Black is the New Boudoir.

let’s strip.

It’s time to strip. It’s time to unravel, layer by layer, hundreds of years of institutionalized self-scrutiny, perverse concepts of one’s physical self, and the idea that we as people of color (POC) should strive to maintain our “decency” by way of not celebrating or exposing our bodies. Historically, POC have been hyper-sexualized in mainstream media in a way that renders many of us overwhelmingly cognizant of our sexuality and others’ perception of it. As a means to counter the negative perception of POC who embrace their sexuality, Sexuality & POC organizations, movements, and educational platforms are on the rise. In the visual arts world, a purposeful and—might I add–beautiful transition is taking place. Representation of POC is on the ascent and Cashmere Harper a.k.a “The Moment Catcher” of Ebony Lenses Photography is here to, well, capture it. 

“We Boudoir Too is is nothing short of a photographical PSA that it’s okay for people of color to be unapologetically sexy.”

we boudoir too. 

Ebony Lenses Photography, 2018

We Boudoir Too, (#weboudoirtoo) a POC-Centered photo series by Philadelphia area photographer Cashmere Harper of Ebony Lenses, challenges the misconception that POC cannot be simultaneously sexy and a work of fucking art. We knew that, right? I mean shit look at us. Either way. Let’s raise two middle fingers to the toxic generational delusion that People of Color should cower in their sexuality to convey an air of modesty. Who’s modesty is this anyway? Don’t answer that just yet.

First, let’s take a look at the meaning of boudoir and how POC have been routinely omitted from the pages of boudoir photography. Then we’ll venture onto a visual journey through the lens of Cashmere Harper.

“Why aren’t we unapologetically sexy outside of Cover Girl’s brown girl campaigns because let’s face it—we are niche target markets to them.”

Ebony Lenses Photography, 2018

boudoir: the meaning.

Boudoir (pronounced “boo-dwahr”)  Photography is something Harper’s Lense is relatively new too, but in the sweet words of Aaliyah Haughton,Age ain’t nothing but a number.” Cashmere is a natural at drawing out her subject’s inner sexy which is essential in such an intimately-poised photo-shoot.

The actual definitions for Boudoir were not only sexist but also slightly depressing (the French origin of the word literally means a sulking place… ) so here’s the more precise definition for boudoir photography.

“Boudoir Photography is a photographic style featuring intimate, romantic, and sometimes erotic images of its subjects in a photographic studio, bedroom or private dressing room environment, primarily intended for the private enjoyment of the subject and his or her romantic partners.” Dictionary.com

why boudoir is so important.

A recent phenomenon is taking place where people of color are trading their oppressor-inflicted beauty ideals for an over-indulgence of self-love & natural hair care products. I mean, I didn’t discover that I had an afro until about five years ago (I’m 32) and if I had discovered it before then I’m not so sure I would have known how to take care of it. It’s crazy to think that even up until five years ago I was still opting for the heat-damaging, high-maintenance dominican blowout over my god-given curl pattern—but this isn’t about hair. It’s about us being comfortable in our own skin—with the generous help of some raw, unfiltered coconut oil. Yep. The stories are true.

In our own skin. It’s a common phrase that has been primarily used to metaphorically describe the acceptance of and comfort of being one-self. For people of color, we don’t have the luxury of strictly adopting this phrase as a metaphor. For us, in our own skin is all too literal because—for us—our mere pigmentation is just cause to be feared, to be treated unequally, to be ashamed, and as we’ll get to later–to be fetish-sized. We are quite aware of “American” (I use that term loosely) society’s perception of us as it relates to our demonization in the public eye.

Concepts such as cultural appropriation are becoming household phrases as we start to realize that white america only accepts us as far as they can use us to reach their target markets. So I ask you: If corporate America can acknowledge the power of representation why aren’t we too capitalizing on and dictating our presence in the media? Why aren’t we owning our prowess and ability to captivate audiences with our exotic features? Why aren’t we unapologetically sexy outside of Cover Girl’s brown girl campaigns because let’s face it—we are niche target markets to them. The answer is a matter of the ongoing sexual objectification and inner sensitivity to being hyper-sexualized.

the age of the video heaux.

If you grew up in the 90s, you probably remember all too well the disproportionately sized breast-to-waist-to-ass ratio of virtually every non-white video vixen. For black women—including myself— this was the body ideal. Big titties? Check. Fat ass? Hopefully I still had some growing to do because I NEEDED a fat ass if I was going to live my best life. I even wrote a poem about my journey through the various types of asses I wanted as my social constructs changed over time. In fact, if you would have asked my twenty-one year old self to participate in a boudoir shoot I would have shot the entire idea down. Why? Simply because my ass wasn’t up to par or because my body wouldn’t be good enough to be photographed and shared with the world.

On the flip side, what would people think? How would these photos be used to degrade me? My entire life was poised on not being that girl and getting ahead because of what’s in my head and not between my legs (which is a concept that has also evolved the more I learn about sex work). More importantly, why can’t the appreciation for both exist? We have been taught to consider sexual empowerment and respectability as not existing in the same realm. A psychological constraint that forces us to choose between celebrating our beautiful, black bodies and being “respected” by society. News Flash: We don’t have to choose. Fuck shit up.

“…people of color are trading their oppressor-inflicted beauty ideals for an over-indulgence of self-love & natural hair care products.”

the veil has been lifted.

We Boudoir Too is is nothing short of a photographical PSA that it’s okay for people of color to be unapologetically sexy. After viewing the ongoing project—I don’t think apologies are necessary. The first photo-shoot featured masculine-centered models who you couldn’t have ever told me were shy behind the camera. At least not after Cashmere got a hold of them.

Part Two of the We Boudoir Too Project focused on femme-centered subjects—most of whom had never modeled a day in their lives. Staying true to the nature of boudoir photography, the imagery is raw, sexy, and depicts a colorful array of shots sure to satisfy your visual palette.

As Cashmere expressed her favorite moments during the shoot it was easy to see how passionate she was about this project and helping her subjects to invoke their own powerful sexuality. An openly QPOC (Queer Person of Color) identified person herself, it was important for Cashmere to focus on representation in the art community. I mean just google “boudoir photography” for yourself. There aren’t many brown and black folk dispersed throughout the image search results. Even searching for people of color in photo stock galleries proves to be a fruitless endeavor. Who’s going to change that? People who look like you and me.

Photographers aren’t given enough credit for being catalysts of self-empowerment. Documenters of generational and social change and—in this case— pilots into a new era of unconditional, black self love. Cashmere is one of many QPOC photographers who realize that their craft signifies more than just a moment in time.

about the photographer.

Cashmere Harper (pictured left) is a self taught photographer based in Philadelphia, PA with an eye for capturing the perfect moment. Whether shooting an event or a one on one session, she takes pride in highlighting your forever memories.

Called the “Moment Catcher” by her clients, Cashmere is working hard to push representation of black and brown as well as queer folk in all forms of photography. The #WEBOUDOIRTOO project educates and encourages people of color to take on boudoir photo shoots, thereby increasing representation in the visual arts community.

Get in touch.

If you would like to get in touch with Ebony Lenses please visit them on the web via Facebook, Instagram, or on their website.

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