2024 and the Inbetween

Each year, I chose words for my intentions for the studio because I don’t do resolutions. Last year was Work In Progress.

2024 is ACE which stands for Authentic Creative Experimental.

Recently, I visited the Caw Caw Interpretive Center and was inspired by this part of the swamp with the naked Cypress trees and little pops of green. What struck me was this is the time inbetween seasons. What’s your favorite season? Usually I’d say Fall or Autumn. However this year, it’s the time Inbetween Winter and Spring.

Much of our lives we are between things: circumstances, jobs, people, places, etc. We vary between ages and sizes. We deeply desire to be understood, cared for, and not feel alone. We forget our inherent worth. To you, I dedicate my poem, The Inbetween.

Winter can be cold and the trees bare branches are exposed.
But they can’t hide their scars nor the animals that live there.
They’ve blossomed and grew earlier in the year, but now it’s time to rest.

Nights are long, and the days are short in Winter.
Nature is slow with purpose and promise.
Animals hibernate and rest.

There’s hints of Spring with small patches of green,
But the air of Winter lingers through the bare branches.
Hope of Spring is not forgotten as the Inbetween
Shows BOTH Winter and Spring are worthy.

The Inbetween but Not Yet is impatient, frustrated.
The Inbetween sees beauty in Winter and Spring,
But cannot see its own.
It feels lonely, unproductive, and useless.

The Inbetween is focused on what it’s NOT.
It’s NOT Winter when Nature rests.
It’s NOT Spring when Nature wakes and blooms.
It’s NOT Summer when everything grows.
It’s NOT Fall when the Harvest comes in. But…

The Inbetween is Change, and change is hard.
The Inbetween transforms the tadpole to the frog.
The Inbetween coaches the caterpillar to a butterfly.

The Inbetween is Hope that has to watch and wait…
To wake Winter
To whisper to Spring
To warm Summer
To wander to Fall
To weave the moments between.

The Inbetween is Authentic. It cannot be otherwise.
The Inbetween is Creative. It must imagine and inspire.
The Inbetween is Experimental. It observes, questions, tries, adapts,
And at times, makes mistakes. But the Inbetween is NOT a mistake.

The Inbetween is Who we were, Who we are, and Who we will be.
Seasons of life have their specific time then end.
But the Inbetween carries them all in a steady embrace.
Equally important and worthy… Always.

The Inbetween written by Mell E F Bell February 16, 2024
Bright Pink Gradient to Purple to Blue Background with the text "Work In Progress" in black letters on yellow caution tape. The top left icon is a head with a heart inside of it, and the bottom icon is a heart with a plant growing inside of it.

2023 Intentions- Work In Progress

Obviously, I’ve never had much luck with New Year’s Resolutions (especially as I’m FINALLY writing this at the end of March). Every year though, I like to choose a few words that I want to remember or be my theme for the year. Honestly, I couldn’t choose, and this year, I was having trouble finding the words that fit together.

I thought about how many things I’m changing at the studio. I’m getting rid of some furniture and accessories, setting up new sets, updating some samples, etc. I’ve completed even more continuing education business and customer service courses. I finished up an Intro to Improv Class. I didn’t realize just how much fun I would have and how it’s helped my creativity in photography too. Can we just take a breath and recognize that the last few years have been EXTRA hard? HUG.

This year’s intention/theme is Work In Progress. Last year was WAP (Whole Ass Person), and this year is WIP. Whip it good! I feel like I’m in a growing season, and I have sooooo many things I want to do. But I’m only 1 person, and I have to focus on Progress NOT Perfection. Every client, I’ve had this year so far gets it. We’re pulled in so many directions that it feels like we’re constantly running and going nowhere. Kind of like the cartoon Scooby Doo where he gets scared and tries to run but stays in the same place.

White quote bubble icon with large light blue quotation marks on which the text reads: "Progress Not Perfection" with the mellBella Logo under it

A Work In Progress is more like partially controlled chaos. There’s multiple moving parts, and a certain order that they have to go in. It’s hard and at times uncertain, but there IS progress. So what does this have to do with boudoir photography?

I’ve been doing SOOOO much work behind the scenes, and there’s progress but it’s still a WIP. I’ve done my research, and no one else offers anything like it here. Let’s just say it goes beyond boudoir. Hang in there friends! It will be worth the wait.

Hiding Inside My Body

Hello… it’s me, Mell Bell. I wanted to share a little story behind this self portrait. I took this back in 2020 on my birthday, and I loved how the stylist, Sarah Pearson, did my hair and makeup. I liked the lighting and moody feel, BUT… but… but….

I wanna talk about feelings… how was I feeling in my mind and my body. To sum it up, I was unsure and was trying to hide my body. I was trying to make myself smaller. I wanted to feel comfortable and confident, but I was so concerned with the lighting and the posing… BUT mostly, I was trying to hide of my body. I felt ashamed of the size of my stomach and my chest. I was sweating because self portraits are HARD to do too! I felt gross. I was struggling with feeling ok in my body exactly as it was.

black and white full length portrait of the photographer turned to the side wearing a lace bra and panty set and a long robe. Her body is half hidden behind a sheer black curtain, and she looks off to the right side of the image. Her expression is pensive and a little unsure.

I didn’t want to listen to my body, and I just wanted the image I created to show my dear clients that I understand the intimidating factors of getting photographed. I’m showing my worries in my clenched hand and tight lips. I didn’t care as much about my cellulite on my leg because hello heredity ?!?

So why? There’s always something much deeper under the surface as to the why behind the discomfort. This image was taken:

Shortly before I was finally diagnosed with ADHD after living my whole life with it, but not understanding a huge part of myself.

Almost 1 year after my last child was born. I was struggling with PMDD and only having about 10 days out of every month where I felt mostly ok and not like I had a the flu.

A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was trying to figure out how to still work and support my family.

A few months after the government mandated shutdowns, school closings, and moving to online school

And those are just the recent BIG things. My being raised in certain types of churches/belief systems, added even more layers of guilt and shame of just existing in my body. Add to that losing one parent when I was 13. Add to that growing up with a verbally and emotionally abusive parent.  Add to that not understanding why my eating habits were disordered.  And just keep adding…

Each person is complicated, and I think we all long for a space where we can feel safe, loved, appreciated, and that we’re not broken. Life is messy, and we can still grow and learn. Below is a self portrait I took on my phone right after I wrote this blog. My goal was to show joy, comfort, and of course some messiness.

black and white portrait of Mell Bell lounging across a large recliner chair with one arm on the arm rest and her two feet crossed at the ankles on the other arm rest. She is laughing and smiling so big that her nose is crinkled and her eyes are closed.

“People Have All Kinds Of Sides To Them, Mei, And Some Sides Are Messy. The Point Isn’t To Push The Bad Stuff Away, It’s To Make Room For It, Live With It.”  Jin Lee from the movie Turning Red

I’ll add to learn and grow too. Until next time friends, may you know that you are loved and lovable.

With Appreciation,

Mell Bell

Boudoir Photography Is For Men Too

For a long time, boudoir photography has been thought of as something for women only. I saw it in my own business at the beginning. One day, I started searching the web for male boudoir photography, and I found lots of celebrities and six pack abs. There were a few “dad bods” but no other real photographic representation for male boudoir. So unless you were famous or heavily muscled, the only other option was photography of men for comedic purposes.

To me, boudoir photography shows every BODY deserves to have beautiful, artful photos of themselves. Boudoir portraits that show their personality, style, and sensuality (if they choose). Basically, their je ne sais quoi (pronounced zhuhnuhse kwa), which means an indefinable, elusive quality, especially a pleasing one. I can’t fully describe in words everything that boudoir photography is or can be, so I’ll let my photography tell the story in the slideshow below.

Slideshow of male boudoir photos set to an upbeat instrumental song with a driving beat. Words appear on the screen describing each section of images. The sections are: Suit & Tie, Casual, Relaxed, Mysterious, Shirtless, Details, Daring, and Headshots. The video ends with the mellBella Photography website www.mellBella.com, photography by Mell Bell, and the mellBella logo.

My goal is to use boudoir photography to help each person of any gender to…
Feel more comfortable and confident in their body,
See themselves as extraordinary, beautiful, and worthy of love, AND
Have a unique, unforgettable experience with the photos to prove it!

A little backstory…

In the 2010s, I would get a few calls a year from men looking for male boudoir photography. But they were only looking for someone to take their photos as a joke. The main request was to do the “George Constanza.” Just look up “The Timeless Art of Seduction” which is in Season 8 Episode 5 “The Package” of the Seinfeld TV series. Basically, Kramer convinces George to create “enticing photos,” and they do a mock boudoir photo shoot. The final photo is printed large and is shown as an embarrassing joke.

Moving on to around 2016, when male boudoir photos or as some say “Dudoir” (dudeoir rhymes with boudoir) started to become more noticeable. But a large majority of these dudoir photos were done as a joke or simply to go viral on the web. There is nothing wrong with taking silly photos in boudoir photography, but I wanted to approach it differently.

A mutual friend referred my first official male boudoir client to me. From our first phone call, I told him that I had never done male boudoir photography before, but I was ready to try. I wanted my client to feel comfortable and confident at his photo shoot. Before the shoot. I did some research, spoke with photography peers, and made a plan ,which included a practice shoot with my husband. It went really well, and he even wanted to come back and do ANOTHER boudoir session. The rest is history. Yes, Boudoir Photography is for men too! Boudoir is for ALL gender identities.

It’s Been A While

I was struggling with PMDD (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder) for several years, and it was progressively getting worse. I have a longer blog post coming with more information because it’s not something that is often talked about and needs way more research on. Many people who menstruate struggle with it and just assume that menstruation is supposed to be very painful and make you feel awful. Can it be uncomfortable and inconvenient? Sure. But it shouldn’t cause you to feel like you’re an entirely different person or battling the flu for 2+ weeks out of every cycle. I haven’t kept up with blogging and sharing, so I’m trying to show some our my more recent work in the quick moving 2 minute video slideshow below. The slideshow does NOT feature every recent boudoir or pinup photo shoot, but it does feature ones that I have permission to share. I wanted to show that each person brings something a little different to their mellBella photo shoot. Even though most are done in our studio and some poses, lighting, or outfits are similar…. no two photo shoots are ever exactly the same. Just like each person… no one is exactly the same as someone else.

[Video Description: 2 minute slideshow with fast upbeat music and quick changing between 130 images of several people with different genders, races, sizes, shapes, etc. The people are in various settings and poses to show boudoir photography at the mellBella Studio and a few photos are on location in the Charleston, SC area. The video opens on a black screen with white words showing the question, “What has mellBella been up to?” It ends with a slide on a black screen with white letters stating, “www.mellBella.com  photography by Mell Bell” The final slide shows the mellBella Photography logo in a gradient colors from blue to purple to pink. ]