When Jessica Hunt received her first camera as a 16th birthday gift, she did not know that this hobby would later develop into a full-time photography business with a reputation for inclusivity and empowerment.
Years later, Hunt is now the founder and principal photographer of the local Columbia business, Jessica Hunt Photography.
Hunt has distinguished herself as a prominent wedding and couples photographer through many client testimonials and a diverse portfolio since founding her business in 2015.
Throughout her time as a wedding photographer, Hunt often received boudoir photography requests from people who wanted to give their partners a gift on their big day. In seeing the demand for this intimate style, Hunt opened a studio dedicated to boudoir photography as an additional service in 2021.
“I fell in love with that intimacy of what we can share when someone’s being photographed that way, and just that true fulfillment that I receive as an artist and photographer to make people feel really, really good,” Hunt said.
Described as a “sexy photoshoot” by Hunt’s long-term client and marketing model Lamaria Jamison (they/them), boudoir photography typically involves lingerie, sensual poses and a focus on expression. For Jamison, Hunt's shoots allow them to have time to focus fully on themselves.
"You get to be totally self-absorbed. You get to be as selfish as you want to be for those couple of hours," Jamison said.
There were limited options for boudoir photography in Columbia until Hunt opened a studio on Calhoun Street in 2021 that was specifically designed for boudoir clients.
In April 2022, Hunt relocated to Five Points. She said she is grateful to be the one filling a gap in the city's photography scene. She believes that feeling beautiful should be accessible to all.
“I feel if you are a person, and you have a body, boudoir is perfect for you,” Hunt said.
Having dealt with her own body insecurities, Hunt built her business on the pillars of empowerment and inclusivity. She said every client deserves the right to feel beautiful in their own skin and should not force a certain look for their shoot.
“I have based the brand around my values of everyone deserves to feel good in the vessel that they have,” Hunt said.
Antonia Scott Wideman, who provides pre-shoot makeup services to most of Hunt’s boudoir clients, attested to Hunt’s focus on serving everyone. Wideman ensures that each client is comfortable and confident with their appearance so they can shine during their session.
“My role is to make her clients feel their most beautiful however they see that fit,” Wideman said. “Whether that is someone that does not want to wear foundation … or someone that’s like ‘Yeah girl, I want full glam, hook me up.'"
While Hunt's endeavors have been largely rewarding for her, she said she is no stranger to critical comments about her work. Some have said that boudoir is inappropriate, too revealing or should be left off social media.
Hunt attributes the backlash to society’s connection between boudoir and sex. She said that these concepts are not synonymous and is a firm believer that nude bodies are not inherently sexual. According to Hunt, only clients should determine the extent of intimacy associated with their photos.
“I try to encourage people to see (boudoir) as a celebration of someone and a celebration of how they feel about themselves,” Hunt said. “I try to really, when I have that conversation, push back on the idea that it’s not appropriate because everyone gets to make their own choices for their body.”
Hunt uses these critiques as a teaching moment to disprove boudoir stereotypes. One common misconception is that boudoir is only for women, but Hunt said this could not be further from the truth. She said that everyone deserves the opportunity to get behind the camera, as men, especially, tend to shy away from boudoir due to societal stigma.
“Men, or male-identified people, are not encouraged to take photos of themselves and feel beautiful and celebrate themselves in the same way that our culture encourages female-identifying folks to do,” Hunt said.
To further promote inclusivity, Hunt features a range of identities on her website and social media platforms to reach marginalized groups who may feel unwelcome by the industry.
Jamison, who is Black and identifies as non-binary and queer, said Hunt has crafted a comfortable space that makes them feel at home.
“I don’t really think that the original, typical image of boudoir presents a person like me. You’re usually going to see a thin body model, white woman,” Jamison said. “So I love the inclusivity that (Hunt) works hard to present in her business practice, and (I’m) also really proud to be a part of that.”
Although Hunt enjoys being a businesswoman, the emotions of working with clients mean more to her than the title itself. She said that making people feel beautiful on a daily basis is the highlight of her life, and she is grateful that all of the trials and errors have led her here.
“Of course, everyone runs a business so they can pay their bills and support their families and their lives," Hunt said. "But at the end of the day, I kind of get to go to sleep as an artist with a happy and restful soul, kind of invigorated because I know I’m creating something that's really special for people.”