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Detroit Photographer Helps Women Rediscover Their Beauty

Julisa Mitchell, 43, had been wanting to do something different for a while. The married mother of 23, 22 and 15-year old sons, had been thinking about doing what she called “alter ego photos” for several years. But it wasn’t until she connected with Detroit photographer, La Gail Odoms, of L. Michelle Photo Artistry, that she decided to take the leap and pose for boudoir photographs.

“It was a gift for my husband, but it was really a gift to me,” Mitchell says. She felt comfortable enough with Odoms to really get into the experience. “The makeup, the outfit, the heels and the jewelry really made me feel womanly. It was a terrific and sexy experience,” she says.

The boudoir side of photography is growing by leaps and bounds. After being told for so long that they are not as beautiful by media standards, women of color are stepping into the photographer’s spotlight. Odoms, who added boudoir shots to her offerings a year ago, spends a lot of time making her clients feel comfortable and confident. “I want them to think of me as a fan who sees them as beautiful and special,” she says.

But she says that no matter how hard she prepares client in advance, they are all almost always self-conscious at first. On the day of the shoot, Odoms says that she takes a little time to get them to start posing, by telling the that she is just adjusting the camera and doing test shots. “I found that this is a real icebreaker and puts them at ease, for when the shoot begins,” Odoms says.

Bonita Elias, owner of Zelda216 Photography in Washington, DC, has been a photographer for over 20 years, but decided to grow the boudoir business in the last five years. “I did it because I have seen that women in general don’t tend to celebrate their own beauty, or see themselves as a person of high esteem.”

She feels strongly that it is time for them to appreciate and celebrate themselves. “I see my clients as goddesses and we create that experience for them,” Elias says of her Goddess Empowerment sessions.

Black women of all ages are taking the leap for many reasons, usually to celebrate or mark some significant part of their lives. They are giving up worrying about what other people think of them and defining their own self-esteem. Elias says her clients, who are mostly in their 40s or 50s, sometimes take the boudoir photos as a nice gift for their husbands or boyfriends, but most of the time they do the sessions for themselves. “She does it to remind herself that she is very much a sexy, beautiful human being.”

Elias says her clients, who are mostly in their 40s or 50s, sometimes take the boudoir photos as a nice gift for their husbands or boyfriends, but most of the time they do the sessions for themselves, "to remind herself that she is very much a sexy, beautiful human being.”

While the 20 to 30-year-old clients of both photographers who grew up in the age of selfies, may find it easier to put themselves out there, each photographer spends a lot of time working with their clients to cultivate the look and feel of the whole experience, days and weeks before the session starts. Elias usually sets up an in-person consultation over

Elias usually sets up an in-person consultation over coffee to start the conversation. She says it is very important "on the front end to educate the client on what boudoir photography is and its true value.”

“Then it is a real give and take of ideas,” Elias says. “We spend a lot of time talking about wardrobe choices and the types of poses that her client feels comfortable with.” She says she then sets up a private Pinterest board, so we can be on the same page with looks, tone and mood.”

She creates a private Pinterest board, "so we can be on the same page with looks, tone and mood.”

These boudoir shoots are all about glamour, so both photographers insist that the client have professional hair and makeup done for the shoot. Elias, who does many of her shoots in suites in area hotels, works with professional makeup artists on site. “These are all pros, but I give them direction on the look I am trying to achieve for the client,” she says. “I don’t take things to chance.”

Odoms agrees that the glamourous makeup might not be right for everyday wear, but will put the ladies in a different kind of mood.

Boudoir photography has been around forever, but has emerged in popularity among black women, in part due to glamour photography and oddly enough, sexting and the selfie. Elias says that boudoir photography in the hands of the right photographer is in a league of its own. “I am going for beauty, elegance and class.”

Odoms agrees and says she takes the lead from what her client says she wants. “I have done romantic and I have done risqué,” she says.

Mitchell admits she became more comfortable as the shoot went along and she found herself willing to be a bit more daring. “It helped that LaGail has such a great eye for what works, ” she says.

Whatever the reasons, clients now flock to boudoir photography, it doesn’t come cheap. Clients and photographers see it as art. Prices from experienced photographers range from $500 to over $2,000, depending on the packages which often include art prints for the walls of their homes. Mitchell says one of the images hangs proudly in the privacy of her bedroom.

Elias and Odoms both say that the majority of their clients make the decision pay for their sessions themselves. But Odoms says, “I had a man once pay me to take pictures of a woman who he has been in love with forever (not his wife). It ended up being my best payday to-date."

Elias says that even though Valentine’s Day shoots are popular, her busiest times are from May to September. When a woman wants to embrace her own power, and beauty no matter what her shape and size, she is creating her own Valentine’s Day.