Cabot: a picturesque town with plenty of beautiful images. But there's more than just landscapes here, inside one barn there's no shortage of natural beauty. Welcome to Zutano, where it's all about kids, photography and fashion.
Husband and wife duo Michael and Uli Belenky started Zutano almost 25 years ago. It's a whimsical clothing line, started after their first daughter was born. The couple lived in New York City, but moved to Cabot to be closer to family, grow the company and settle down. Their daughter was one of the first models and they soon needed more. The kids are the face of the business and what inspires the couple. Now, every other week, Zutano brings in fresh baby faces to model clothes and capture personalities.
"I think we think of it more as portrait studies," Michael Belenky said. "I mean it's important to see the clothes, but it's much more about the babies than the clothes."
The photos are used on Zutano's website, social media sites and in catalogs.
"Good naps and full bellies is a good way to start," Michael said.
He went to the International Center of Photography and focused on portrait and editorial photography. He shot for many years for the New York City newspaper the Village Voice and magazines like Forbes.
"I really love photographing babies," he said. "It's so interesting to see the diversity of children."
A photo shoot can be intense for anyone, let alone a baby. With new surroundings, flashes in their face-- not to mention constant outfit changes-- some kids get overwhelmed. From happy one minute to upset the next, Michael has to connect with them through all of this.
"It's great when we can get a direct connection where the eyes are connected to the camera, so we often try to keep the parents and mothers from jumping up and down," he said.
With faces, sounds, songs and the occasional game of peekaboo, Michael connects with kids by becoming one when trying to get the perfect shot that tells a story.
"We're looking for a spark; kids that have a twinkle and a curiosity," he said.
The Zutano crew is incredibly patient, going with the flow, never forcing anything and knowing when to stop.
"Not all kids are ready for it," Michael said. "And you can kind of work through, but you have to know when to say OK, let's try this another day."
Michael says 6 to 9-month-old babies are his favorite to photograph. They are old enough to sit up, but can't run away just yet. They are also curious but usually not shy. Older kids can get stage fright and stick to parents.
The company doesn't look for model looks, embracing every baby as beautiful. Whether it's bright red hair or big ears, interesting babies are what they look for that can represent a real image of kids.
"It underlines the unique clothing and unique personalities that each baby has," Uli Belenky said.
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