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Boudoir photography gaining in popularity

You are in Studio 10 in Northeast Washington, where boudoir photography is done. On the studio walls hang pictures of other women who ventured here before you. They are giving their best "come hither" looks.

One woman, her skin a brilliant chocolate, is folded like a tulip. Her Afro flying, she is bare, but covering all the jewels. The next shot shows her rising on her knees as if in triumph. You do not know what is on her mind, but she appears powerful.

There is a huge photo of a woman in a sea-blue bodice, red underpants tied at the side with a big red ribbon, the kind of ribbon that your mother tied in your hair when you were a little girl. The woman in the photo looks like the girl next door in your kind of neighborhood. She is not a standard beauty, at least not as one is usually defined. But you can see her inner strength and her don't-give-a-damn attitude, and that is a kind of raw beauty not often found in a magazine. A beauty to be appreciated.

Boudoir photography, which was often associated with brides who wanted to surprise their grooms before the wedding, is growing in popularity, according to Cameron Bishopp, director of publications for Professional Photographer, the magazine of the Professional Photographers of America, one of the largest portrait photography associations in the world, with more than 22,000 members. The magazine surveyed professional photographers in August and found that 21 percent were shooting boudoir photography. (Family portraits topped the list, of course, followed by photography of children, high school seniors, pregnant women and pets.)

"From what photographers are saying, requests from regular people for boudoir portraits are rising," Bishopp says. "It's become less skeezy. This is getting to be more about empowering women and less about dirty ol' men in basements."

A growing portfolio

The popularity of boudoir photography reflects the growing interest in all photography and the ubiquity of cameras, says Bonita Bing of the D.C.-based Exposure Group. People want to document their lives in every detail, says Bing, president of the African American Photographers Association. In boudoir photography, subjects can exert control and be "presented in a certain light," with makeup artists and wardrobe consultants at their disposal, she says.

The women in boudoir photographs are typically partly dressed or clad in lingerie or nude, and they are posed in a boudoirlike setting. ("Boudoir" is derived from the French verb "bouder," meaning "to pout," and it describes a woman's private bedroom, sitting room or dressing room.) The private portraits are taken for spouses, significant others and, sometimes, for women who have no partner, for themselves. These women are doing something their mothers told them not to: exposing skin. And yet it is not Miss Jackson nasty.

Some might say boudoir photography captures ordinary women at their most glorious -- before gravity begins pulling, before the love handles take hold, before their lean, sexy beauty disappears and the arrival of the children do not believe their mothers ever looked that way, before they become invisible as they walk down the street to the whistles of appreciative men.

Before what you've got is gone, you want it freeze-framed.

"There is a time and a place to bring out the inner beauty. There is a place in time you can't get back," says Tiffani Norris, 35, who owns an event-marketing company and is now captured forever in a short red nightgown on a poster for "Boudoir in the City," an event hosted earlier this month by Studio 10. Vendors sold makeup and lingerie, and women took part in quick sample boudoir portrait sessions.

"This is art," says Ron Ceasar, 52, the editorial and environmental photographer who runs Studio 10 and does boudoir photography. Ceasar has the kind of command of his subjects that makes you think he grew up around a bunch of sisters whom he had to protect from boys up the street.

"Women are just liberated today," Ceasar says. "It speaks to society as a whole. Women want to feel and look sexy. . . . I tell them, 'God made you a woman and made you special, so let what God gave you come out.' "

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