This article contains media that the editors have flagged as NSFW.
Boudoir photography is not a new concept, however, the way in which it is viewed has changed drastically over the years. When it once was an art form on the female body, represented solely indoors in a bedroom, the title now has moved to include other versions. It could be argued that if it does not adhere to specific criteria, it cannot be called boudoir. In my opinion, the original term might just need to be evolved to include other concepts as the term among the majority of photographers in this genre refer to boudoir as more of a feeling than a location.
The word boudoir refers to a woman's private sitting room or bedroom. Over the years photographers have spliced this definition when speaking of other forms of an intimate photography setting. More so in the scientific community, we find lumpers and splitters. A concept that each take on a different approach to how we categorize a definition. Lumpers broadly assign focus more on the signature similarities. A splitter takes on a more precise way to categorize it and creates various categories. As a former scientist, my views were always very geared towards a splitter and putting very little value on the emotional over the physical.
As a boudoir photographer, I am torn between this concept in that I see the emotional importance of an image. Placing a definition solely onto a category defined by its location has become more trying when the category of boudoir, if split, loses it impact.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article about outdoor boudoir. Of course, the jokes fly in from the beloved character Inigo Montoya "I do not think it means what you think it means," on how boudoir should be solely in a bedroom. Keeping true to the original idea of boudoir, I have mainly photographed women in my studio. Over the years I felt that the term needed to become broader as the inquiries for sessions outside of this very rigid constraint became increasingly popular. Clients would bring their albums home to their partners and immediately the partner would see how the confidence was restored as well as how empowered she felt. A desire from the partners to feel this way promoted calls coming in for intimate couples sessions. What I mainly noticed in the photography industry was a lashing out towards other boudoir photographers for calling anything besides a woman in her room boudoir. While the term should be kept to explain the origin of the word, I felt this word has evolved into a feeling rather than the specific location of the shoot itself. Recently reading a post from a fellow boudoir photographer on her personal couples session with her husband I felt justified in saying the term has become more of a feeling when mentioned.
Jessica Rae photographs in her Maple Ridge, BC Canada studio. Her husband, as many partners do, understands the importance of what we do for the confidence of women. He wrote that he sees these women transformed. "They have their shoulders back, they are smiling and they radiate confidence. It’s amazing to watch this experience from the outside and to see how, in just a couple hours, they learn to see themselves in a way they didn’t before." Most partners know what we do, but understanding it first hand can be challenging. They see the setups, the final images but until they experience it themselves the term boudoir is just that; a term.
In their blog post, a version of the word feeling comes up in almost every paragraph. Photographing in such an intimate setting creates more than just beautiful images. It brings feelings to the table in ways most clients could not expect. At first, he was reluctant when Rae wanted to photograph themselves for a couples session. After an injury lead to body confidence issues, he decided to put his trust in his partner to show him what she has shown hundreds of women over her career. "I can honestly say that at first I felt very uncomfortable displaying my flaws for even just Jessica to see but it quickly became something else. The camera disappeared from my mind and it became about sharing something intimate and freeing with the woman I love," Chad wrote. He explains how this experience brought him closer to her. "It’s not just for women or for men, it’s about celebrating yourself, or in my case my love."
Rae photographs couples looking to document their time together. This is not unlike a typical boudoir session where a woman is looking to regain her confidence or feel empowered. She is looking to reconnect with herself the same as a couple looking to reconnect with one another. Rae refers to a Paul Caponigro quote, “It's one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it's another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”
"Before a client comes in for a session I send them a questionnaire asking why they are doing this session and what it means to them.This doesn't necessarily make me tailor a session a certain way but rather gives me an idea of their journey. I take the time to get to know my clients. I take genuine interest in their life story and build report and connection. I consider myself to be an empath and relate with people on many levels," Rae writes. She furthers to write that a session with her is not about the picture itself but the experience and helping them to connect. Without embracing and encouraging this emotional connection, she feels the images lack that authenticity that is the very core of what takes an image from being a pretty picture to an emotive, evoking piece of photographic art.
So whatever you decide to call this genre; couples boudoir, intimate session, nudes or other versions it is clear that the word boudoir itself lends to a feeling. We could define it as a whole other area, but in reality, our clients hear the term boudoir and they do not see locations or creative setups. They hear it and think confidence, empowerment, and acceptance.
All images with permission and courtesy of Jessica Rae