“Tonight Show” host Jack Paar called Constance Bannister the “world’s most famous baby photographer.” She published calendars, books — even a syndicated comic strip. Her photography tips were printed on boxes of flashbulbs.
And when she died in 2005 at the age of 92, she left her daughter Lynda more than 100,000 images of “Bannister Babies” – an archive that could be worth a fortune.
The family’s story is featured in the latest episode of Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby. It airs Monday, March 20 at 9 pm ET on the FOX Business Network.
Constance Bannister was born on a Tennessee farm in 1913, the second oldest of 17 children. In the mid-1930s she packed up moved to New York City.
“She wanted to be somebody, and somebody big,” Lynda Bannister tells Colby in the program.
Constance enrolled in the New York Institute of Photography. After a stint as an Associated Press society photographer, she had an inspiration.
“She went into Central Park and just started photographing babies,” says Lynda. “She ended up going back the next day with prints, sold some to a mom, and the career was born.”
She opened a studio on Central Park South and quickly gained a reputation as the best baby photographer in the city.
“She had a way of communicating with the baby and would get them to do the craziest things,” says Lynda. “She just knew exactly when to snap that shot and get that perfect picture.”
She was stunning on camera herself. During World War II, Look Magazine commissioned a series of kiddie beach photos for a feature called “Pin-up Babies.” Next to her photographer’s credit the magazine published a shot of Constance in her bathing suit.
“Service men wrote from all over the world asking for a signed 8x10 for their foxhole or bunker,” Lynda says.
The post-war baby boom presented a new opportunity for Bannister. She offered parents free pictures of their children if they signed a release allowing her to sell the images.
Soon “Bannister Babies” were everywhere. So was Constance.
“I have all her appointment books from 1940s and 1950s,” says Lynda. “Every single page is filled with meetings, radio shows and television shows. People knew her by name. They knew her on sight.”
Bannister retired in the mid-1970’s, and remained out of the public eye.
Before she died, she assured Lynda that the file cabinets full of prints and negatives that she would inherit were still valuable.
“She actually told me, ‘Don’t mess it up, Lynda.’”
Lynda indeed learned that those Bannister Babies are as bankable as ever. She’s signed licensing deals with Getty, Microsoft, Yahoo and greeting card publishers, and says she’s received as much as $25,000 for the rights to a single image.