Behind the inconspicuous turquoise door of 666 Photography lie all manner of wonders – a giant seahorse, a life-size lion, rows of wigs and piles of brushes and make up, all peeking out from behind vintage brocade chaises and chairs.
The studio has the air of a forgotten circus or a magician’s lair, which perhaps is not too far from the truth. With deft hands and an eye for the darkly beautiful, photographer Gayla Partridge and make-up artist Lisa Naeyaert transform the average and the not-so average woman into retro pinup models, complete with costumes and themed scenery.
“Our whole goal is to make a woman feel more beautiful than she ever has,” says Partridge. “Pinup sort of does that without being sleazy or too provocative, but provocative enough to make the woman feel beautiful. It’s such a self-esteem booster.”
From coquettish, to glam, to downright hot, the women in Partridge’s photos exude strength and poise in addition to an innate sensuality.
“A lot of the women we shoot are really curvy and have real shape. To me, it’s more feminine than a lot of the Maxim/Playboy kind of stuff,” Naeyaert shares.
“There’s so many interesting people — that’s one of the reasons we do this,” Partridge says. “You never know really who’s coming through the door. We’ve had everyone from burlesque stars to your average mom, and they are each really interesting in their own way.”
Though Partridge has been working in the pinup genre for more than eight years, a lot of her recent work goes beyond recreating the classic pinup looks, reaching instead toward the avant garde. Partridge and Naeyaert often create their own costumes and props for the more high-concept photoshoots. The duo have handmade everything from five-foot tall mushrooms to eight-foot tall ostriches.
“We’re definitely retro or vintage oriented, but we’re not pinup exclusive,” Partridge says. “We don’t necessarily fit in pinup anymore. We don’t really fit in anywhere, but we kind of fit in everywhere. We’re not really confined to any particular genre.”
Their clients all have their own reasons for coming to the studio, but typically, Partridge explains, the women they photograph fall into one of two categories.
“Some women come for themselves to sort of claim their own sexuality – the other group take photos for someone else. So regardless of why they’re coming, for the most part it is tied to love of someone else or love of themselves,” Partridge says.
Regardless of their reasons for coming, Naeyaert has noticed that once their clients cross the threshold of that turquoise door, inhibitions tend to fall away.
“The women, when they take the photos on set – they turn into different people,” Naeyaert says. “By the time we start shooting, they’ve usually forgotten whatever problems they have in their lives. They get to act, to be flirtatious, and they know the photos will be tasteful.”
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