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The Flor-Ala

The Student News Site of University of North Alabama

The Flor-Ala

The Student News Site of University of North Alabama

The Flor-Ala

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Claire Nichols: empowering women through boudoir photography

Courtesy of Claire Nichols

Forward-thinking as it may be, mainstream media holds women to unreasonably high standards. Women in the workforce are expected to be professionally unflappable, perpetually composed in the face of adversity, all while looking as classically pretty as possible. 

At this point in time, it is hardly a secret that disheveled women are overlooked, and attractive women are admired from a distance but ultimately tuned out. The worst part about the pseudo-progressive patriarchy is that it would have the perfect woman tending obsessively to her looks, arbitrarily keeping up a facade of anti-materialism.

Over 90% of commercial beauty companies are run by men, as reported by the Digital Beauty Group LLC. Companies like these tout a philosophy that would be mystical if it were not so hackneyed, promising detoxification and eternal youth in tiny plastic bottles. They rely on typically attractive women to promote their brands through advertisements. Occasionally, they introduce non-traditional models, always framing their bodies as objects deviating far from the norm, as though their otherness defines them.

A woman’s life is confusing and generally contradictory, but it is far from hopeless. If lived for one’s self, it is actually quite fun. Traditionally “girly,” surface-level self-care activities like getting one’s nails done or face made-up have the potential to empower. Erroneously discounted as shallow and male gaze-serving, methods of so-called girl maintenance are time and again opportunities for women to come together in solidarity. Cosmetic upkeep is no easy feat, after all. Why should women not support each other through spa days and salon outings?

In exercising control over their bodies, women ground themselves on a planet that spins so fast it threatens to fling them off of it. Among the various means of asserting power in this way is healthily appreciating the sensual lure of one’s body. There are several methods a woman can take to optimize the comfort she feels in her skin, an increasingly popular one being allowing herself to be artistically captured in boudoir photography.

A slightly suggestive and alluring art form, boudoir photography originated in the 1940s and has stuck around and evolved with the times. In a boudoir portrait, the muse is dressed to her level of comfort, usually though not necessarily scantily clad. A skilled boudoir photographer creates timeless images, simple yet splashy, based on the subject’s personal preferences.

Claire Nichols, born in Florence, Ala., is a local photographer offering boudoir photography shoots. Normally specializing in pictures of couples and families, Nichols has branched out, expanding her repertoire to offer tastefully provocative portraits of women.

In the past, Nichols’s preferred location for shoots of this nature has been downtown Florence’s GunRunner Boutique Hotel. Established in 2017, the GunRunner showcases its hometown’s authenticity by way of 10 luxury suites, each highlighting a different cultural facet of the Shoals area. 

“[The GunRunner’s suites] are very moody. They have the best ambience for boudoir shoots. When I look for a spot, I’m looking for someplace dark and sexy. Nobody wants to be in an overly bright area when they’re posing with that sort of delicacy.”

Last year, Nichols held a session in the GunRunner’s Billy Reid Suite, named after and contributed to by Florence’s own Billy Reid, critically-adored fashion designer and national trendsetter. Slots in Nichols’ last boudoir shoot included one outfit change per client and lasted a little less than a half-hour, producing roughly 30 final photos.

Those who identify as a woman are expected to present themselves with grace, regardless of circumstances. Yet it seems evident the everyman’s definition of grace is less about aplomb than it is appearance. 

In his 2005 commencement speech to Kenyon College’s graduating class, writer David Foster Wallace reminded his audience of the adage, “The mind [is] an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This cliché is tough to dispute; the mind is the source of self-doubt, of intrusive thoughts and misinterpretations. That said, to many women, the mind sometimes feels more like a captive than a captor, stuck in a body that is routinely subject to societal scrutiny. A woman’s brain can trick her into hating her body, warping her limbs into shackles, distorting her reflection. The mind’s eye is all-too-often a weapon of self-destruction. Even (if not especially) the most confident women are met by the world with vitriol, no matter the fact that they, like everyone, lack immunity to criticism.

Nichols comes from a family full of artistic talent. The photographer’s father, Gary Nichols, is a Grammy Award-winning country music singer. Her brother, Trey Nichols, writes and performs rock music in venues around the South.

“I think it’s great my family has such a rich history of creative talent,” said Nichols, “even if we’re all doing something different in the scheme of things. I get to capture a lot of the moments we share in pictures. That’s special to me.”

At age 15, Nichols was given her first camera as a Christmas gift.

“[My first camera] only had two lenses, but I used it throughout high school.” said Nichols. “I’ve since upgraded to a Sony Mirrorless Camera.”

Since then, she has been steadily advancing her career. Nichols’ first paid gig, a job taking senior portraits, was offered the year after she received the camera that sprouted her emergence as a photographer.

“Yes, I started off just taking senior portraits and family photos,” said Nichols. “That’s all I was doing. I was too scared to dive into wedding photography, and I didn’t want to be a sports photographer. I didn’t even know boudoir photography was an option. The more invested I got in my photography, the more I began to see examples of it. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s so cool! I would love to offer that.’”

Nichols now works full-time taking pictures. Her current portfolio includes wedding, maternity and boudoir portraits as well as photos of graduating seniors and parents.

“After my first three boudoir photography sessions, I really got the hang of things,” said Nichols. I’ve learned how to make people as comfortable as possible. My favorite part about boudoir photography has been building other women’s confidence. It comes down to a fun and creative way to appreciate their bodies. Women come into [a boudoir shoot] saying, ‘I’m nervous. I’m worried I’m gonna hate seeing myself this way.’ Then when I show them the finished products, they say, ‘Oh, my God. That’s me?’ They can’t believe how good they look. Honestly, everyone always looks so uniquely beautiful. No two [boudoir shoots] have been the same.”

The female form has been a focal point for artists since the invention of art. Boudoir-style photos are a particularly intimate example along this vein. Somehow simultaneously bold and private, pictures such as these are made special by the ownership women have over them. Whether they are taken with a lover in mind or simply for one’s self, boudoir photos have a common trait – the women featured in them should have complete control over who sees them. 

Less intense than taking provocative pictures on one’s own, booking a boudoir shoot is a decision worth giving thought. Those interested in Nichols’s work can get in touch with her on her website, where they can view her work and get in touch with her.

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About the Contributor
Mary-Stella Mangina, Arts & Entertainment Editor
Mary-Stella is a junior majoring in both Professional Management and French for Commerce.

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