Celeste Jones didn’t set out to make a career of shooting boudoir photography. The Delaware-based Jones has tried her hand (and camera) at many of the usual professional photography focuses, like weddings, babies and families.
But something struck her about this type of photo, typically sensual or erotic in nature and shot for the pleasure of the subject and/or their partners.
“I was looking at boudoir photography and didn’t see many women who looked like me,” she told HuffPost on the phone last week. “I thought maybe Black women just didn’t do these kinds of portraits.”
After shooting a few sessions, however, she realized just how untrue that was. Women started approaching her about setting up shoots, and Jones made creating a space for women ― all women ― in her studio top priority.
“I didn’t want it to be one size fits all,” said Jones, who works alongside hair and makeup artist LaRee Gould to create the visually stunning portraits. “I wanted any woman to look at my photos and say, ‘She did it. I can do it too.’”
It wasn’t long before Jones understood that the boudoir shoots weren’t so much about the photos themselves as they were about the entire experience for both the subject and the photographer.
“It gets deep in there. We’re laughing. Sometimes I have to excuse myself because it’s getting really deep, sharing personal stories, crying,” she said. “When you’re naked in front of someone, there’s a different level of trust.”
Jones told HuffPost the shoots have taught her not only about her clients, but also about Gould and about herself.
“I was telling someone recently it feels like a therapy session. I have a VIP Facebook group for women I photograph ― not just Black women ― but I noticed more Black women are coming to me,” she said. “We’re taught not to tell people our business, so it’s always interesting to see women who feel comfortable and trust me enough to share. It’s been a blessing. None of it feels like work.”
Jones has developed special relationships with all of her clients, staying in touch long after the shoot. Clients like Tracy Stewart, who posed for Jones to celebrate her 50th birthday and told HuffPost she felt like “Beyoncé must feel on a Tuesday” during her session.
“I was approaching a milestone birthday and I’ve been on a healing journey,” Stewart said. “The photo shoot was my way of embracing all of who I am. As a single 50-year-old, I am often quite critical of myself. You know, the world says there must be something wrong with me. After that shoot and the work I’ve been doing on myself, I felt empowered, worthy and enough. I actually changed my perspective from feeling sorry for myself for being single. Now I feel sorry for all the humans who don’t get to experience life with me. It’s their loss ― I am pretty damn awesome.”
It’s experiences like Stewart’s that Jones is so grateful for.
“It’s definitely made me a better person,” the photographer said. “It makes me feel like I’m actually doing something beneficial. It’s about touching people’s lives and making them feel better about themselves.”