It’s a perfect evening for a shoot. The lingerie playfully flirts with the camera lens. There’s grace mixed with erotica. Shivaji Storm Sen is ready to capture a bombshell, that could well make it to the covers of Playboy. Bingedaily speaks to this boudoir photographer and finds out how he deals with uncomfortable moments, awkward silences, and well when things get a little steamy!
How do you make your subject feel comfortable?
A task for any photographer, but more so when it comes to boudoir! How does a boudoir photographer make his subject comfortable enough to bare their soul (in literal and figurative terms)? With photography playing the likes of a mistress, Shivaji has been associated with India Fashion Week and The Times of India. He says communication is key. “Discussions before the shoot where references are spoken of, enable the photographer and the subject to be on the same page. Boudoir is a space where one cannot spring surprises. Unless the subject is open to discussion during the shoot, everything to the last minute detail needs to be thoughtfully planned out.”
“Since the set for the boudoir is a very private and sacred affair, it needs to be a safe environment with no unnecessary folks lurking around. It should be a zone where the subject feels at ease. Comfort is core in this arena, and the two should familiarise themselves before the shoot, with a good discussion.”
Things to avoid saying during a boudoir shoot
Shivaji seems to have a knack for choosing unusual subjects. “It’s better to play safe than sorry,” he says while emphasizing on the appropriateness of comments during a shoot. “Each person is accustomed to a certain language. Avoid digressing and always strive to be the perfect gentleman.” Discussing body parts while setting the tone for the shoot can be a good start, according to him, but “never indulge in telling the other that they are sexy, or hot. When such remarks fill up space, it suggests you are seeing your subject in that light.” Shivaji has been behind the lens for years now, and can only urge boudoir photographers to think of themselves as doctors. “If you’re in the shoes of a doctor or a gynaecologist, you’d seldom compliment the body parts of your patient, but focus on the matter at hand. That’s the mantra! Stray away from remarks about your subject’s love life. Don’t be creepy!”
What is the sexual energy like during the shoot?
A creator of work that is inspired by modern and contemporary artists, the likes of Saul Leiter, Alexander McQueen, Helmut Newton, Salvador Dali, Shivaji’s work reflects a very welcome contrast. A true professional, he laughs off the thought of anyone assuming there’s any sexual energy during the shoot. “Do you have sexual intimacy with your sabjiwala (vegetable vendor)? No, right? The same rules apply here.” Giving us a peek into his world, Shivaji says the idea of a boudoir shoot is to make it seem like it is intimate. “But in reality, it is solely two people working together to create something.”
Is there intimacy post the shoot?
“Nudity does not mean eroticism. Hardcore erotica is a completely different area; boudoir and nude photography have nothing to do with it. If you spoke to someone in an everyday situation, you wouldn’t feel any sexual tension immediately. There isn’t scope for anything of that nature if you concentrate on your work.”
Is boudoir contributing to the voice of feminism?
Transitioning from traditional patriarchal fantasy, and moving to the freedom of sexual expression, boudoir is breaking barriers. A symbol of body acceptance and female empowerment, this art celebrates the bodies of women at every level. “In India, we see the suppression of the sexuality of women. Boudoir paves the way for a better future and beats the negativity that emerges from this suppression,” says Shivaji.
“We often witness a vicious cycle where women are suppressed and the more this happens, the more violent men become, and the worse the situation gets. This needs to be broken. Boudoir is a simple, healthy form of art that allows feminine sexuality to be expressed in a safe way without being ridiculed.” As far as boudoir contributing to strengthening feminism, Shivaji encourages the thought. “Through boudoir, we aim to bring out feminine sexuality on the same level as its male counterpart. The latter is expressed to a great degree in all spheres of life, be it films, or advertisements, or shows, or just about anything. No one sheds any light on a woman’s needs, as it is often a subject of discomfort. Boudoir is a step in the right direction.”
How did you skim your way through the most controversial shoot you’ve done?
Shivaji tells us of a funny incident where he’d been liaising with a professional sex worker for a shoot. The two decided to do some shots, and he met her at her apartment. “When we began shooting, however, something wasn’t right. When I’d shoot a pose, she wouldn’t like it, and when she’d suggest an idea, I wouldn’t. After this 2 hour ordeal and having not gotten any shots which we both agreed upon, we called it a day.”
It was only later while chatting over a cup of tea that they figured a miscommunication was the result of the whole confusion. “While I thought she wanted bad sexy pictures (which are not usually up to my taste), turns out she’d wanted pictures that bore a resemblance to my actual way of work. It was definitely awkward when we figured this out, but well, we shot later and it turned out great.”
What’s on your mind when behind the camera?
We’ve often been intrigued by life behind the lens as a boudoir photographer. We asked Shivaji what goes on in his mind when capturing shots of someone in seductive poses and he answers “The only three things that occupy my mind space would be light, the expressions of my subject, and ways to make them comfortable.”
What would you like to change in boudoir photography?
A boudoir wiz, Shivaji is a name to reckon with. Deep lit up colours which otherwise go unnoticed, loud and imploding silences in his pictures speak volumes of his perception of the world as a storyteller. Giving us a window into his perception of beauty and its intricacies in the visual arts, he says there is scope for betterment in this niche of photography. “I’d urge those getting into boudoir, to understand the meaning of it. From being a woman’s private room, people have twisted the meaning into lingerie and being naked and it has lost its meaning.” He reinforces that the idea of this sacred form of photography comes from something that is private to women and that men should not have access to. People should research well and communicate with the person they are shooting.
“I wish to change the idea of boudoir being something bad or dirty. There are women abroad who have kids and a family, and it is a very normal thing to gift their partner a boudoir shoot. It can be a great anniversary gift. I would like to imagine a Hallmark card with a boudoir shoot picture on the front. Sex and skin is a taboo in India, which needs to be changed.”
How do you draw the line between slutty and erotic?
“I'm not supposed to draw the line. If someone wants to be slutty, or provocative, or erotic, they have the freedom to do so. There shouldn’t be a line.” This mastermind says as long as the person creating the piece of art knows what they’re trying to do, it’s fine.
“The real problem takes shape when someone tries to portray something, but it comes off as something else. To the list of ‘erotic, provocative, slutty’, add ‘sanskari’ too. After all, these are all expressions of what the person believes in.”
Shivaji Storm Sen has created some refreshing editorials for Femina, Grazia and The Week. His list of celebrity subjects includes names such as Kalki Koechlin, Vicky Kaushal, Richa Chadda, etc. If you’d like to be an addition to the list, you can contact him on @shivajistormsen on Instagram.