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.
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.
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. ]
I’ve been working for several weeks on a new logo for mellBella Photography. This will be the third edition of the logo since the mellBella brand was officially founded The name mellBella includes my name, BUT I didn’t want it to be just me. Bella is a nod to the Italian roots of my husband’s family who started Richard Bell Photography who gave me my start in photography. PLUS, Bella means beautiful. The first version of the logo was retro feeling, and of course the B was capitalized. Our colors were hot pink, black, and silver.
She was a good logo and the B changed colors to red and purple depending on the photo shoot too. However in 2017, we changed to something more flowy, modern, and sleek. It took some time to find the right fonts and color, but she was professional, curvy, and cute.
BUT over the last few years, mellBella Photography has grown in so many ways, and this logo didn’t fit the brand anymore. mellBella is so much more than professional, curvy, and cute. Soooooooo much more than where we started…. the logo needed to be more and different. So in February, I emailed my designer, Andy, who is also a Bell, to figure out a new look. It had to FEEL just right. For the record, it’s really hard to describe something that you can’t picture in your head as the final look but you have lots of ideas, feelings, and an instinct that go into it. I’m so thankful to Andy for helping me through this process, listening, and translating it ALL into an actual design.
This portrait was the INSPIRATION behind our new logo. For her most recent shoot in December 2021, she asked if we could do some images with bisexual lighting. This lighting incorporates a blue gel and a magenta gel and where they meet creates purple lighting. The colors are on the bisexual flag, give an 80s retrowave vibe, the three main hair colors I’ve had in recent years, AND are used throughout tv shows and movies as well. And if you know me, you know I love to PLAY with LIGHTING and COLOR.
This lovely woman has trusted me to photograph her and embrace who she is. She gave me permission to share this image without her face and a few details about her story. She was my very first trans client, and she even used the photos we created from her first portrait session to come out to her mother. Wow, just wow. I’m so grateful to her because trans people face high levels of discrimination and violence, AND she’s not alone. To be clear, trans rights are human rights. She is inspiring… watching her confidence and comfort in herself grow over the years is indescribably beautiful. Of course, there’s SO MUCH MORE to it all… so much more detail, history, struggle, growth, and most importantly, LOVE. SHE is the phenomenal muse behind the new logo.
The new logo is dedicated to-
- The FANTASTIC woman in the above photo, of course.
- ALL of my clients (past, present, and future) whose trust I value immensely.
- The awkward, the in-between, those who have been told they’re less than, those who have been told they’re too much, those who feel out-of-place, and those who are still figuring it out.
- Creating, Collaborating, and Caring.
- Being a Whole Ass Person.
Check out the NEW look in the video below-
I wanted a logo that would be….
- Slightly more modern but not stiff; still curvaceous
- Upscale, high end but still relatable and friendly with some whimsy
- NOT perfect
- Vibrant, Bold, Fun
- Androgynous, Feminine, and Masculine
- A gradient of colors
- Enchanting, Welcoming, and Balance
- Something that feels like me
- Something that when you look at it doesn’t look nor feel like every other photographer out there
I was finally diagnosed with ADHD later in life, so I lived most of my life feeling Out-of-Place without understanding who I am. I felt Awkward, Too Loud, Too Random, Out-of-Place, Weird and Clumsy in my Brain and Body, Forgetful, Lazy, and Not Good Enough. BUT as a child, I would watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and I always knew that Mr. Rogers liked me exactly as I am. No qualifications… no buts…. just how I am. Growing up, I wondered so many times– IF I was loved by my mother, IF I was unlovable, IF I could do anything right, IF I could ever decide what I wanted to do with my life, IF I was good enough, IF I can change myself enough to fit in, IF… IF… IF!!! I think that’s why the following quote is a huge part of my values:
“You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world. There’s never been anyone exactly like you before, and there will never be again. Only you. And people can like you exactly as you are.” -Mr. Fred Rogers
This new logo feels right… it feels fitting… it feels like it reflects the changes and growth in mellBella Photography. It feels retro and modern. It feels masculine, feminine, and androgynous. It feels welcoming and fun but serious and professional. It’s a balance and whimsical.
My goal is for the art I create with my clients to show:
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has or ever will have something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” -Mr. Fred Rogers
So….. what’s next? The website. It’s a process, but it will be worth it.
Every new year, I choose words or phrases as my intentions for the year. I really liked last year’s intentions which were: Inclusion, Creation, and Innovation. I feel like mellBella Photography is on the right track, and we made some progress. I’m continuing my education in photography which goes far beyond camera and lighting gear. I’ve been reading, listening, and learning about fatphobia and diet culture as well as continuing learning about the “isms” (racism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc). I think the following quote sums up what I’m trying to do:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou
With the last few years, dramatically changing us all from figuring out life and daily tasks to exhaustion to mourning to anger, and to finding some joy and hope. I’m struggling as a parent of a toddler and elementary school student. I’m struggling with my PMDD and ADHD and possibly have endometriosis too. My PMDD causes me all kinds of problems and negative symptoms for at least 2 weeks out of every menstrual cycle. Time feels different. My ADHD is a beautiful but difficult conundrum, and allows me to pay attention to almost everything at the same time which makes sitting down to focus my attention difficult at times but it’s the best thing for a photo shoot because I’ll notice the mood, the lighting, the temperature, personality, changes, noises, etc. Now those are health struggles… and there’s so much more that goes into the day to day.
So what does this have to do with intentions for 2022? I am a W-A-P. For 2022, my intentions for mellBella Photography can be summed up by those three letters– WAP.
I am a WAP. Everyone you see or meet is a WAP. Each human is a WAP. You are a WAP. A WAP is…. a WHOLE ASS PERSON.
You are supposed to take up SPACE. Almost every person, who comes to my studio for the first time, is so nervous, and they shrink themselves at first. But throughout the photo shoot, it’s a discovery of seeing themselves as worthy of taking up space… of being a WAP– WHOLE ASS PERSON! Being a Whole Ass Person does NOT include being unkind and disrespectful. Basically, DON’T be an Ass Hole Person to yourself nor others. And as a Whole Ass Person (WAP), you are going to have feelings that might change daily about how you look or feel in your body. When you feel a disconnect or uncomfortable in your own body, it’s soooooo easy for the negative self talk to take over and the feelings of self worth plummet. Maybe you feel bad because you “should” look a certain way and don’t. There’s no one right way to look, BTW. You are worthy of LOVE because you exist. It’s inherent.
“You must want to spend the rest of your life with yourself first.” — Rupi Kaur
You bring your baggage literally to the photo shoot, and there’s so much going on inside of you before you arrive. I don’t know your history, but sometimes you share part of it with me before your shoot day. Maybe you’re recovering from an illness, accident, or surgery. Maybe you’re celebrating your birthday, anniversary, or surviving and leaving a bad relationship. Maybe you were raised to believe that your body is shameful. Maybe you’ve always felt self conscious about your body or that you feel awkward in it. Maybe you’ve done a photo shoot with us before and you want to try something different or bolder this time because you’re less nervous and more excited. Maybe you had a baby and want to celebrate or appreciate your new body.
“Radical self-love demands that we see ourselves and others in the fullness of our complexities and intersections and that we work to create space for those intersections.” — Sonya Renee Taylor
I don’t know what happened right before you arrive at the studio. Maybe traffic was bad. Maybe you got in a verbal argument with someone important to you. Maybe you struggle with depression or anxiety and struggled even getting out of bed today. Maybe you’ve been caring for a sick loved one. Maybe inside you’re scared about hating photos of yourself… again. Maybe you were taught growing up that loving yourself/feeling good about yourself is selfish and you’re struggling with those conflicts still today. Maybe that person who was supposed to be safe and loving told you horrible lies about you and your body which you are still carrying with you. Maybe your kids were incredibly difficult to interact with that morning. Maybe you couldn’t sleep the night before your photo shoot. Maybe you want to do something just for you because it’s well past time you did and you need something to put back into you.
“You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.” ―
When you arrive at the mellBella studio, I want you to find a breath of fresh air, a place of comfort, a safe space, and a ton of joy. I want you to relax and be in this moment right now… not the past… not the future– but right now. I want you to set some of your baggage down, and take a little break from it. Maybe you have to take some of that baggage with you when you leave, but maybe just maybe, you can leave with lighter bags. I want you to feel more free and confident to be you, yourself, and your WHOLE ASS PERSONHOOD.
I get asked this question a lot, …
What should I wear at my boudoir photo shoot?
A lot of people are familiar with some of the typical lingerie options and accessories (underwear, bra, corset, stilettos, etc.) or possibly simply your birthday suit. But what about if typical isn’t your thing? What if you want to wear something that reflect more your personal style? Maybe one of our Top Ten ‘Not Your Typical’ Looks ‘ for your Boudoir Session will give you a place to get started.
- Button Up Shirt with a Twist— you’ve seen it everywhere –the classic white button up shirt. But what if the shirt has a different texture or possibly see thru? I really like this idea because it’s versatile, comes in a variety of sizes, and pairs well with other looks at your shoot or at home. Here’s an example I found on Amazon:
- Swimsuit Cover Up— Look at these sheer pants I found on Amazon! There’s options with and without ruffles. Almost any swimsuit cover up is great… don’t be afraid of bold colors too!
- Footie Pajamas– Seriously, why not? Plus, these rubber ducky pjs are the best!
- Favorite Fabric– What type of fabrics do you love? Color? Texture? Pattern? Go down to your local craft store and get at least 3 yards of a fabric that makes you happy. We have some options in our mellBella Client Closet too! From there, we can decorate you or your set with the fabric of your choice.
- Halloween Costume– You needed an excuse to wear it again, and I LOVE HALLOWEEN! The studio always has a little bit of Halloween decor up all year long.
- Coveralls/Jumpsuits/Rompers Oh My!– Really there’s no wrong answer here.
- Body Harness– From leather to elastic… and they come in a variety of styles, sizes, and colors.
- Sweatpants/Yoga Pants/Workout Clothing– Yes, you read that correctly… comfy clothing for the win!
- Go Retro– Just pick a fashion era that you love and commit…whether it’s 90s Goth, 50s pinup, Rococo style, etc.
- Thrift Store Finds— You never know what you’ll find, AND it’s a great way to recycle too. So look for your favorite color, unusual, weird, wild, silly, etc. It can be anything from a dress, pants, t-shirt, hat, shoes, belt, and the list goes on. Two of my favorite Charleston Thrift Stores are: Closet Case Thrift and The Exchange Factor