By SnapSquad - April 24, 2020

The question came up to me as I was scrolling through images on this topic and had to marvel at the amazingly wide range of styles where demure shots gingerly neighboured with sexy poses and provocative erotic scenes. It seems, after all, that boudoir photography is very much left to interpretation.
Back to the “boudoir”, a French word as it happens, a very private room and an erotic Italian-made reputation; all three will help us grab what the Boudoir genre is all about as well as what it is not and the role it plays in art photography and whom it is for.

Le Boudoir
Bedroom, bathroom, dining room, reception room… in the eighteenth century appeared le boudoir. What used to be referred to, until then, as a “cabinet” became a specific room for women of the aristocracy to “bouder” (translate “to sulk”). This may seem like a rather odd continental concept, but it appeared, however in a time dedicated to enlightenment and became symbolic of the privilege of women to be able to get away and experiment with new ideas; it became their own private space for their enlightenment. Already, it was about the empowerment of women.                                                                         
In time, and although I personally think it still had use for sulking, the “small cabinet to retire to be alone”*of 1740 became Madame’s very private room to enjoy hobbies, studies and conversations, restful moments and often too romantic partners. By 1835, the definition had evolved to “a cabinet decorated with elegance for the personal use of ladies”* 

Inside le Boudoir
The boudoir of the seventeenth century (and earlier) was often situated by the corner of the residence, often and conveniently communicating with a tower with a stairway used by very special and discreet invited guests. Later, by the nineteenth century, the boudoir had been popularised in novels and had been exported to England where it became a room usually adjacent to the bed-chamber. 

Privacy is the ultimate purpose of the room, its proportions were rather small in comparison with other utilitarian rooms. A boudoir had to have a fire-place, emphasising that it had to to be cosy and warm. Windows often opened to the pleasant view of a garden. There was always an alcove planned for a day bed and carefully chosen textiles, tassels and fringes decorated windows, beds, cosy chairs and even walls and padded ceilings. A woman’s boudoir was, in fact, a very modern idea for the lady of the house to feel free to decorate in her own taste and image without a care of what people may have had to say about it. Trends influenced the interior deco to draw from nature and orientalism and later (literature helping) eroticism. Five centuries on, and keeping in mind that the room’s vocation is to reflect a feminine image, no matter in what style direction the decor has evolved, from ornate or French-inspired all the way to “country”, it has retained its feeling of a cosy “Imaginarium”.

Boudoir Stories
Not surprisingly, the off-limit private room, that the boudoir had become, stirred the imagination like secrets often do. The taste for exotic stories of the female experience and licentious novels, not to mention the Marquis de Sade’s gave the boudoir a nefarious reputation that perhaps belonged mostly in books; however, the fact that it was a woman’s private choice has remained and now applies to its photographic interpretation.

Boudoir Art Photography and the Client
Boudoir art photography started rather underground back in the 1920s, in the days when nudity on photographs was illegal and considered a disgrace. We have come a long way from that and the art of photographing women may often leave us quite confused between sensual photography with non-professional models and fashion portraits or even glamour photography.                               

Boudoir photography is portraiture and it is intimate. For this alone, it not only requires good photographic skills where lighting is of crucial importance as well as “stage” setting-up skills (in the studio or in a room picked by the client), but it also calls for special people’s skills with a bit of psychology (don’t worry, there are courses!) Again, when the model is not a professional but an ordinary person out to do something totally out of her ordinary, it becomes the job of the photographer to make her feel comfortable with the shoot and instil in her the confidence she needs to bring out her sensual and sexy self in an elegant manner.                                                                                                                   
Boudoir photographs usually have the model pose wearing lingerie, but they can be wearing something else, perhaps a dress and while some want to be naked, many won’t. Let’s not forget the whole point of the session, which is to feel free and empowered with a very personal style. With this in mind though, very few clients will come to the photoshoot feeling like a pin-up girl. Rather, they will have no idea how to make themselves look attractive and sensual and probably will have to fight a deep-down feeling of being too much of a few things that should not belong on their secret dream picture of their sexy self: fat, wrinkles, scars… Basically, they will probably feel from nervous right to terrified with what seemed to be a fun idea to start with. 

So, how to make clients feel comfortable? Be welcoming and warm; sit down and chat over a drink, let the make-up artist do most of the rest until your time comes again to suggest perhaps a dreamy mood and show how to achieve a pose. It the photographer's know-how that will guide a client through a personal journey of discovery of her own beauty.

Boudoir Photo-shoot Location
Boudoir photographers often have a studio equipped with furniture suitable for different types of scenes. However, and for many who are not yet specialised in that genre, the location can be a bedroom or even a gazebo, at the client’s home or in a hotel. Some clients may choose their favourite place in their home; some may want somewhere exotic or totally glamorous, but no matter where the photo-shoot is to take place, it will have to feel a totally safe and comfortable environment. Many photographers come with a music playlist, wine and titbits to make it even more informal and relaxing.
Keeping in mind on how much feeling safe and comfortable is paramount for the client to get through the photo-shoot, it may not come as a surprise to know that women will more eagerly hire a female photographer to take their most intimate pictures. Sorry dudes, but do not despair, as you will find out in the next chapter, men too ask for boudoir photos.

Boudoir Photo Albums
Important dates in our lives are inevitably punctuated with emotions. It is how we feel as a wedding date approaches, or an anniversary or with a birthday gift for a soul mate that we want to show and immortalise with photographs. A boudoir album will be not only a great gift to our partner but a wonderful reminder of how amazing we can look and feel.
If it is common for women to give their partner a boudoir photo album, often too, the whole idea is simply to please themselves and for the space of a few hours, to live a fantasy and go on to cherish a very special moment where they feel they can be anything they want to be. The album becomes their secret showcase of empowerment.

Boudoir Photos for the Guys 
Can boudoir photography apply to men?  Why wouldn’t guys want to feel amazing about themselves too? Like women, they also have issues with their looks and they can feel totally out of their element during a photoshoot when they have to express their sensuality without having to feel that they are trading their macho self for it. Going back to the description of a boudoir, it goes without saying that it could never be a masculine fantasy to pose in a fancy room unless that is, it was a joint experience with a female partner. With this last thought, I will leave you to consider male portraiture.

*Dictionaire de l’Academie Française 

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