The History Of Boudoir Photography

November 07, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

There are an abundance of studios and photographers offering boudoir pictorial services. These have already become an industry standard, but did you know that it has a rich history? Hold your breath in anticipation as we re-capture the events that solidified boudoir photography.

Inception

Boudoir started in the 1920s as nude photography. During this era, photos of naked women were illegal and even considered pornography. But that all changed with the vision of a Frenchman named Albert Arthur Allen. Though he continued dabbling in nude photography, an examination of his work reveals that he brought out the natural grace and beauty of his subjects’ anatomy. His preference of plus-sized women for subjects and naked attraction were substantially influential later on as boudoir photography continuously developed over the years.

Further progressions

Photo of Jane Russell by George Hurrell
Photo of Jane Russell by George Hurrell

From nude photographs, boudoir evolved into a more glamorous style with photographer George Hurrell in the 1930s. Also known as the “Grand Signeur of The Hollywood Portrait”, his list of who’s who clients included famous actresses such as Constance Bennett, Jean Harlow, Rita Hayworth, Norma Shearer, and Mae West.

Hurrell’s work was characterized by a play of light and shadow, authenticity, and clothes. There was absolutely no nudity in his photographs. Why? Hurrell believed in capturing the truthful appeal of a subject. To him, sexiness was something innate in a person, not something forced. This is why he photographed mostly actresses. They already had the appeal. All he had to do was faithfully capture it in a photograph.

Cecil Beaton, an Englishman, became popular in the 50s because of his photographs of Marilyn Monroe. Interestingly, though Monroe was the sex icon of her generation, Beaton captured a certain quality of innocence and playfulness about her.

During the same time, Sam Shaw also took pictures of Marilyn Monroe, who was his frequent subject and real-life friend. But like his contemporary Beaton, did not emphasize the massive sex appeal of the actress. Rather, he recorded the simple, everyday moments of Monroe’s life. He captured Marilyn’s simple beauty, something of a playful twist of her public image that time.

 
The Real Marilyn Monroe, Up Close And Personal by Sam Shaw

Hurrell’s, Beaton’s, and Shaw’s individual work influenced boudoir photography such that a woman’s purity, appeal, and simple beauty were thrust to the forefront; all, of course, with her clothing on.

In the post-modern world, other photographers such as Helmut Newton, Horst P. Horst, and famed pin-up artist Alberto Vargas, were on the other end of the spectrum. Whilst Hurrell, Beaton, and Shaw focused on subdued elegance (with subjects fully clothed), the trio each popularized overt sexuality and sensuality with their female subjects scantily clad in lingerie or various pieces of underwear and often in risqué poses. The heavy influence of their work can still be seen in today’s magazine covers. This would come to define boudoir photography as well, as some would define it as bringing to light the erotic and sensual side of women.

Today

Boudoir photography takes inspiration from the periods that shaped it. Even if the direction can either go nude, clean and simple (clothed), or erotic, one must remember that it is all these qualities that make boudoir photography what it really is: graceful, simple, sexy, beautiful.


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