What is Boudoir Photography?

The Intentions of Boudoir Photography:

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Boudoir photography is intended to be an empowering affirmation of beauty and sexuality. It offers a view into private moments usually implying self reflection, self appreciation, or sensuality / sexuality. Boudoir photography aims to capture the beauty of an individual’s figure, sexuality, and emotions, rather than an unrealistic or inappropriate exploration of their body. While many have dismissed boudoir as pornographic or inappropriate, the truth is that, as early as the 19th century, boudoir has offered women a level of control over their portrayal and the portrayal of their bodies that wasn’t available in daily life. Done properly, boudoir empowers individuals to say, “I am beautiful, I am desirable, I am sexual, and that is ok.”.

Boudoir combines aspects of glamour, fashion, fine art, and portraiture photography in a celebration of human form and emotion. Boudoir is most often associated with women, but representations of male and couple’s boudoir date back to the 1920s and the very founding of the genre.


The History of Boudoir Photography:

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Boudoir photography technically has its origins in France in the 1920s where the term “boudoir” referred to a woman’s private room. This room would have served as a dressing room, powder room, writing room, courting room, and a general private space. Boudoir photography originated as a voyeuristic look into the boudoir and featured women in private, sensual, or romantic images either dressed in lingerie or nude. However, similar artistic styles have existed under different names, across cultures, and across mediums for centuries. Bohemian paintings like Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec’s In Bed The Kiss, Impressionist paintings like Renoir’s Baigneuse (assise), Romantic paintings like Goya’s La Maja Desnuda, Rennaissance paintings like Titian’s the Venus of Urbino, ancient Greek statues like Sleeping Hermaphroditos, and Japanese ukiyo-e prints like Kitagawa Utamaro’s Beauty Powdering the Neck all showcase beauty and sensuality in a similar way, minus the French floor plan, of course.

Boudoir photography and similar sensual art forms do distinguish themselves strongly from erotic art like the ancient Indian sculptures at Khajuraho or the erotic attic red-figure vases of ancient Greece. Aside from the obvious lack of explicit sexual activity in boudoir photography and other sensual art, there is a crucial difference between “nude” and “naked” in these artistic depictions of the human form. In artistic terminology, “nude” / “nudity” implies empowerment while “naked” / “nakedness” implies vulnerability, vulgarity, or shame. This is accomplished through the use of posing, props, and actions both explicit and implied. Both “nude” and “nakedness” imply a figure without their clothing, however a nude subject will appear at ease or confident while a naked subject will often appear vulnerable, uncomfortable, or ashamed. Boudoir subjects can be clothed, implied nude (turned away or partly / fully covered with something other than clothing), or nude, but will not be naked as this would run counter to the empowering intention of the art form.

One of the most famous historical boudoir photographers, Albert Arthur Allen (actually from Grafton, MA!), gained notoriety during the 1920s for his scandalous nude and partially nude portraits and figure studies. Allens work featured soft, subtle light, clean backgrounds, and showed a strong influence of flapper culture and early cinema.

Following a parallel evolution, artists like George Petty and Alberto Vargas began publishing pinup illustrations in direct retaliation against the “Gibson Girl” - a generic Victorian illustration representing the ideal of feminine physical beauty created by Charles Dana Gibson. Petty and Vargas attempted to show a more independent woman in the post-WWI era. While pinup photography was available at the time, illustrations were far more prevalent. This led to a lack of realism and helped to further the highly airbrushed pinup images we know today.

Up until the 1950s, boudoir had been fairly taboo, and in some cases illegal (Albert Arthur Allen spent several years in prison for sending his photographs through the mail). In 1956, Marilyn Monroe’s boudoir session with photographer Cecil Beaton began to change this and pull boudoir into the spotlight. Instead of the clean backgrounds we saw in the 1920s and 30s, Beaton drew inspiration from other sensual art forms of the past, even posing Marilyn atop an ukiyo-e print in one image. By comparison to the nudes of Allen and the pinup poses of Petty and Vargas, Beaton captures Marilyn both dressed and wrapped in fabric while lounging in intimate, natural poses. The images captured were simultaneously intimate and authentic. This trend continued as the women’s lib movement gained steam in the late 1960s and 1970s. Boudoir images became more “raw”. They were still styled and posed, but there was a push to capture authentic images of women “as they were”.

Today, boudoir photography is relatively mainstream with people from all walks of life doing boudoir sessions. Boudoir sessions can be either individual or couples’ sessions. Individual sessions disregard social norms and standards placed upon the individual and focus instead on their authentic personality, their individual beauty, and their sexuality as they choose to have it represented. Couples’ sessions tend to focus on authentic representations of desire and intimacy. They capture scenes of playfulness, love, and attraction.


My Approach to Boudoir Photography:

I aim to highlight and immortalize the beauty, sensuality, and sexuality of my clients with my boudoir photography. I view boudoir as a place to safely show off your beauty. It is also a safe place to showcase your sexuality in whatever form that takes. We are sexual creatures at our core - we want to be desired, loved, and appreciated. The crucial element here is “in whatever form that takes”. Not everyone displays their sexuality the same way. For some it is overt while for others it can be as subtle as a change of expression or a mere suggestion in the eyes. As a boudoir photographer, my job is to work with my client to understand the form that expression takes for them and how to best capture it in images. This is why our work together starts weeks or days prior to the shoot with discussions and brainstorming about their hopes for the session. My goal is to work with my clients to create images that showcase their idea of beauty and sexuality rather than one placed upon them by society or even by their partner / friends. In the process, I aim to put my clients at ease and coach them on poses which can help to achieve the desired aesthetic. My images run the gamut from fully clothed through nude and from sensual through sexual. Each session is tailor fitted to my client based on their goals and desires for their images.

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Brent Mills