The only thing more unique than Argentina Leyva's line of work is the studio in which she conducts it. A twisted fairytale from the 1800s, it's set above a tall stack of wide, carpeted gray stairs. Ornate swirls of wood carvings dress the creaky room, and pink-curtained windows peer down from a dark balcony above. There's talk of it being a former speakeasy. And a ballroom. It's understandable how a woman can enter this lair of fantasy and be transformed into a seductress – someone completely outside of herself. This is Leyva's world nowadays.
A boudoir photographer, her speciality surrounds making a women feel empowered and look gorgeous – creating dark curves of shadow to hide flaws, and using light as a tool for enhancing assets. I asked Leyva what boudoir photography actually entails. "”Boudoir” is French, and literally means a woman's bed chamber. ”Photography” is Latin, and means painting with light," she said, summing up its essence. About 50% of her clientele are brides-to-be who want a gift for their soon-to-be husband – confident, happy, in top physical form, and ready to put it all out there. The other 50% of individuals are having anniversaries, birthdays, or going through major life events like divorces, and they want to capture it. “Everyone, at one point, wants to feel like a model or actress,” she said. “My job is to pose them in the most flattering way possible.” Leyva almost never touches up an image. She wants to capture her subjects in a natural state, and finds that the studio lighting often provides creamy skin tones and smooth crevices. Plus, her resident makeup artist works wonders.
You’d never guess that Leyva – with her artistic soul – used to be an engineer. A full-scholarship Georgia Tech graduate, she worked in paper engineering for several years, before switching into nuclear engineering. But after a major life event, she knew she wanted a change in every facet of life, including her line of work. Always interested in photography, she picked up a camera, and never looked back. She found that she couldn’t work with still objects; she needed interaction – which led to 12 years as a wedding photographer. One day, a bride-to-be asked her to help shoot a special, private series of photographs for her future husband. One client led to another. And eventually it segued into full-time boudoir photography.
Leyva is likable. A good thing, too, since half of her job entails making her photographic subjects feel comfortable. Upon entering the studio, they receive the full treatment: Hair. Makeup. Wardrobe. Leyva provides a large array of speckled, studded stilettos and lingerie. The makeup artist has her own boudoir photos lining the walls along the steps up to her workspace, in order to put the client’s mind at ease.
Leyva shoots a series of nine photos in the aptly-named “Light Room,” the main studio area, since everyone has a different personal preference for what they best like. And – for the more courageous clients – there’s a pole positioned among the darkness of the “Noir Room” (hidden behind that curtained balcony). “It’s very empowering and sensual, and it makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do,” she said, Which is kind of the point. Women come to Leyva with the hope of creating images that transform them, showing a completely disparate side of themselves. There’s laughter. There’s music. And okay, if there’s too much nervousness, Leyva will allow clients to have one glass of “emergency wine” on the house. But only one.
Her focus is solely on "implied nudes" that draw in the eye and create a mental image, but don't actually reveal anything. Her subjects are always real women. “Only 1% look like [models], and I do not cater to those women,” she said. “All guys love us the way we are – and this is all about us loving ourselves and being confident with our bodies. We all want to but we’re afraid.” Leyva takes that fear and turns it into something beautiful.
Visit www.artofseductionchicago.com to see more of Leyva’s work. Or join the studio from 6-9 p.m. on December 4th for a special cocktail party, fashion show, and broadcast of the Victoria’s Secret runway show. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Filed under: Boudoir Photography