The Origin of Boudoir Photography

An example of modern boudoir photography poses.

What is modern boudoir photography?

Modern boudoir photography poses have sexual undertones, as has been the tradition of this niche. However, the modern version also presents an intimate view of the subject, offering us a glimpse of her personality. Traditionally, in boudoir pictures, women have posed as subjects. But while men used to take the images, nowadays women too have joined this niche. Through erotic undercurrents, women photographers connect the viewer with the female subject as a human being, often presenting their personal stories in front of us.

But what is the origin of this intimate eroticism?

an invisible history

A boudoir portrait generally presents a woman, though male subjects are also becoming common nowadays. Stunningly, even though searches like ‘boudoir photography poses’, ‘boudoir picture ideas’, etc. give tons of results, something like ‘history of boudoir photography’ gives very little. The history of this art form, which took a long time to be even considered as art, is almost nowhere to be found. It is as if it developed almost invisibly.

A reason for this might be that erotism and art have always had a strong relationship. Eroticism grew naturally out of art, as is evident from the ancient Greek, Roman, and Indian sculptures. These works generally presented legendary figures, a practice that soon transferred to painting. Famous artists painted legendary mythical figures often with prominent sexual undertones. Simultaneously, presenting women erotically through the male gaze became common. Naturally, when the technology of photography materialized, it too incorporated this tendency.

Presenting women with erotic undercurrents thus became a practice since daguerreotypes matured in the 1840s. A prominent photographer of this period was Bruno Braquehais. His photos of the Paris Commune of March 1871 marks him as one of the earliest photojournalists. But his nudes were also significant. They were often hand-colored by his wife and they presented the subject as an isolated woman.

Erotic photography pose by Bruno Braquehais, a precursor to boudoir photography poses {{PD-old-70}}.

boudoir photography in the 20th century

Thus artists had already begun giving individual artistic stamps upon their erotic works. But such works, often created in artificial sets, did not necessarily mean boudoir photography. This is because the word boudoir in French essentially means a woman’s private room. The room should, therefore, have an impression of the woman’s personality. The erotic photographs of artists like Albert Arthur Allen often had such surroundings that gave a concrete impression of the woman subject’s individuality. However, many of his other erotic works were simple nude poses.

Other artists who successfully ventured into the domain of boudoir photography were mainly photojournalists like Cecil Beaton and George Barris. Both the artists had captured boudoir photography poses of Marilyn Munroe. These works were pure boudoir because they reflected the personality of the subject. The photographers tried to capture the lifestyle of Marilyn Munroe while providing sexual undertones developed through the situations.

Intimate Marilyn Monroe at the beach almost without a pose, 1962, photography by George Barris.

modern boudoir photography

Photojournalism thus played an important role in defining what boudoir photography poses are and separating them from regular erotism. The 21st century’s wave of inclusiveness has further enriched this domain. Boudoir photography, previously considered cultural taboo, now became a part of the mainstream culture. Modern couples opting for boudoir photography poses is gradually becoming more common. They are driven by the will to celebrate their love and celebrate their bodies. Size does not dictate the terms of modern boudoir photography, and the resulting works are not just meant for the male gaze.

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