This is not the usual thread of conversation when you think of nude or boudoir photography. The women who come to us are usually vibrant with a long life remaining to their horizon. They may be unhappy with some extra pounds they cannot quite shake off or the usual nerves, but not a thought to their own mortality.
Over 32 years of photographing nearly 5,000 women, this line has come up more times than you might think. I know when I started out photographing nude portraits for women, it was not an aspect I had considered.
Usually it’s been cancer of some form, but not exclusively. Different causes, from brain tumors down, tumbled in. At that point, it really does not matter except for some camouflage adjustments; the women have emotionally dealt with the specifics, focusing on the bigger picture that faces them.
What has been constant has been the defiant spirit of the women that come to us. Katie, for example, talked about the things that had been or would be taken from her. She was fiercely determined there would be some things she refused to give up. Among those were memories, expressions of passion and love. She wanted, in several ways, which was different for different people, to control, to have a say, in the memory of her and who she was. What she looked like in their memories, on her terms.
This does make for some surreal moments when viewing images for selection. It’s a fine and delicate emotional line for everyone to be on. In one presentation the family was there, and my client was asking the family members which images they would like to have as best memories. I remember one of the favourites was a little bit of a goofy image in pajamas holding the arm of a stuffed bunny rabbit so it dangled by its paw.
On a few occasions it has been our client doing the last few things on her bucket list. The black humor jokes they have about that are really off the wall. They want to have fun doing this, to leave their world and exist in the moment in my warm, safe studio.
Of all the women we photograph, though, they have the most clarity of what they want in the images. What they want the images to express about them. They are very much in the moment. Most are not as nervous as our average client is. They collaborate more, take greater pleasure in the planning of the session, often with girlfriends or partners.
These sessions are more about life. One called it her nearly last rite of passage in another dark humor moment, another the closing of their arc. They have all brought so much richness of life, adventure, and daring to their sessions. They did not really care much about the typical concerns or what others would think. Sarah called it her chance to wear a purple hat, referencing a poem called Warning by Jenny Joseph that starts with “When I am an old women I shall wear purple . . .”
She was 25. Age is not a factor to these sessions.
I am glad that I have a studio and staff that can be there on these terms. Whenever a woman sits down and says, “I am dying, this is why I want a nude done,” she always pauses, then visibly relaxes when she hears, “We can do that.” Her eyes sparkle, she smiles then says, “Great, this is what I have in mind . . .”