I need a sounding board or just to tell me “I am good enough” when I doubt myself. Tom Williams is another wonderful and generous friend when it comes to being there for me. He always has so many pots on the stove, but takes the time to help create my vision in web design and creation and never asks for anything in return. I would be lost without him. My son, Luca, I thank every day. He set the stage in the direction my career has gone–I am not sure I would have even thought of birth photography is I had not experienced it for myself.