The Bowmans are boudoir photographers
Tessa Marie’s long legs were reflected in the hardwood floor as she crossed the living room to stand in front of gauzy white curtains drawn over French doors. The afternoon sunlight filtered through, creating a halo around the dark tumble of her hair where it fell to meet slender shoulders left bare above the gray cardigan she wore with teal panties.
“Now cross your legs at the ankle and turn your head to the side so I can see your profile,” said Kristi Bowman, absently holding her camera in one hand.
As Kristi demonstrated the pose, her husband, John, busied himself with the settings on his own camera. Once Tessa was in position, the pair trained their cameras on her again and began snapping more photos.
This scene is typical of a weekday afternoon in the Bowman residence, which doubles as a studio for their boudoir photography business. But this wasn’t always the case. Before the recession hit, the Bowmans lived in a suburb of Salt Lake City, where they both worked in real estate—John as a land developer and Kristi as a realtor.
“After our fourth baby, I decided to stay home, and we got a really nice camera to take on vacation with us,” Kristi said. “While we were there, we were taking just tons of pictures. Since I was at home with our baby, I thought ’Maybe I can do this on the side?’”
Kristi began taking family photos and portraits professionally in late 2007. When John got laid off six months later, he started helping her with accounting and marketing for her business.
“About that same time, we were just doing pictures of kids and families and stuff,” Kristi recalled. “Well, I went and had my [boudoir] pictures done as a gift for him, and I had to fly to California to get it done. And it was just a guy photographer, and there was like no place for me to change. So that part was really awkward, but I came away from it feeling so good about myself. I just felt confident. It gave me confidence. And I wanted every woman to feel that way … and especially in Utah—I just felt like women really needed it there.”
According to the Bowmans, boudoir photography is big business in Utah. Among the Mormon community, members often have boudoir shoots done as a part of the church’s tenets on nurturing the marital relationship. When the Bowmans decided to leave Utah in 2009, they did so for their family, not their business.
“We were both born and raised in Utah, and I didn’t grow up in the church,” Kristi explained. “I was kind of like always an outsider because of that, and our kids were getting a little older, and I didn’t want them to experience the same kind of outcast treatment that I got, and Reno was far enough away that we got a completely different environment, yet close enough that we could still go and see family but be out of Utah.”
“There, if you buy a bottle of wine, you hide it,” John said. “Here, people carry it around like it’s a baby. … It’s just the complete opposite culture.”
According the Bowmans, the culture of Reno works well with their business. They’re busy, with an average of about 10 photo shoots per week. The entire downstairs area of their large home in northwest Reno has been converted into a studio space. Tall shelves stuffed with plush blankets line the walls. A room off the kitchen serves as a changing area and storage space for props, backdrops and camera equipment.
The business is expanding in scope as well. Mixed in with the sexy trappings for boudoir shoots are props for newborn and first birthday photography, which now accounts for nearly a third of the Bowmans’ business. Hooks loaded with baby headbands and other hair accessories hang from the breakfast bar between the kitchen and living room. And John has built new props for newborn shoots, including large bird nests with soft, fleece linings and a dreamcatcher that cradles babies (a bit like a hammock).
“I think people are like, ’That’s kind of weird—newborns and naked ladies,’” Kristi said. “You know what I mean, like it’s so weird. But one seriously leads to the other. So many times, they come back like a year later and they’re pregnant.”
But it’s not just women of childbearing age who come in for boudoir shoots. The Bowmans see plenty of older women too. (Their oldest client so far was 74.) Men, on the other hand, are rare customers at any age. According to Kristi, while only a handful have come in for sessions, there was a time when she used to receive a lot of calls from men.
“They were always creeps, because they’d be like, ’Um, I really want to take naked pictures of me outside by a public swimming pool’ or, ’I need some dick pics for my dating site. Can you do those for me?’ Just idiots,” she said.
Another change to the business came about a year and a half ago when John started taking photos alongside Kristi during boudoir shoots.
“We have such a different style of shooting that it’s almost like having two completely—well, it is—two different photographers with totally different styles,” Kristi said. “So our clients get both, and it’s really cool.”
Are the clients comfortable posing in their skivvies with John present? According to the Bowmans, for the most part, they are.
“We wouldn’t have this quality of photo if it was just one person,” John said. “You can’t do it, and so I think the energy is just—I’m just here and I’m busy and I’m doing my job. So, I’m not looking at you. I’m not just sitting around, and so even the ones who are nervous with me, they get completely not nervous. Some that are really kind of offended that I’m here, they just love me in the end.”
All photo shoots cost $150. The Bowmans sell photo albums, calendars and digital files—with reprint rights—a la carte.