Which came first: the idea of taking pictures of people, or the idea of taking pictures of people naked? I’d bet my DVD box set of BBC’s Pride and Prejudice that it was the latter. Roughly five minutes after the first person got their hands on a camera, I’d guess it went down like this: “Listen, Deirdre, why don’t you lose the garter, ditch those drawers, and let me show you how this newfangled picture box works. Give me a wink — now that’s the ticket!”
Boudoir photography is nearly as old as the camera itself. An early enthusiast of the craft, E.J. Bellocq pioneered nude images in the 20th century in New Orleans’ Storyville district. Bellocq, a frequent patron of brothels, took photos of scantily clad or nude prostitutes. While the images were scandalous for the time, when they were uncovered in the 1970s, Bellocq was praised for capturing his subjects’ relaxed beauty.
Over time, the art evolved and took on its own unique spin with each subsequent decade. The ’40s had the classic pinup, the ’50s the erotic Bettie Page. Playboy quickly followed, and just last week we learned of the death of Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, who made millions by banking on the more salacious side of boudoir imagery.
From titillating to transcending, boudoir photography continues to evolve, and today, though the technology has changed, the tradition lives on as artists seek to capture women at their most sensual and arousing.
Jeni Telles is one such photographer. She recently opened her own James Island business named Fyxe Boudoir Photography. “Fyxe is actually an old southern English word for vixen. It’s the feminine of fox,” Telles explains. That said, what could be more foxy than scheduling one’s own photo shoot in nothing but your skivvies?
“I was always interested in art, but I found it very difficult to paint or draw, and it hit me one day that I could photograph,” Telles says. In high school, Telles’ father, who dabbled in photography as well, gave her a camera, and in no time she took over the high school dark room.
It was during her first school assignment — portraiture — that she inadvertently stumbled upon the boudoir genre. “I photographed my sister in the boudoir style without even knowing it,” she says. Telles found the experience exceptionally empowering, and following high school she made her way to Manhattan to attend the School of Visual Arts. “I found myself taking all the portraiture and sex and photography classes,” she says. That’s where she discovered her love, not of taking risque images, but rather of showcasing a subject’s unique allure.
“I think that’s what did it for me,” Telles says. “I feel like I have the power to show women how very beautiful they truly are.”
So how does a boudoir sitting work? The consummate professional, Telles aims to keep the experience as casual and comfortable as possible. “I usually go over to a person’s house, because that’s where the term boudoir originates. Boudoir means a woman’s private space.” Often Telles’ guests build up the courage to perfect their pout with a liberal pour of pinot or some other loosening-up libation.
“It usually takes a bit before someone can come out of their shell, but they do it all on their own,” Telles says. “No coaxing required.”
Her customers are a diverse crowd, from the outgoing to the quiet and unassuming. “I think boudoir photography appeals to lots of different kinds of women, from military wives and brides-to-be to more established ladies to models looking to help their portfolio,” says Telles.
Regardless of the individual, for Telles the goal is always the same: to capture a woman in a moment of natural beauty.
“Really, it’s for anyone who wants to remember how very sexy they can be no matter what age or who the photos are for,” Telles says.
Fyxe Boudoir Photography. fyxephoto.com. (843) 814-9500. Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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