Baring her lens

Rebecca Sigala uses boudoir photography as a platform for women’s empowerment.

At a bridal boudoir session in Tel Aviv, Rebecca Sigala uses one of her favorite film cameras, a Hasselblad (photo credit: REBECCA SIGALA)
At a bridal boudoir session in Tel Aviv, Rebecca Sigala uses one of her favorite film cameras, a Hasselblad
(photo credit: REBECCA SIGALA)
Rebecca Sigala grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota in a traditional Jewish family; not particularly religious, but very Zionist and proud of their heritage. She always wanted to visit Israel, but never dreamed she would actually live there. After high school, she became more curious about Judaism through Partners in Torah, an organization that arranges havrutas and she began learning.
Through that experience, Sigala became inspired to come to Israel on a gap year.
She attended Sha’arei Bina seminary in Safed. “It’s a spiritual, off-the-beaten-path seminary, but the rabbi and rebbetzin who run it are very hassidish,” she says.
It was in that same year that Sigala met her husband, Yehoshua. When the two started dating, he mentioned that his plan was to join the army and live in Israel.
While Sigala fell in love with Israel during that year, her plan was to attend fashion school in Los Angeles, where she had received a scholarship by winning a national competition. Despite divergent ideas of what the future might hold, the couple got married the following year. They moved to LA for a few months and then made aliya in 2009, with Sigala realizing that her dream of going to fashion school was not as powerful as the dream to live in Israel.
“With our wedding money, my husband went out and bought a professional camera,” she says. “He had a good eye and had played around with film cameras for years, but it seemed like just an expensive hobby. He started documenting things. We lived in Safed at the time.
We’re both very creative people; I was always into writing and art; in high school I started a fashion club where we did shows for charity. We worked in the art galleries in Safed for a while and then my husband started getting more into photography and shot a few events. I decided that I wanted to take on the business side of things. So I did all the marketing and also helped style shoots.”
THE TURNING point came when the couple decided to move to Jerusalem to make their business more viable. After that, Sigala began studying photography herself and taking it more seriously. She learned from Yehoshua and also from courses online.
They are both self-taught. She eventually gained enough confidence to shoot a wedding alongside her husband, where she was the third shooter. They began to gel as a photographic team with complementary visions and values.
“I’m very hands-on, so it was a lot of trial and error at first,” Sigala recalls. “I was pretty comfortable with photography from the beginning. I like to feel confident in what I’m doing and be prepared.
With that first wedding, I didn’t have pressure on me because I wasn’t the lead photographer, so I could kind of do my thing while also trying to learn for professional purposes. I was excited; I don’t think I was nervous. With weddings, there is so much happening. My husband is super laid-back. He takes the leads for weddings, even now. As the years have gone on, I’ve taken on some of his traits and he’s taken on some of mine. He’s a little more assertive and I’m a little more laid-back. It’s a perfect combination for weddings. We’ve been doing it for seven years now and I feel like we really have it down.”
Sigala and her husband believe they are the only husband-and-wife team shooting wedding photography in Israel.
Being self-taught, she is always looking for new courses and articles online.
One day about five years ago, she came across the genre of boudoir photography; an intimate style of shooting where women wear lingerie or underwear, or sometimes nothing at all. She started with both glamour and boudoir photography, but quickly narrowed her focus solely to boudoir. She thought it was a lot of fun, and being very feminine herself, connected to the way it celebrated femininity and the female body. After her first successful test shoot, she decided to launch a business page. Immediately, people began inquiring about sessions.
“One of my first boudoir sessions was really interesting because the client was super shy,” she relates. “She couldn’t even look into the camera. We started out with shots outside, fully clothed, and I thought maybe we would do boudoir if she felt comfortable. As the session went on, she got more and more comfortable and she ended up doing boudoir fully nude. She had a really good time and opened up. When I delivered her pictures to her, she was crying and asked if it was really her. I said of course it was.
She asked how much I used Photoshop. I responded that I hardly used it at all. She said that she had never felt like a woman before that day. That was the moment where I realized that this is something that’s really meaningful and important, and can help women feel good about themselves. I started to gear my business toward empowering women and helping them feel more confident about themselves and their bodies, exactly as they are. It’s something I really deeply value.
It’s become my life’s purpose.”
SIGALA HAS been shooting boudoir photography for over four years now. Lately, she has been doing more and more sessions with pregnant women. As she shows more maternity boudoir on her website and Instagram account, women see it and find it exciting. She finds that the pregnant boudoir shoots bring forth a different kind of energy; one of expectation, power, and woman as life-giver.
“It’s such a special time of waiting for something so big to happen,” she says.
“Some clients are hesitant because maybe they’re bloated or for whatever reason they don’t think they look sexy, but no one who has decided to do it has ever regretted it. It’s an opportunity for them to give time to themselves and embrace the body as it changes. I photograph all women in all phases of life. My oldest client so far was 69.”
She has done boudoir shoots with women who battled cancer or are in treatment, those who went through a divorce and those who survived abuse.
These women want to be part of a boudoir shoot in order to reconnect with themselves and their bodies, and to feel beautiful. Many of her clients are celebrating either the beginning or the culmination of a journey, and the boudoir shoot is the proverbial cherry on top.
She recently photographed a woman named Alona, who survived cancer, through an organization called Twist Out Cancer that has a program called Brushes with Cancer. The program focuses on healing through the creative arts. It has shows throughout America, where it connects artists with someone who has battled cancer. Over a six-month period, they get to know one another, and finally create a piece together. She was paired with Alona after she had just done her first boudoir shoot with a woman who had reconstructive surgery on her breast.
Sigala describes the experience as spiritual and exciting. She knew it was something she wanted to continue to pursue, and her work with Alona ended up being a gift for both of them. For women who feel detached from their bodies, a boudoir shoot can change their whole perspective and the way they walk through the world in an incredibly positive way.
At the end of six months, a few photos from her shoot with Alona were chosen and auctioned off for charity.
“It was such an amazing experience and I learned so much from it,” Sigala shares. “There was laughter and tears; it was revolutionary. I was so happy to be able to give Alona that experience. She said before we met, she couldn’t look at herself in the mirror. She’s such a beautiful and vivacious woman, but we don’t know the struggles that people go through. Every woman has insecurities about her body. Unfortunately, we live in a society where there is so much pressure. It’s always something that we have to overcome and work on in our train of thought. It’s something that I’m helping women with, in terms of body image, helping them see themselves in a different light.”
Sigala had another client, Leia Rosenzweig, who was open and excited about her boudoir shoot being shared publicly. Rosenzweig had gastric sleeve surgery after feeling like an outcast for many years because of her size and struggling with her weight and self-image.
Having the surgery and changing the way she thinks about herself from an internal place was vital. For Rosenzweig, the boudoir session was something extremely cathartic and empowering. She even came and spoke at one of Sigala’s workshops afterward.
ALTHOUGH SOME clients are open to the shoots being shared publicly, Sigala assumes going into a shoot that most women will not want their shoots shared online. Unless written or verbal consent is given, all boudoir shoots remain private. Her Instagram and website are both public, as well as the Sigala Photography Facebook page. But there is a private Facebook for women only that currently boasts 3,659 members. The group is completely secret; unable to be found even by searching for it. The privacy has helped create a space where women inspire each other, share body-positive things, ask questions, give advice and share pictures that they wouldn’t share publicly. She feels very grateful for how much engagement and activity there is in the group.
In the future, she would love to travel and photograph more women who have had brushes with cancer, or other struggles; women whose stories are too often left untold.
“I call myself a self-love activist and I’m working on creating more of a platform for that,” she adds. “I spoke at Limmud in Finland and Latvia in the past couple of years about boudoir, body image, and sexuality in Judaism. I love speaking and meeting people. I want to be more of an online influencer, do more speaking, and create more inspiration for people to gravitate toward self-compassion and selflove.
Doing what I do brings me back to a place where I’m working on myself and focusing on self-care – not just bubble baths and drinking wine, but taking care of myself on a soul level. Especially as mothers and professionals, and all these other obligations that we have as women, we need to find the time for that.
“I want to reach more women and spread the word. The way I approach boudoir photography is by celebrating my client’s body rather than objectifying it. We’re celebrating their womanhood, femininity, and sexuality. It is very sensual, but it’s a celebration of who they are and peeling away the layers to bring forth something that’s more authentic and vulnerable.”
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