I never thought I’d end up living in Texas. Moreover, I never thought I’d end up becoming a boudoir photographer.
Yet, here I am and it’s a question that inevitably comes up whenever I encounter new people. Why did I choose boudoir photography? After all, they would say, I am a man. Why would anyone want a male boudoir photographer to take their pictures?
Wouldn’t it be logical to have a female boudoir photographer instead?
How I Became a Photographer
I knew I wanted to be a photographer after seeing the Afghan Girl photograph in 1985. The photograph inspired me to want to take pictures of people who were experiencing hardship. It made me want to be their voice and for a long while I wanted to become a photojournalist.
I bought a Nikon FM2 and made sure I had enough money to afford film.
With that camera, I was able to photograph people from my corner of New York City and placed it to use after joining the military. My camera was with me during my Persian Gulf War deployment.
How I Became an Artist
Unfortunately, I found myself back home, feeling broken by my Gulf War experience. One effective way I was able to cope with my post-traumatic stress disorder was to go to spoken word gatherings in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. There I would share poems I had composed about what I was combating, meet new people, and take their pictures.
Instead of feeling like I was broken I began feeling like an artist who composed poems and took pictures.
Being able to see myself as something other than the ever-present pain in my mind and body aided my recovery from PTSD.
After a period of time, I became well enough that I was capable of being productive again and finding a job. As technology was being put to wider business use, I made it a point to position myself to be at the right place, at the right time.
I was a technology consultant based on Wall Street during the Dot Com Bubble of the late 1990s. Nothing else mattered. I had forgotten I was a photographer, and I lost my camera. It didn’t matter so as long as I was making money, managing exciting projects, and getting promoted.
Unfortunately, that prematurely ended on 9/11. For years afterward, I struggled, not realizing I had become a shell, an echo of what I used to be.
I didn’t realize until I ran into an old friend who, when she saw me, got on me for letting myself go.
I always loved how blunt and direct she was when talking. This was 2010 and my old friend, Mae, was a writer and poet who I had gotten to know intimately during my time in the Lower East Side.
She asked what had happened.
The Roles We Assume
To cope with the feeling that I’d become nothing more than the total of my panic and sadness I would eat. I would lose myself in video games. My appearance or health no longer mattered, so as long as I was providing for my family and being the best stay at home dad I could be.
I identify with many of the women I’ve worked with, in the past. How many times have I heard them say it no longer mattered what they would look like? It wouldn’t even matter if they were healthy or happy. So as long as they were the best mom or wife or at their careers then they were fine with neglecting their own needs.
That day in 2010 my old friend reminded me that I didn’t have to live that way.
She reminded me that I was something more than a disabled veteran and a stay at home dad. She’d known me, in her words, as an awesome photographer and not so great poet. She asked me why couldn’t I become that again? Mae then went in on me for taking for granted the free time I did have.
I remember Mae saying, “You know how much cool stuff I’d be able to create if I had your free time. Better yet, I’d kick my life into Kerouac mode and go ‘On the Road.’ Instead, I got to work. Fame doesn’t pay my bills.”
Remembering Who I Am
That day she’d taken a picture with her camera phone, held it to my face, and said, “This is not the guy I used to know. The guy I knew took care of himself and was an artist. You should get in touch with that guy. He’s in there somewhere.”
Because of Mae, I began taking pictures again but instead of using my Nikon FM2, I took pictures with my iPhone. I began redeveloping my eye. My vision was not there yet. More suffering was to come.
In 2011 I suffered a minor stroke and was looking at a cancer diagnosis. It took me a long while, but I recovered. I also dodged the cancer diagnosis. That experience informed me how much in the years after 9/11 I wasted my life being sad, depressed, and worried.
In addition, I had squandered my time trying to make people, who didn’t deserve my attention, happy. That was almost everyone I knew. The regret in knowing this was painful.
Because of that, I decided that whatever I undertook with the rest of my life it had to have purpose and meaning. Most of all, it had to contribute to my happiness.
That would be my reason for why I am doing this. Being a photographer makes me happy.
Most times, when I meet a prospective client or model I would ask them why they would want boudoir pictures taken of themselves.
I would listen and decide if working with them would contribute to my life’s purpose. If it would contribute to meaning in my own life. Most of all, if my approach to photography would help them most.
I’m interested in creating boudoir pictures for women who want to heal, to transform. I don’t want to take pictures that contribute to body dysmorphia and are not body positive.
I don’t want my valuable time wasted on creating pictures whose sole use is to garner as many likes as possible on social media.
By 2013 I had a nice DSLR camera and was practicing glamour photography with my lifelong friend, Anne, who’d I have known since we were kids.
We both needed to keep busy because we were battling.
I ended my marriage after my wife didn’t seem to care if I lived or died, so as long as my life insurance was up to date and she was the beneficiary. Anne had married her high school sweetheart and had given him children and a home.
For over 20 years they were family until he left her for a younger woman. Anne realized, as I had years before, that she had lost herself in her spouse and children. The only thing she had left was the couch she slept on, courtesy of her ex-mother-in-law. What was her home was now gone.
On those nights she would help me practice my portrait photography she’d tell me about how she was trying to move on but wasn’t having any luck. She was stuck in her low paying job. Because she felt like she was worth nothing she would meet men who did nothing but reinforce the feeling she had about herself.
She would say, “I should give up and settle for whoever comes along. It’d be better than being alone.”
On one of our night outings, we met up and she seemed excited. She asked if I knew what boudoir photography was. Anne had read how pictures created in boudoir photoshoots help women cope. She asked if I could help and photograph her that way.
I agreed and the next day we booked a hotel room and went about our boudoir session.
My First Boudoir Shoot
I was nervous photographing a woman I have known since we were kids. I wanted to make sure she was comfortable. She wanted to make sure I was comfortable.
Our concerns went away the moment I took my first picture. I wasn’t looking at her. I focused on posing, lighting, and shadows, and how to use both to conceal her body and imply.
For the hour I photographed her I encouraged her to get in touch with the woman she used to be. When the photo shoot was over, she walked away with swagger in her step. It was the first time I felt my photography made a difference.
Remembering Who She Was
Weeks later, when I presented Anne her pictures, she said, “Hello gorgeous, where have you been? I can’t believe this is me.”
My friend went about using those pictures to see she was more than her sadness and depression. She was more than her unsuccessful marriage had caused her to feel.
That woman she felt she used to be had never left. She had come out of hiding during the photo shoot to show she was no longer lost. Somehow my friend was no longer concerned for her future.
As a result, as long as she had herself, she felt it would all be fine.
Since that first photoshoot boudoir has become my core focus. It’s my way of honoring the fact I have survived and I’m still alive. Especially after discovering my friend, Mae, died from a heart attack. She was 50 years old.
World as Ecstasy
Her death devastated me in ways I had not anticipated. She was a considerable influence on my work as a photographer. When I came out of the military and was grappling with pain and sadness she was the one who introduced me to Alan Watts. She gave me his book, Nature, Man and Woman.
That book helped me understand that joy vibrates throughout the natural world. Through Mae, I understood when Alan Watts wrote:
For the mind and senses do not now have to open themselves; they find themselves naturally opened, and it appears that the divine world is no other than the everyday world.
I recognized how she had wanted, at one point, to kick her life into Kerouac mode and go ‘On the Road.’ To cope with her death, I did that. In early 2014 I lost myself in the wilderness of the American Southwest.
The doors of perception had closed after entering the corporate world but one night in West Texas they had swung back open. I looked at the vastness of the night above me, and it’s stars and remembered what Watts wrote. Mae loved Joni Mitchell and her song, Woodstock.
Under the stars, I heard Joni Mitchell in my mind sing.
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.
Honoring Mae’s Vision
I don’t know what the future holds and neither did my Mae. I do know should I ever be told I have cancer I want to be able to feel no regrets. Should I be told I have a grim prognosis I want to feel happy that I lived and worked how I pleased.
As a male photographer, it makes me happy knowing I am helping women get themselves back to the garden.
As a male boudoir photographer, with the vision I have, I never feel I am at a disadvantage. In the end, I am no different than any other female boudoir photographer. We all want to empower the people we are photographing, both male and female, and help them understand that they are beautiful and strong.
Every professional photographer has a vision that values the art in our pictures. We care about the people we photograph, both men and women. As professionals and artists, we want to help answer the question of why would they want a photo shoot. Boudoir pictures are a part of the journey.
Helping You Come Back to the Garden
I moved to Houston in 2015 to be away from the memory of 9/11 and closer to the stars. In 2017 I began taking boudoir pictures again.
I thank you for taking the time to read this post and getting to know me. Should you recognize yourself in any part of this post, please contact me. Let’s chat.