GRANT HILL / BOUDOIR
Writing and photography by Grant Hill
Bayliss Hall - 2024
Stephanie Okun 2022
Boudoir photoshoots are a vulnerable space for every individual involved in the creative process. Therefore, it’s of the utmost importance that everyone present in the space is an active participant of shoot planning and holds the belief that mutual-respect is the core axiom of everything being done during the creative journey of the shoot. Too frequently, models’ comfort and feelings are not considered in the creative process of photoshoots and this is often a photographer’s fatal flaw in trying to create a good image by using too much control.
My first shoot was with a friend who had been experiencing body-image issues and wanted a confidence boost. Having dealt with similar issues myself, I was quick to take them up on their request.
Despite being thinner now, when I was 13 years old I settled in around 200-210 pounds standing at five-foot seven-inches. After being sidelined following a significant surgery during my Freshman year of highschool to replace my left foot’s first-metatarsal after the discovery of a tumor, I soon returned to competitive athletics and found a niche in the wrestling community.
Through my time wrestling, I lost about 60lbs of my body weight (which brought me to what was medically considered a “healthier” weight for my height), but was also presented with an interesting dynamic in the wrestling room. This dynamic was that I had gone from being a weight at which I felt unhappy, to then entering a space in which I was consistently surrounded by men with 8-packs and shredded physiques. Was this how I was meant to look? If I wanted to cut 10 pounds of water weight every two weeks, sure! That said, this level of “fitness” outside of the context of a sport which requires it for functionality is asinine. Despite that reality, these are the physiques which are projected to people throughout our communities as “normal” or, if not normal, something to strive for on a daily basis. This point became particularly poignant when, during my Sophomore year abroad in Bologna, Italy, I was confronted with a new standard of beauty for men which contrasted the American “The bigger you are, the sexier, so long as you’re muscular & fit”, and was instead presented with, “You should be extremely fit, muscular, but also thin enough to fit into a small or medium sized ‘thin’ shirt”. That expectation paired with the fact that I was wrestling for and fighting MMA on behalf of Bologna’s city team meant that within the world I was living, the only people I was surrounded with in a context where we would see each other either shirtless or nude were men who trained upwards of 7 hours a day and maintained strict diets for their respective competitive pursuits in athletics.
The physique was the byproduct, not the end goal. Fashion Marketing very frequently misses the point on this fundamental truth of thinner physiques, and leaves those that don’t have time to exercise all day or the resources to eat extremely healthy organic diets out on the fray of the space which has been created for the modeling world. Luckily this fray is thinning and drawing more bodies in closer to mainstream acceptance. It took me a long time to understand that even though I didn’t look like the men I competed with, I didn’t have to. When these types of mental distortions get created within one’s personal frame of reference, they take a very long time to break out of. At least they did for me. Photography, particularly boudoir and fashion photography, have allowed me the ability and the space to have the conversations with open minded creatives and models which deconstructed those old beliefs and created an understanding that every single person on the planet has something gorgeously gentle about their being which is beautiful; worth being loved, appreciated, and captured.
This love and appreciation does not stem “regardless” of an individual’s differences, but instead because of them. It then becomes the photographer's responsibility to listen to the model to find out what this particular difference is, and to capture it in a way which communicates the subject’s beauty and grace effectively. This sentiment lays the foundation for my photography.