Tri-State photographers find a new (and lucrative) niche in the boudoir

Women find the photos freeing and empowering
Caution: These photos are racy -- and empowering
Caution: These photos are racy -- and empowering
Posted at 7:36 AM, Dec 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-23 14:14:29-05

CINCINNATI -- Hips tilted. Eyes closed. Chest out.

It's a pose that may ooze sex to some, but in the world of boudoir photography, it's about so much more: Beauty. Empowerment. Art.

At least three Greater Cincinnati photographers say they've recently found their voice in boudoir, a genre that often involves taking photos of women in provocative poses, wearing lingerie or sometimes nothing at all.

Although misconceptions still exist, it's a niche that's seeing fast growth in a realm outside of the traditional world of shooting weddings, baby portraits and events.

"When we started, nobody knew what it was," said Paige Pederzani, who founded Roar Boudoir with Anna Penny in 2012. "Nobody even knew how to pronounce it."

(It's boo dwar.)

"People were super concerned that it was porn-y," she added, "or that it was just exploitative."

Paige Pederzani, left, and Anna Penny founded Roar Boudoir in 2012.

"That was my big concern," Penny said. "But after I did my first session, when I showed (the client) her pictures, and I saw her face, it hit me how empowering it was."

In 2015, Roar moved into its own studio in Pleasant Ridge -- a far cry from, at first, Pederzani's home, which they tore apart initially to photograph a dozen close friends in order to build up their portfolio, then later an Airbnb they rented across town.

From the beginning, Roar has been completely self-sufficient; everything from its website to set design is handled in house.

An example of Roar Boudoir's photography. (Photo provided by Paige Pederzani)

Business has now picked up to the point where Pederzani and Penny are almost exclusively boudoir (before, they each had separate photography businesses). Longer term, they hope to expand their studio space and hold more woman-focused community events.

To them, boudoir is confidence-boosting. Uplifting. Rewarding. And in more ways than one.

"We're not swimming in piles of money, but we're now able to cut ourselves checks from this, which feels great, because statistically, a lot (of small) businesses fail," Pederzani said. "There's definitely a want out there for this. I love it. I come to work, and it doesn't feel like work."

Cost for a shoot ranges from a few hundred dollars and up into the thousands; session prep often includes makeup and hair.

The photographers say they take confidentiality seriously. For Kimberly Meadows, who owns Kimberly Meadows Boudoir, for example, about 90 percent of the clients opt to keep their portraits private. Clients range from cancer survivors to transgender women to soon-to-be moms and brides -- ages 18 to 72, size 0 to size 18. She's seen it all, she says.

Kimberly Meadows has been shooting boudoir specifically for three years and moved into her own studio space earlier this year.

Meadows got into photography about nine years ago, not long after the birth of her second child, Grant, who has Down syndrome, as a creative outlet. Later, as a single mom, it was a way to support her family.

She went boudoir-specific -- she started out doing weddings and family sessions -- three years ago, and moved into her own studio space in the historic Anchor Building in Camp Washington earlier this year. She's in the Association of International Boudoir Photographers, which requires its members to apply. AIBP lists three other boudoir photographers in the Cincinnati area in its online directory.

"When I started doing boudoir, I really noticed a difference between (it) and my family photography," Meadows said. "Boudoir was up here on this whole other level. It's my passion.

Kimberly Meadows has been shooting boudoir specifically for three years and moved into her own studio space earlier this year. (Photo provided by Kimberly Meadows)

"We hear so many incredible stories -- women who are divorced after 30-40 years of marriage, women who have been physically or emotionally abused, or women who are just very confident and want to do this for themselves," she added.

Although it's still more popular on the coasts, she says, boudoir is slowly growing in popularity here.

"I don’t think people understand why women want to do this. I really don't think it's registered that they need to -- they need to see themselves in a different light, to say, 'Wow, I really am beautiful,'" Meadows said. "I love it because it is such an empowering thing. It doesn't matter what size they are (or) what the media (portrays). It's taking ownership of their bodies. It's saying, 'This is me.' 'I love myself.' 'I'm comfortable in my skin, and I'm gorgeous.'"

Brian Girton, owner of Boudoir of Cincinnati, certainly sees the psychological angle. A clinical counselor by trade, he dabbled in photography as early as 2001 -- like the others, he primarily shot weddings and family portraits. When he quit his job in 2014, it opened the door to pursuing the trade full time.

He did his first boudoir shoot for a friend that same year, and never really looked back. Being a male photographer in the boudoir market has its advantages and disadvantages -- he says he can offer a male's perspective when it comes to posing and lighting and more -- but his former professional life is huge.

Brian Girton, owner of Boudoir of Cincinnati, often asks clients how a boudoir photo shoot made them feel. Responses range from empowered, to independent, to confident and more. (Photo provided by Brian Girton)

"There's a new term called the 'healing arts.' I feel like this is a big healing art," Girton said. "Boudoir is definitely a smaller market; there are thousands of photographers that do weddings and different things, but not everyone can do boudoir. Even though some people view it as sexualizing people, I view it as the opposite. I think it's empowering women to take away the sexual stigma."

He uses space at Studio821 on York Street in Newport, which offers memberships for photographers. Its owners say roughly 60 percent of the bookings there are boudoir.

"When I got the calendar, it showed like three shoots a day for boudoir," Girton said. "Cincinnati's pretty conservative in general, but boudoir across the nation is getting more and more popular. I feel like more women are opening up to it. Maybe because other industries (like pornography) have been so in your face, it's making it more acceptable. But when people look at my stuff, I don’t want them to think sex. I want them to think beauty."

His longer-term goal is to take it beyond boudoir. He wants to start a nonprofit that uses photography to teach positive body image, particularly in youth.

"The media says beauty is this. And if you're not that, you're not good enough," Girton said. "That's what I've loved about doing boudoir the last couple years. I've started to notice beauty in women that I didn't use to -- the way they hold their hands, their neckline, the confidence that's shown in their bodies.

"Beauty is not just how much makeup you put on or how expensive your clothes are. It's more than that."