Rediscovery Through Photography
To me, the magic of photography… is that you can capture an instant of a second that couldn’t exist before and couldn’t exist after...
Mario Testino, Peruvian Photographer
I had been going through, perhaps, the toughest time in my life. It was the time that I knew that the person I had spent a third of my life loving, was never coming back to me; despite how hard I tried, life circumstances stole him from me. Every day was a struggle, but I knew I had responsibilities, and because of those responsibilities, I managed to make it through the day. Day by day, it was the same: I was no longer living, but merely existing. One day, I told myself that I needed to be among the living again. What helped me was that I was truly excited over a new project, a project just for me. I had spent ten years of my life as a caregiver, putting everyone else’s needs above my own, and struggling with the difficulties associated with military life and the results of a significant other who was in the military. I was finally allowing myself to do something solely for myself.
When Parker and I met, I was young and naïve, and so, loved him in a naïve way: loving him completely, unselfishly, believing I would receive the same love in return. Just a naïve notion. I supported him, took care of him, as he had freedom—freedom from responsibilities, freedom to travel to take short-term jobs away from home as a civilian. Parker had freedom because I never wanted him to feel trapped, yet I was the one in a prison. In being so concerned with his health, his career, his happiness, I neglected myself. I realized how wrong that is.
Serendipity: Belle Boudoir
The boudoir and glamour-style photography is no longer a secret, growing increasingly popular among women of all ages, all shapes, and all sizes. Seattle, Washington-based photographer, Cheryl Jones has always had a passion for art. Although she studied to be a marriage counselor in college, she was looking to broaden her horizons, and purchased her first professional camera. As Cheryl comments, just out of school, she thought she was too young to be a therapist (having complete a practicum for a licensed therapist and a thesis for her master’s degree), and wanted to work on photography for a few years before embarking on her “real career,” “but that was 12 years ago!” never looking back.
Starting a New Chapter
For many women who embark on this project, it marks the beginning of a new chapter in their lives: starting a new life with her husband, or starting a new family with her first child, perhaps marking a new beginning to an existing relationship. For me, this project marked the beginning of a new life: a new life which could only begin after the finality of a previous love.
Boudoir photography was something I had planned on doing, a “someday” project, like swimming with wild dolphins on Bimini, or diving with sharks on Cat Island, or visiting the Claddagh region of Ireland. One day, I found myself researching nearby boudoir photography studios, where the first studio I discovered was Belle Boudoir. In looking through the various galleries, I was impressed by the artistry of every photo. I also looked at other studios; none of the images compared to Cheryl’s. I was never photogenic, but in seeing these images, I knew Cheryl was the one photographer who had the skill and talent to create nice images of me. In learning about Cheryl’s love of the Seattle-area, her affection for the rain, and her passion for photography, I knew I wanted to work with Cheryl, and reserved my session date (two months in advance, because Cheryl is the boudoir photographer).
Once in a Lifetime
The session lasts the entire day, where I arrive to the studio at nine, on a sunny Sunday morning. The experience begins in the hair and makeup chair, where the fabulous makeup artist, Nikoma Souza, has a myriad of palettes of eye shadows, lip glosses, sprawled on the table, much of which are noncomedogenic, paraben-free, and cruelty-free. Nikoma is an artist at heart, where she studied art and sociology at school, contemplating on entering the medical field; yet while in school, she found herself gravitating towards the art courses, when it was time for her take her science courses.
Nikoma asks me to hand her my IPOD to plug in (which plays throughout the studio), which at the time, was playing Foreigner’s “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” as I sit down in the chair. We discuss the colors I would like to use, as I place my trust in her skilled hands. We chat, as she asks me how I connected with Cheryl; I had mentioned that I had thought about doing this type of project, one of those, “someday” things. Someday came.
The hour of hair and makeup flies by, as we chatted about our careers, and how we each discovered our true career paths. Although Nikoma had contemplated on entering the medical field, ultimately, art was in her heart, where her career as a makeup artist and hairstylist stemmed from her passion solely in the artistry, working in Los Angeles with the fashion industry, as well as working with Seattle’s local talent. For Nikoma, she is happiest working with Belle Boudoir, meeting and connecting with each new client, eliciting the beauty each woman has; in each new client she works with, she has a fresh canvas, awaiting beauty to be awakened.
The hair and makeup session was like having coffee with an old friend, chatting about life journeys, and our mutual love of cruelty-free cosmetics, the television show, Penny Dreadful, and the band, Garbage (particularly, our adoration for Shirley Manson). Nikoma comments, “We must be around the same age, for you to be rockin’ Garbage!” (the album, Absolute Garbage had been playing at the time), as I respond, “How awesome is Shirley Manson?!”
Once Nikoma had finished with my hair, she texts Cheryl to let her know that I am ready to begin my shoot. Cheryl meets me in the dressing room as we discuss what types of photographs I am hoping for Cheryl to create, the moments I am hoping for Cheryl to capture. I let Cheryl know that for this project, I am seeking more artistic images, and how many photographs I will be selecting. Cheryl warns me: I will want more than I originally intended; she was right.
Generally, women bring up to six different outfits, where Belle Boudoir also offers a dressing room filled with babydoll nighties, chemises, bustiers, corsets, sheer and button down shirts, white tank tops, off-shoulder sweaters, among other outfits, as well as stockings, jewelry, and sexy stilettos. I choose from the outfits that I brought, as Cheryl prepares the stage. The Belle Boudoir studio is 2,000 square feet with two floors, which includes a beautiful, blond oak floor on the upstairs studio. The studio also offers over 15 unique scenes, including four headboard/bed combinations, a few full length mirrors, two chandeliers, velvet couches, and large windows.
Initially, I was nervous, because one: I was completely unphotogenic, and two: I had no idea how to be sexy. However, Cheryl, who elicits Zen, will allay all fears, as she gives exact guidance in how to pose, easing any anxiety with her infectious laugh, as well as affirmation, when she says, “You look awesome!” The two-hour photo session flies by, then we take a break for lunch, as she prepares the images for me to view. Only the images I choose will be saved.
I meet Cheryl in her office, as one of her dogs, Nero, softly hops down the spiral stairs to greet me. Cheryl is upstairs finishing the retouching of the photographs and preparing them for view. As Cheryl makes the final touches, we have the time to chat, as she also asks me about why I wanted to work on this project, as well as our journeys into what we were meant to do. It was during this conversation where I learned that Cheryl originally studied to be a marriage therapist; however, Cheryl offers counseling, through art—her photography. Cheryl comments, this project can help relationships, as the couple can sit together, and choose images together, perhaps reigniting their connection.
Nero settles down on his pillow on the couch, as Cheryl and I sit down to view, and choose images— the hardest part of the project. Cheryl comments with a laugh, “This process can be traumatic for many women!” as her clients often fall in love with every image, devastated that she may not be able to keep them all (although on a few occasions, clients have opted to keep every photograph). Cheryl also gives me a fresh perspective, helping me narrow down photographs, as she points out photos that most captured me “in the moment,” or the photos that highlight my best attributes, or commenting, “Oh, the hot ones!” because that is who Cheryl is: supportive and encouraging, as if you had an old friend sitting by your side. Another frequent occurrence: the exclamation, “I cannot believe that is me!” A testament to Cheryl’s talent and passion, as she is elated in her clients’ reactions. The selection process is approximately an hour, where I choose the photographs, and the medium in which they will be presented. Cheryl asks me to choose a photograph to take home, as I anxiously await the three to four weeks for my photographs (and USB for digitals) to arrive. The end to one of the loveliest days I have had, in an extremely long time.
Rediscovery Through Photography
Some may believe this project was something frivolous, something silly. It is never frivolous or silly to have something positive which leads you out of the darkness, something which helps in rediscovery.
I asked Cheryl, do the majority of the women participate in this project for their husbands or significant others? Cheryl responds, many women do, but “at the heart, women are doing it for themselves,” as women are often conditioned to not do things just for themselves. Nikoma agrees, where “Participating in a boudoir shoot is one of the most empowering things a woman can do,” as she is honored to be a part of that empowerment. It is never frivolous or silly to do something empowering for yourself. For me, this project brought me out of darkness, gave me rejuvenation, and allowed me to find a part of myself I lost long ago. I, too, was an artist in my way, with a love of drawing as a child, a passion for music, developing into a creative writer, and discovering my voice as a professional writer. This project is something I will always reflect on, fondly; a project which allowed me to rediscover the dormant artist in me, in a new way; a project I am incredibly proud of.
To Cheryl’s clients, she is the photographer making the world a better place, by revitalizing beauty, happiness, and confidence in every woman she meets.
To me, Cheryl will always be the photographer with an amazing eye, and an infectious laugh.
To learn more, please visit BoudoirPhotographySeattle.com