Brazil-born boudoir photographer Waneska Valois directs intimate shoots in her studio in Dublin’s Temple Bar, and says Irish women have grown in confidence
“I came to Ireland in 2008 to study English. I only planned to come for a year but then I met my Irish boyfriend and decided to stay on.
I used to be a general photographer, working on family portraits, weddings and products. But then I reached a point in my life where I was bored of everything, especially the weddings.
I hit a wall and went into a kind of depression, so I tried to motivate myself with online research and workshops. That’s when I discovered boudoir photography.
A few weeks later, I did an online workshop with a boudoir photographer in the US. I remember her saying that the best part is when you show the woman the photos at the end of the shoot and you see the sparkle in her eyes. When I heard that, I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do’. It just clicked.
From that point on, I started asking all of my friends and family to wear lingerie so I could practise.
When I was photographing my sister-in-law, I was very quiet. I was thinking about the pose, the light, the settings and all that kind of stuff.
Afterwards, she came back to me and said, ‘Waneska, when you didn’t talk to me, I felt like I was doing something wrong; I felt very vulnerable and started thinking, why am I wearing lingerie and why am I doing this?’.
After that, I started talking throughout the shoot and directing clients the whole time. I talk to them about general stuff, just to get their mind away from what they are doing.
My first paying customer was scary — and also thrilling. I thought, ‘Somebody really wants to pay for my work! Oh my gosh, I can make a living just by doing this’.
That client was Brazilian and she loved the experience so much that she posted the photos on a private Facebook group, along with a really emotional testimonial. From that day on, it rained Brazilian girls!
In the beginning, most of my clients were Brazilian because there is a big community here, but nowadays my clients are 95pc Irish.
The majority of women come for themselves to celebrate a big birthday. There are also a good number of women who buy the experience for their friends. And then brides come in before their wedding with their bridal lingerie, bouquet and veil. We create an album that they give to their partner on the morning of the wedding.
I have a styling guide that I send to clients before the shoot. I tell them to bring five or six outfits and then, when they come to the studio, I give my opinion and we choose three or four of them.
Some women like to wear really sexy lingerie with stockings and high heels, and some women prefer to wear a plain white T-shirt. It depends a lot on the personality.
I have some key poses that always work, regardless of body shape or size. For example, lying on the bed or the floor and then curving your back to make an arch. Lying-down poses are the favourite for a lot of women because they don’t want to show their bellies. And then I always try some risqué poses, just to mix in.
At the end, I ask if they’d like to do some implied nudes and about 60pc of clients say yes. Some of them admit that they were hoping to pose nude but they didn’t have the courage to ask.
I have male clients too and they get a little bit more nervous than women. Sometimes they get scared that they might get too excited, if you know what I mean. I always make a joke of it and say, ’Think about your grandmother’, so it keeps the experience light and fun.
Women are more likely to open up to me during the shoots. It’s almost like I’m a psychologist, I hear so many stories. I get women who have battled cancer. And I get a lot of women coming out of abusive relationships. When they see the photos, they kind of tear up and say, ‘Do you know what? He was wrong. I’m not what he said I was. I can see now that I’m a beautiful woman’.
In the first few years there were no pregnant women coming to me because they didn’t want to be photographed. But now they do because they can see the importance of it. They still want to feel like a sexy woman, even as they’re growing a bump. Sometimes they bring their partners with them so they can register that moment together.
Other women come in after they’ve had their children. I get so many women in their forties, fifties and sixties who say, ‘I felt like a bump for so long, now I feel like I’m a woman again’.
The photograph, for me, is basically a tool I use to help women take a fresh and empowering look at themselves. I suffered from anorexia when I was a teenager so I know, first-hand, how our mind tricks us and how we women don’t see the reality in the mirror. The photography lets women see themselves through someone else’s eye. I show them what people who love them see, not the little bits they don’t like.
The mindset of Irish women was a big shock to me when I first came to Ireland 12 years ago. I felt Irish women were always thinking about what about people were thinking about them. They were very conscious of other people, all the time.
But today I see empowered women. They want to do whatever they want to do, and they don’t care about what other people think.
When I first started doing this, I would tell my Irish friends what I was doing and they wouldn’t really understand. They’d ask, ‘Why would people do that? What do they do with the photos?’ Now some of them are coming to me for their own boudoir photographs.
My studio has been closed since before Christmas but I have an extensive waiting list, with people buying gifts for friends and vouchers for themselves because they want to have something to look forward to when this [the pandemic] all ends.
A lot of women are saying, ‘I’m going to buy the voucher now because it’s going to keep me motivated to be fit and healthy’ or ‘I need something to look forward to after this’.
It looks like I’m going to be working a lot as soon as the studio reopens — and I can’t wait.”
For more, see boudoir.ie