The word “boudoir” is French in origin and is derived from the French Verb "bouder" meaning to sulk. Originally boudoir referred to a physical room for sulking in. It later became known as a woman’s private room or bedroom. Over the years, the term boudoir has come to mean different things. For my own purposes as a photographer, I consider myself an intimate portrait artist and a boudoir photographer.
Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre took the first photograph using the process that would later come to be known by his name in 1837, and two years later the French government patented the daguerréotype process for public use. From that point on, photography’s popularity exploded in France and it quickly included the nude. In the late 1840s, some of the great photographers of the day, like Félix Moulin, Gustave Le Gray and Charles Nègre, were already experimenting with the nude. The “French Postcards” of the 1920s are part of a long history of nude photographic imagery in France.
The use of the camera became popular in the early 1900's and changed the art world as consumers started purchasing photographs rather than drawings and paintings. Paris was the center of the art world at the turn of the century and also the location for some of the earliest boudoir photographs. In 1908 Jacques Biederer (1887-1942), a Czech immigrant, set up a photography studio in Paris. His earliest known photographs were fashionable, tastefully posed nudes inspired by classical art. In the 1920s and '30s, Biederer Studio became well-known for producing sleek, sophisticated photos of erotic nudes.
Albert Arthur Allen was an American artist with a photography studio in Oakland, CA in 1916. Allen created his boudoir photographs during the roaring 20's and prohibition. Though the photographer’s black-and-white images were deemed obscene, he believed that his work was neither erotic nor explicit. “To see womankind entirely nude would place all women on equality,” Allen had said.
After the dissolution of the prohibition in 1933 and the beginning of WWII; the US Government began using propaganda to encourage young men to fight for their country. With the knowledge that “sex sells”, the military began using pin-up girls in advertisements and the term "pin up" boudoir was born. Known for her “million dollar legs”, Betty Grable was the icon of pin-up girls in the 30’s and 40’s.
We then saw the great sex symbols of the 50’s and 60’s, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and the like take boudoir to a new level. These women used the female form as a source of empowerment for other women. And in the 80’s glam shots appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. With the move to digital cameras came a more mainstream concept of boudoir photography sessions. Today, boudoir photography is it's own genre of photography encompassing several more specific niches including: couples boudoir, erotic boudoir, bridal boudoir, dudoir (male boudoir), fine art nudes, etc. And in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can find a photographer who specializes in exactly what you are looking for. As I see it, there really is no correct way to define "Boudoir Photography". It is going to mean different things to different people. So, if you are searching for a boudoir photographer, just make sure his/her definition aligns with the type of imagery you are seeking!