The director discusses her latest collaboration with Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
During her junior year at Barnard, Nomi Ellenson took a photography class on a whim. That experience marked the beginning of a fruitful journey toward a career in photography. After graduation, she worked for Getty Images and New York Fashion Week but soon realized that she wanted to make beauty available to everyone. “In photographing Fashion Week, I saw firsthand how limited the scope of beauty was in the industry,” she says. “My photography was perpetuating stereotypes I didn’t agree with or believe in.”
This led to her creation of Boudoir by Nomi, a photography studio based in Brooklyn, New York, and Jamaica that is dedicated to helping clients to find beauty in and acceptance of their bodies. The studio’s Instagram features people of all sizes, shapes, gender identities, ethnicities, and races.
Ellenson recently applied this lens of body awareness to co-authoring I Love My Body Because. “This is a body-positivity and body-awareness book for all genders and is designed for children ages 4 to 8,” she says. “Much of what I communicate to my clients is speaking to their inner child, who is worthy of being told they are beautiful and that their body is a powerful ally.”
What was the impetus for writing a book for children?
So much that I’ve witnessed with my clients, and experienced myself, is cultivated at a young age. We each go from exploration and celebration of how our body grows to disdain and a desire for our body to fit into whatever body trend is occurring. A children’s book grounds my philosophy of what I explore in my photography — the inherent goodness of this physical form in which we move through life. I hope that this book can help shift the dialogue from what our body lacks to a practice of gratitude for what our body enables us to do.
Your work focuses on celebrating the individuality and beauty of each person you photograph. How has your photography influenced the writing of this book?
Since opening my boudoir studio in 2017 and photographing more than 800 women, I’ve found that the power of engaging our eyes, heart, and mind creates the most impact. I’m a visual person, so I most naturally help women feel better about themselves through showing them what I see with my camera. But I also know that the power of words can infiltrate our soul and spirit. I’m hoping that my desire to express this mentality through writing impacts more people — of more ages and all genders — so that we can continue building momentum toward a healthier sense of self.
What role has Barnard played in your writing and your life?
Barnard was where I discovered photography and cultivated my education in psychology. One of my main extracurricular activities was answering calls for Nightline Peer Listening, the anonymous hotline for students to call about issues they were experiencing. Both Nightline and my photography classes taught me the importance of engaging with empathy as a tool for connection and growth. The opportunities I had at Barnard to explore my diverse interests and be surrounded by other women on the path of their intellectual pursuits truly empowered me.
What’s up next for you?
Shelly and I have other book ideas we may pursue. Photography continues to be my most natural tool of self-expression; I am also creating more online content to reach a broader audience. My studio is an entity that will continue to grow with me for the rest of my career and life.