As I sit down to write about my journey with photography, my mind drifts to a time of innocence, to Denmark, and to the birthplace of my creative impulses. In this memory, I am seven and the proud owner of a room of my own. A bed, a desk, shelves with stacks of books, music tapes, colored pens, one red-haired daisy doll with orange and yellow flowers of instant joy on the walls. Without my brothers’ mocking and preying parental eyes, I was free to be me––writing, drawing, dancing and daydreaming of romantic adventures and foreign lands. Decades later, I notice I'm still doing these things and that I, unwittingly, upon marrying and moving to San Francisco, recreated a room of my own.
Busy building a life and media company with my partner, I yearned for time alone to reconnect to my feminine self beyond my marriage. At the time, I’d picked up an old Nikon, because I missed making ‘real photos,’ and wanted to learn about the light in visual storytelling.
Spontaneously, I asked a friend to photograph me so that I could create a sexy book for my husband. I returned the favor and photographed her. We had such a fun and liberating experience! We decided every woman should try this. I began photographing friends and soon after, strangers.Intrigued by the catalytic power of the camera, I opened Lolo’s Boudoir in 2004, a studio dedicated to women's self-discovery.
Clearly, I wasn't the only woman in need of a safe space to explore and express herself. Since opening Lolo’s Boudoir, hundreds of women have sought out the transformational power of my lens. Right now, I’m completing a book about our journey of Unveiling. As a result, I’m reflecting upon the doorways this work has opened and continues to open in me and the women.
Doorways to new experiences with our bodies, our inner lives.
In some sense, this journey really began with a simple choice. Black-and-white photography is my medium. I am fascinated with the light’s power to illuminate and disguise, give shape and evoke emotion. This fascination drew me to the simple yet visceral qualities of black-and-white.
To me, bold color steals the attention from the subject matter. Amidst the complex, technicolored reality of our modern world, black-and-white lets me zoom in on both the essential and mysterious.
As I strive to see the clarity in each woman, I also shroud her in a soft light, as if to protect her from the hungry and harsh eyes of a society in which the female body has become an object, to mistreat, control, fear, shame, fix and sell. In other words, paradoxically, I use photography to move women from focusing on image and into a genuine relationship with their bodies.
In this context, the lens sheds light on the visible and invisible life of the body. When I point the camera at a woman and ask her to “get naked,” something happens. Her shames and doubts seem to show up in the room, not in words, but by body gestures––a defended chest, eyes looking away, rigid hips and put-on smiles.
Each woman comes to be witnessed, yet she is terrified of being seen. Instinctually, she knows her body doesn’t lie. The lens helps me get under the skin, so to speak, of pretense and postures, all the ways we hide, and touch the trembling aliveness within. Engaging directly with female bodies of all ages and shapes helps me shatter the idea of the perfect body, and instead work with the body’s own language to unlock frozen, stuck places in women.
The camera and the illuminating power of black-and-white photography opens a gateway to awakening. With our explorations, my subjects and I set in motion questions about art, body, beauty, sexuality, power and image––crucial questions at a time where many of us feel the urgency to dismantle the remnants of the patriarchal DNA embedded within ourselves and our world and forge new ways as emancipated women.
Who is the woman behind the veils? What stirs beneath the skin? What would female sexuality and freedom look like if untainted by cultural projection? Where are we still hiding, and why?
The journey of Unveiling I am now bringing to the world in the form of my new book touches all these questions. In retrospect my subjects and I did not find finite answers. Instead, we touched upon the veins and vanities than run beneath our skin. We engaged pleasure and pain. We contemplated our own nudity. We veiled ourselves to touch our mystery. We lifted the veils to emerge in our own light and shadow. By moving our bodies, we experienced embodiment. By entering into the spotlight, we came alive, not only to the camera’s curious eye, but also to our own––who am I now?
The journey to freedom requires imagination––the ability to see oneself in a different light. Today I have no doubt. We needed to create these images so that we could step into them. We needed, if only briefly, to exist without judgment, projection and (self)censorship. We needed to rekindle reverence for our bodies and feminine selves. We needed to encounter our beauty, on our own terms. We needed to penetrate our skin and feel at home within it. We needed to re-make ourselves in our own image.
What can be more satisfying than calling forth the beauty, dignity and freedom in another?
This book and this work have opened me to the heart of seeing. I often joke I have to develop a crush on everyone I photograph. It’s not a joke. When in love, we suspend judgment, we are curious, we want to know everything about the other. Seeing to me is feeling. With my inquiring eye, I’ve tried to see something truer, more dignified, something that feels like herself.
Each woman I photograph shows me her eternity in temporal glimpses. I have seen fresh faces and flesh laced with life events, wildness trapped in too tight a skin and hard won wisdom imprinted in the eyes of women who’ve lived long enough for time to loosen its grip. And witnessed the many transitions women travel through in a lifetime.
What the women wanted, I wanted. What they sought, I sought. In them, I saw myself. Together we mended a strained, competitive relationship with each other and found compassion for the terrifying journey we all must take towards our most whole, free and alive selves.
As I reflect on all of this, my photography feels more and more like the sacred art of reverence. It began with a fascination with the light and today, I laugh at the poignancy of the metaphor––I was looking for the light. I found it in each women. I found it in myself. This is a light that had to be born in the private sanctuary of a room all our own. But in the end, it is a light that cannot, will not, be tamed or contained, within the walls of our privacy. We must find the courage to unveil it, and we have. Soon it will be Unveiled.
First published as Editorial Photo Essay for (page 103) Bella Mia Magazine, Fall ISSUE August, 2015