Like most marvelous things in life, it began with a few innocent ideas.
Fascinated with the power of the light in visual storytelling, I'd bought an old Nikon F2 to take 'real pictures' and explore black and white photography. My then husband's birthday was coming up and I wanted to surprise him with a book of sexy photos. Inspired by my mother-in-law's ornate home, I'd just transformed our bedroom into a lush boudoir, complete with heaven bed, cranberry red walls and a candelabra, and on a spontaneous note, I asked a friend to photograph me there.
At first I felt like a deer in headlights, awkward and shy, but a boa of black frivolous feathers around my neck egged on my inner superstar – soon I was sexy, sassy, silly and silky. As dormant facets of my womanliness came to life, the initial intent of making my guy remember the woman he fell in love with lost interest, because, I was fast falling in love with myself.
The next day I returned the favor and photographed my friend. We laughed and had so much fun, agreeing that this was such a liberating experience, something every woman should give to herself. The seed to Lolo's Boudoir was sown.
I began photographing friends and friends of friends. In 2004 I officially opened Lolo’s Boudoir in Sausalito – a safe space for women’s self-discovery, on our own feline terms, away from the prying eyes of the public.
The name and concept of Lolo's Boudoir was inspired by my alter ego Miss Lolo, the archetype of a liberated, sensual woman,Virginia Wolf's room of her own spoke and the lush French boudoirs added a touch of sensuality and decadence. I must have hit a need amongst other women.
Over more than a decade hundreds of women of all ages, shapes and walks of life have found their way to Lolo’s Boudoir. Women are always looking for a new experience with their bodies. Some have come to heal low self-esteem, body issues and sexual trauma, others to celebrate themselves or have a new adventure. For some it has taken years before they were ready, others have jumped right in. What I initially thought was about light and aperture and flamboyant play turned out to be far more poignant and profound.
Learning to See and Be Seen
Something happened when I picked up the camera and asked a woman to “get naked” and show herself. There was no place to hide, neither for her or myself, the seen and the seer. It was as if her shames, scars and insecurities showed up, not by words, but by sheer body language: a defended chest, eyes looking away, rigid hips and put-on smiles. The moment felt potent, rich and drew me closer.
My job became less about photographing and more about teasing out the woman within; less about composing perfect images and more about offering a safe space for her to explore and express herself on her own terms. We navigated the tender terrain with play and humor and honest conversations.
Now I think of the camera as a catalyst for authenticity.
Everyone longs to be seen, but are terrified of seeing oneself, as is. The camera and the 'nakedness' it implied, helped the women and I move past the usual pretense and postures and delve deeper into our relationship to our bodies, beauty, sexuality and ever-evolving womanhood. In our photo play, we fumbled our way towards personal and meaningful expression; a collaborative process that let each woman find strength in rediscovering herself – fantasizing, feeling awkward, exploring what is sensual, sexy to her, what feels real, what doesn’t.
After some time, I felt a need to go beyond the boudoir, to no longer have women hide within the confines of an ornate setting, lacy attires and heels. Instead, I sought the contrast, the rawness and freedom of the great outdoors or the rustic, barren and magical barn, I kept next to my home. Here the female soul and body were in focus.
Until now, I've primarily shoot 35 mm film. I never retouch or use fancy digital filters, but love to work with the natural light and its ability to illuminate, shade, bring forth and disguise.
Blind Dates and Photo Crushes
Many sessions have been like blind dates – I didn't met the person beforehand, see the location we'd be shooting at or had any control over the weather and the light. It taught me to trust the creative process and show up empty, available and ready for the discovery. It taught me that whatever we each bring is plenty.
Magic has never failed us. And the best way to see someone, intimately, honestly, is to fall in love with her or him.
Of course, it hasn't all been fun and flamboyant. After witnessing hundreds of women struggle to drop the doubts and masks to recover their lost self, I've seen the underbelly of our image-driven culture and the way it effects how women sees and feels about themselves. For ages, the female body have been a global icon revered for its beauty, allure, and incredible ability to give life. But today, it has become a battlefield of many kinds – religious, economic, gender, sexual, fashion, cosmetics, and even against itself. This terrain the women and I have been navigating on a very intimate level, and at times, together, we’ve stared at the terror of being female.
Today, I have no doubt. We needed to create these images so that we can step into them. We needed to re-imagine ourselves, rekindle a sense of reverence for our female body and self, and come alive inside our own skin.
The spirit of Lolo's Boudoir lives on...
In 2013 I closed the studios in Sausalito, to embark upon a new adventure, but the Lolo spirit lives on... in myself and all the women I've had the honor of working with. Unveiled is a book about our experience and I hope to find a publisher soon, so I can share it with you.
Note, I'm always available with my camera and guidance for any women who wish to unveil, explore and express herself. More info and inspiration here: photo experience, gallery and read women's words here.
See you beyond the boudoir.