The curve of the lens

PHOTO ISSUE: An ode to the beauty of the boudoir photographer

A good way to be bad, a cute way to be sexy

PHOTO ISSUE It wasn't until Julian ArtPorn ( was taping the back hem of my red and white polka dot dress up over the seat of my Nishiki road bike that I realized the Coppertone dog-girl duo of yore is, in fact, one of our most visible illustrative renditions of boudoir photography. Then, my derriere suitably exposed to his basement studio — the most revealing shot of our session — and he had arranged my hips just so, and coached me on the appropriate pin up "surprised" face, ArtPorn resumed with the flash bulbs.

"So cute!" he giggled sweetly. I vamped to his praise. A girl could get used to this.

And it would appear that many have. Boudoir photography, that classic art form old as photography itself, is a growing market, burgeoning alongside its onstage cousin, burlesque. Many wedding shutterbugs are now including a clothing-off (or clothing artfully draped over favorably lighted curves) session with the bride to value-add to their package promotions. It's a version of risqué that newbie subjects can control completely: a good way to be bad, a cute way to be sexy?

Photo by Julian ArtPorn

But for the photographers I spoke with for this article, boudoir photography was more than a means to a paycheck. ArtPorn, who in his bohemian upbringing was "hitch-hiking alone and smoking pot at the age of five," finds the preservation of his subjects' sexuality a precious task. He shoots almost exclusively on a bright white background, gleeful captures of countless freaky people he's photographed both on the Burning Man playa and his basement studio in Excelsior.

Julian's into people's natural sexiness — whether it takes the form of one of my "cute" booty-baring bike photos, or something rather kinkier. He's shot ecosexual porn stars, randy leather couples, women hanging by ropes from the ceiling. Whatever gets you hot, dig? Sexuality is "one of the most magical things about anybody," he tells me after our shoot. "It's an amazing, powerful, and wonderful thing. The media doesn't do a great job of representing that."

Michelle Athanasiades, whom I meet sipping white wine in a Moroccan lounge next to Dollhouse Bettie, her Haight Street lingerie shop (, would concur. "The standards that are set for beauty — they seem so unattainable in so many ways that the idea of giving yourself the freedom to express your own sexuality and beauty is a gift." Athanasiades got into the boudoir photog game by necessity, shooting models in her retro silk and satin whispers back when her undie trade was conducted solely on the Internet.

Photo by Michelle Athanasiades

New to photography, she's never shot outside her third floor Edwardian flat, decorated only with her romantic aesthetic and the "best diffuser ever," San Francisco fog outside the windows. Customers began to come to her to look like her catalog of Mae Wests and Bettie Pages. "People are captivated by the elegance and sexuality of the pre-women's liberation era," Athanasiades tells me between sips. "There were women back then who embodied that pioneering spirit and also that sexuality." Still a side gig to Dollhouse Bettie, her clients want photos for wedding/engagement presents, a fun thing to do with their girlfriends, or just to have ravishing, seductive photos of themselves.

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