“Nobody discovered ugliness through photographs. But many through photographs, have discovered beauty” (1), Susan Sontag – The Heroism of Vision
The thought, if not the exact quote, fleets through my mind as I grab the receipt for a number of pretty quilt covers and sheets and ponder whether they should be put on on business expenses.
No, wait, before you call the Revenue on me, there is a reason, I’m shooting a boudoir model in a week or so, and the bed, my bed actually, needs something newer and less mauled by childish paws than the current available stock.
The word “boudoir” has been used throughout history as the name for various rooms (or parts of rooms) used by women. When applied to photography is a description of a type of shot, very often of women, in states of undress, with the aesthetic focussed on the sensual nature of the whole environment rather than the salacious.
Boudoir photography, particularly in the over 30s, has experienced somewhat of a boom in popularity with artists such as Dita Von Teese and notable boudoir photographers such as LA based Cherie Steinberg becoming more mainstream in the coverage they receive, and therefore experiencing a trickle-down effect to us girls in the street who fancy throwing a shape and feeling like Garbo for the day..
“Generation Sex respects the rights of girls who want to take their clothes off, as long as we can all watch that’s ok”. (2) Neil Hannon, Divine Comedy, Generation Sex”
More than any feminist diatribe about the objectification of the female form it’s Neil Hannon’s tongue in cheek view of a “metro”, cosmopolitan world in which nudity and voyeurism can be explained away through “liberating of the sexes” which immediately springs into my music obsessed brain and starts me thinking about what it is exactly that boudoir represents and why it has become so popular with brides to be and other women who are not models.
Is boudoir photography just another cheap thrill? Is it just an example of modern western society dropping it’s knickers to such a degree that what you publicly display about you, both your sensuality and your intimate relationships has become so blurred as to make the private negligible.
Let’s be frank, Generation X did not invent the lascivious. Bawdy and scandalous have always existed. Tom Jones, Fanny Hill and Casanova are perfect high profile fictional and factual examples of life in certain sections of society stretching back several hundred years.
The Pre-Raphaelites may have expressed and repressed their guilt at the sensual leanings of their painting and their fairly dissolute lifestyles with trips to the Holy Land and moralistic paintings depicting pleasure, morality, sin and redemption. Nonetheless the fact remains that the sensual expression of femininity has much of the boudoir in it, particularly in Rossetti’s work.
Many of Rossetti’s works have the trademarks of boudoir depictions, from the lush, luxuriant free flowing hair, so symbolic within the Victorian era, to the luminous eyes of the sitter, raptly admiring their own image in the mirror. Some feminist argument (3) http://feminism.eserver.org/theory/papers/lilith/ladylil.html has suggested that this represents a dismissal of the “other” a rejection in fact of the “male” gaze. The narcissistic self-absorption and contemplation of her own beauty illustrating the strong, liberated woman, requiring no other in order to feel sensuous. Rosetti’s “Lady Lilith” is a perfect illustration of this.
Boudoir Photography emphasises the power and sensuality of ordinary individuals – primarily women – often at a cross-roads or at an extraordinary point in their lives. The pictures express their feeling about their own relationships and, done well, depict them at their most desirable and powerful. Emboldened by this internal view of themselves, boudoir photography therefore does not objectify but instead liberates the human form from the limitations that society places upon us whether that be age or body shape.
Photography at its best is not a recording of images, but an artistic impression of a feeling, a fleeting representation of love, of romance, of desire. One should almost be able to touch the beauty of the moment. The story of the eyes, the touch and the sentiment should be there for all to see and captured at the time when that moment is most keenly felt.