Boudoir, what it is and what it isn't.
Listen now! Just click the link above! The text version is coming shortly. Special thanks to Sarah Berner for being my copy editor on this specific blog cast. Also, as an edit, I mention my friend John Pivko's website on the blogcast and got it totally wrong. If you are in need of a talented wedding photographer in the New York/New Jersey area, visit him on his home on the web at http://www.pivkophoto.com.
It's been a whirlwind of a couple of weeks. I've been bouncing back and forth between New Jersey and North Carolina to visit my parents and shoot some weddings with my old childhood friend John Pivko of Pivko Photography. I actually am lying as I type that because to be very honest, we weren't exactly friends as children even though we lived one street over from each other and both have oddly Polish-but-not-Polish last names. I was always perceived as the "bad influence" on most kids. <insert hilarious sitcom laughter track here> I know, right!? Me? A bad influence? No, seriously, parents really got it wrong, for I am one of the few people I know that isn't on drugs, divorced thrice, or living in a cardboard box...yet. Marginal victories here, Mike! I guess I had a dirty mouth and tried to buy a Playboy with my other friend Mike at around age 10, so that was their inherent perception of me. Ah, well, we can psychoanalyze me later. I pay my therapist good money to tell me what I already know. Let her do her job.
Anyway, yes, I've been busy. It's been good, I suppose. I love busy spurts and I hate them, though I wish I was busy more often. Heading into the winter months gets a little scary because work tends to slow down and people usually don't venture outside much, so photographers (mostly wedding) pack up and go on vacay or return to some other employment. Ah, this is the plight of the not-quite wedding photographer. You wouldn't be able to tell I shoot weddings and "standard" looking portraits from this website. I hide it well. This site is a collection of my passion of conceptual art and the human body. You'll have to venture to the more family friendly Michael Jacobs Photo LLC - my parent company, my silly little business - to find more modest, real world portraits. I don't fit the mold of wedding photographer, nor do I ever want to, but I still have to make a living in these "off months." Hell, I always just need to make a living.
So I sat down with a good cup of Lidl coffee (seriously, have you been to Lidl? Go, it's a German grocer now invading America. Invading is possibly not the right word when talking about Germany and America. It's like Aldi but less self deprecating and with better produce). Anyway, I sat down to think what I could do to keep myself financially in the black til the new year. I'll always confess this, my passion lies with the art I do on this website. I do enjoy regular portraits of people and I feel I've made some gorgeous things for people to have for the rest of their lives, but I sit here with this confession: my heart lies here, in conceptual art, fashion, and the human body. It just always has and always will. I think I'm decent at it. I'm not pulling an Avedon or Tim Walker just yet but at least I give it my all. So while still sitting with that cup of coffee, I tried to think, "How can I bring the worlds I shoot together?" It just sorta revealed itself as I continued drinking that wonderful caffeinated liquid: Boudoir. I should shoot boudoir more! It has elements of what I shoot creatively, and it's much more marketable than the things I already shoot. If you're sitting there reading (or listening to this) as I write this and are like, "Uh, what? Who is this? What are we talking about? What's boudoir photography? This isn't NPR, WHERE IS ROBERT SEAGULL!?!", then let me back track for a second if you're new to the concept of boudoir photography.
boudoir (/ˈbuːdwɑːr/; French: [bu.dwaʁ]) is a woman's private sitting room or salon in a furnished accommodation usually between the dining room and the bedroom, but can also refer to a woman's private bedroom. The term derives from the French verb bouder to sulk or pout, or boudeur sulk or sulking, and originally was a room for sulking in, to put away or withdraw to.
Yes, a literal definition of the world boudoir. It's a lady's bedroom. Or a sulking woman. This blog post is about photographing a woman sulking in her bedroom. Thanks for listening folks, goodnight.
Just kidding. Well, sorta.
Boudoir photography, in its most basic definition and form, is somewhat intimate, personal photographs that an individual (usually but not always a female) has created to give to a significant other as a gift of sorts. Now, I have lots of moments while I write that make me feel like I want to stop here and throw the computer out the window, because that's just me, so bare with me for a second as I collect my thoughts and try to continue.
Boudoir photography has become a bit of a niche genre that is marketed to brides-to-be that want to give their groom a special sexy present before their wedding night. Well, this is from my hours of researching people who shoot boudoir, so it's not exactly scientific, but it usually goes like this. It's called boudoir photography because it is usually set in the bedroom of the woman a photographer is shooting. Now I am not going to play with pronouns too much during this blogcast but I'll be clear that it's mostly marketed towards people that identify as female. There are guys who request boudoir, but honestly it's been lambasted as tongue and cheek and silly. I have yet to receive a boudoir inquiry from a guy that feels confident in his sexuality and body. Please guys, give me a call. It almost sounds as if I'm asking for a date there. I'm not. I just love to have variations in my clients. ANYWAY.
A photographer offers a package with some pictures, a booking at a hotel (because generally people live in filth and don't want their own quarters showcased), ask the client to buy or wear some uncomfortable lingerie they've never worn or their significant other's shirt or some other butt floss contraption, and then puts them into uncomfortable, contrived poses that are suppose to elicit some modicum of sex appeal. Don't get me started on pinup boudoir. Just don't. Not a fan, never will be. Anyway, these photos are then either given digitally or in a little black book to their significant others for some sort of "WOW THAT'S SEXY" reaction and then everyone goes on about their day again.
Was that a good description of boudoir photography?
I know, I know, my tone indicates my distaste for the formulaic definition of this niche. Why? I shouldn't care that's what most boudoir is, but I do care. I'm the type of person that always tries to expect more from people, from life. I totally got this from my mother, and this is the only time I'll be mentioning my mother in a post about boudoir, but she is a person that has standards and expectations. It sounds really basic but not a lot of the general public have these ideals. People are mostly okay with just okay. This irks a person who really wants people to always give 110% when asked to do 90%. I'm not talking about the type-A sorta perfectionist way here though. It's more of the Four Seasons having a Motel 6 work ethic. It does happen; humans get complacent and offer just enough to get things done. I actually think most of America works like this. This is a big reason we are in the mess we're in now.
So when it comes to boudoir photography, my expectation is not the standard "client-wears-sexy-underwear-posed-uncomfortably-and-then-expects-their-significant-other-to-go-bananas-because-someone-took-pictures-of-them-in-a-thong" shoot. This is what boudoir isn't to me.
<voice from space>: "Well Mike, looking at your boudoir images, I clearly see just that."
Thanks, Flying Spaghetti Monster, I appreciate the vote of confidence. It comes down to intent. And fuck you, man, none of my poses are contrived!
Let's build some universal truths as to what I feel boudoir should be. Let's take the significant other out of the equation. I get it, it's a great gift, and I've totally marketed it that way in the past. Yes, your significant other would probably love to see you in various states of undress, well lit and beautiful, but let's talk about you.
So either Square Space or my internet connection royally just made me a very not happy Mike. I generally save every couple paragraphs and cut and paste into a word document JUST in case things like this happen. Guess who didn't cut and paste into a word document and lost about five paragraphs below this? Yeah, not fun. When you hit save on Square Space, the expectation is that is saves the progress. It simply did not this time. Let me regain my bearings and type something out that probably is a third as good as what I originally wrote. Le sigh, le sigh.
I don't want to make the blanket statement that posing in the buff or near buff is the most empowering thing someone can do. It's not. There are many forms of empowering actions. I feel like this happens to just be one of them. Again, we are focused on the self at the moment. A boudoir session doesn't have to be for anyone but yourself. There's something primal, slightly narcissistic (I say that in the best way possible, even though I don't believe in healthy narcissism but that's another story for another therapy couch) and possibly emboldening about displaying the human form. I'm kicking myself as I type this because I had a pretty good statement that was something to the effect of:
Everyone has a little bit of self appreciation in their rear view mirror. Everyone. And it's okay from time to time to look back at it and make sure it's still there. When we look good, we feel good. Like right now, I look like a disheveled mess that lost four paragraphs of this blog to the internet gods. I don't feel the best. But when I've taken care of myself, eaten healthily, brushed my hair, I feel better. Especially with my body.
I totally said that line way better in the first edit, by the way.
Anyway, maybe you've gotten your body to a point you feel proud of. Maybe you have overcome a difficult experience in life and want to show off. Maybe you just love yourself and want to embrace the beautiful perfect and imperfect sides of you. And yes, maybe you have a significant other that wants to see a more primal, sensual part of you through photographs.
It's okay to love the way you look, to get more in tune with how you feel. It's our job as a creative and photographer to help you with that image. Boudoir isn't the vision of the photographer. It's your vision on how you can see yourself in a flattering way. We just help with that vision. So if people are showing up to photograph you with the intent of institutionally contrived sex appeal, they really aren't giving you a service. They are taking your picture. Which is pretty self-centered.
As a male photographer currently living in the south that shoots boudoir, I find it pretty important to address how I go about working with clients on a matter that is a little more intimate than your normal portrait. I know there will be individuals that will discount my services right off the bat because I am a guy. I understand where they are coming from, to an extent. It can be personal, and this part of the country is a little more conservative, but I want to shed some light into my process when a client approaches me to shoot boudoir.
I firmly believe shoots like this are successful with two main ingredients (well, three, but we will get to the third in a second): trust, and comfort. You're trusting someone else to portray you in an intimate fashion. Your comfort follows. Not just your comfort with me, comfort with yourself. Boudoir clients who can become an actor, or play a part, or go to a special place in their heads, often have the most successful shoots. This has absolutely nothing to do with posing, too. My poses aren't going to make you look better. Your attitude is going to define that. I get to know my clients on a more human level. I want to know their comforts, their fears, their funny stories, their sad stories, their favorite music, their favorite candy bar. When they talk about these things, you can see their eyes light up and it's amazing.
These are the the moments you take into a boudoir session, not: "OKAY PULL YOUR THONG DOWN TO THE SIDE AND WRAP YOUR HAND AROUND THE PEARLS WONDERFUL GREAT SEXY!"
What I find most important to bring into a session is humor; humor more than anything.
If you don't know this about me, I spent a good deal of my entire adult life working in mental health. I worked with very sick individuals. They didn't have many great moments in their life thus far to subscribe to, so I actively participated in trying to find something that would make them laugh. Coping skills for the mentally ill and coping skills for the non-mentally ill are pretty much the same. Humor is a pretty great equalizer. Countless studies show that when you are laughing, your heart rate lowers, as does your blood pressure, and your brain and body create all those lovely neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine to make you feel a whole lot better. In boudoir sessions, this is a must! It's the third ingredient. You're more likely to be yourself or someone else if you're rolling on the floor laughing between takes. It's true. I have some hilarious outtakes. Trust is partially established when you agree to let me photograph you. Humor helps that comfort set in.
I always want you to feel like you're in control of the situation. You're dictating the world, I'm just helping you walk through it. This is why it's so important we discuss wardrobe before the shoot. I don't want people going out and buying things they aren't used to wearing. Nor does the session have to be about specific clothing. Sometimes it's not even about clothing! (Ha ha ha, get it, boudoir, not about clothing.)
Oye, I'll see myself out.
Like I said, it has to be about attitude. Your attitude. I cater to the mood with music that you've picked. (It makes me talk less, which is a good thing. I'm a talker hahaha). I'll never tell anyone to act a certain way. I shutter at the thought (not a spelling error, a pun!) of saying "act sexy." A) That's inappropriate.
B) That's a perfect way to be awkward and do the opposite.
I want people to go to places they find happy in their mind. I use telephoto lenses to stay out of the client's space. Remember, it's their kingdom, I'm just visiting to document.
I curate spaces we shoot in. Boudoir never has to be about a bedroom, it can be a Bojangles for all I care. (That would be pretty odd wouldn't it? Bojangles boudoir...I'll give them a call.)
When all is said and done, all clients get a locked, private gallery with an abundance of images for them to select. The final product is usually a simple black book, because the images should speak for themselves. No text or silly phrases. It's always just about the images. Sometimes clients will just want the files but I find having a tangible object solidifies the experience. You've made something out of nothing. That's amazing, You get to keep it forever. When our robot overlords disconnect the internet, you'll still have that book. Now I'm going to go on a tangent about printing your photos; next month's blog post I'm sure.
I feel like I've deflated the air in the balloon a tad because of losing the first draft of this post, but maybe I didn't have such a grand finish in the first place.
To answer that initial question though, boudoir photography is many things and it's entirely one thing at the same time.
It can be the awful things I depicted it as, or it can be just an idea, just an attitude that you have control over.
OR, we are just bags of water running around this dirt disk* circumventing the sun. (Too deep, Mike. Too deep.)
So here's the call to action: ("Wait, Mike, this is an advertisement?" DUPED YOU! No, it's not, but it's definitely an opinion piece about something I shoot. I am a working photographer, remember?)
I want to book individuals that are fearless. I want clients that want to break the mold of what they think boudoir is. I want to create highly stylized shoots for people to be whoever they want to be. I also want people that think a tee-shirt can be sensually photographed, and everything in between. When all is said and done, I want the client to be happy they looked in their rear view mirror for a moment and caught a glimpse of something they love: themselves. I'm not going to go into pricing or value because I think my work speaks for itself. If you have an interest
in making images for yourself, for the spaghetti monster in the sky, or someone in particular, please contact me. I want you to be happy with yourself, even if it's just through pictures.
Thanks for reading/listening.
Below are some examples of my work. For booking or more information send me a note on my website, in the about me section. Thanks kids!