With its erotic appeal, boudoir photography celebrates women’s beauty, says American photographer Annika Roser, in conversation with Sanjay Austa, who wonders if India will warm up to it...
“I must warn you, you may find the images offensive,” she says, handing me her business card over dinner in one of Jodhpur’s splendid open air restaurants. American photographer Annika Roser, 25, has just told me she specialises in boudoir photography.
To the uninitiated, boudoir photography simply means taking pictures of people in the nude or semi nude for sensual or erotic appeal. It is pronounced as you would pronounce Wednesday in Hindi, with an American accent.
I am a bit hurt for being taken for an average Indian prude. In my defensiveness, I fill her in on the debaucheries of Khajuraho, the Hindu tradition of nude sculptures and paintings (including of our gods and goddesses). I mention Prabuddha Dasgupta, and I mention Sunny Leone.
Scene in India
Indian photographers (most fashion photographers at any rate) have indeed been doing a variant of boudoir alongside their main work. In their website’s drop-down menus, ‘personal’ is an euphemism for nudes. But the women gracing their galleries are professional (or wannabe) models who have often been cajoled or paid to pose in the buff.
In Boston, US, where Annika lives and has her studio (Ma Cherie Studio), it’s the other way around. Women pay her to shoot them in all manner of undress. She charges 450 dollars for two hours of shoot time. And these clients are not professional models but regular American women; school teachers, doctors, housewife or anybody with a desire to look beautiful.
“Today’s society weighs women down by constantly forcing its idea of true beauty upon us. Boudoir photography is a celebration of the female form, no matter what size, age, ethnicity or social class the woman belongs to,” she says.
The celebration of female form has been a tradition in India, long before boudoir photography began in the West. But keeping that tradition alive had been our painters and sculptors.Not photographers.
While painters like Raja Ravi Verma , Amrita Shergill and thousands of nameless sculptors of Khajurao and Konark depicted the full-bodied Indian women in all their voluptuous glory, Indian photographers, including the best of them, like the late Prabuddha Dasgupta, only ended up stereotyping Indian women into a certain body type.
Their ‘personal’ galleries sadly imitate and perpetuate a western notion of beauty with their skin-and-bones models.
Boudoir, thankfully, can reverse that trend. But will India take to it? India has been slow on the uptake but once it warms up to a photography genre, it takes it by storm.
We saw that with wedding photography. Till about 10 years ago, everyone was happy with their regular wedding pictures but today, anyone with money is willing to throw obscene amounts of it to hire, who in India is called a ‘candid wedding photographer’, propelling many a software engineers and B-school pass-outs to quit their jobs to become one fulltime.
And Annika, with her five years of experience, believes boudoir can be done in any part of the world, including India. She wants to test the Indian waters by coming here this winter.
Is it easier, however, to be a boudoir photographer being a female? Annika admits that to start off it helps. “But I know a lot of men who are doing boudoir photography now, and at times I feel that the male photographers provide a different look.
They understand how men look at women and what other men would like to see. They can show off the female form in a very different way from a female photographer.
I do not personally think that one way is better than the other, but it’s more of a personal preference for the client of who they are comfortable with,” she says.
The most vital element of boudoir is the pose, says Annika. “With boudoir photography you always have to pay attention to the pose. It is the most important thing.
Since there are no clothes covering or hiding the body, you as the photographer have to pay attention to every little detail. That is what makes boudoir such an interesting form of photography,” she says.
Annika does not only take the photos but offers to go out shopping for props or lingerie with her clients. “I approach my clients as if they were one of my close girlfriends, and we are just hanging out playing dress up.
I talk with them a lot, often sharing personal stories,” she says.Being fed with a certain body image by the media, all this goes a long way in making women comfortable.
Annika hopes that with boudoir’s popularity, women will realise they don’t have to look like the aseptic models in magazines, and that they can be comfortable how they look and embrace their individuality.