A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR DR MARTHA
I’ve been practising as the only Singaporean Chinese Clinical Sexologist with a doctorate in human sexuality in Singapore since April 2009. When I was in sex school (Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality), I was embarrassed to admit to myself (and to my classmates) that even though I am comfortable with my body and with expressing my sexuality – I didn’t know what “vulva” referred to, was confused between Vagina and Vulva, and knew even less about the diﬀerent parts of the female sexual anatomy.
It took me eight attempts researching numerous online websites, books, and various other resources to begin to make sense of all the diﬀerent parts of the anatomy. What’s so confusing, you might ask? Well, for starters: there are not three “holes” (vagina, anus, and urethra) in the vulva (external female sex organs). The vulva includes the mons pubis, labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, vestibular bulbs, vulval vestibule, urinary meatus, the vaginal opening, and Bartholin’s and Skene’s vestibular glands. One can visibly see seven “holes” if they knew where to look (Bartholin’s and Skene’s vestibular glands). What had added to my confusion was that there wasn’t a single anatomical diagram I could ﬁnd that named every single part of the vulva!
If I was confused, there must be others who are too! I came across the seminal vulva photography book Petals by Dr. Nick Karras (USA) – capturing the variation and beauty that each woman possesses in sepia. Led by my intent to better support others, I started collecting vulva photography books around the world as a possible resource for my future clients. They include: I’ll Show You Mine (Canada), and Heart of the Flower (Australia). I liked parts of, and disliked parts of each of these books.
Yet none of these books stated the ethnicity of the vulva owner – by not making it a race thing, it didn’t answer one fundamental question: “Do I look diﬀerent “down there” to other women like me?” I wanted a better vulva photography (and being Asian, an Asian) book! This was the same question my clients, especially my Asian female clients with Vaginismus (a condition where penetrative sex is diﬃcult or impossible – usually due to fear of pain) asked – what is common or normal, and how am I diﬀerent? I had no answer as we poured through these books together.
Over the years, the desire to publish such a vulva book never left me. I explored with diﬀerent photographers in Singapore but did not ﬁnd anybody I could work with. Until Kelvin Lim introduced himself via e-mail.
Before we arranged to meet, I looked him up and understood he was a seasoned and wellestablished portrait photographer who also does boudoir photography. How does he look like – not sleazy, I decided. When we met, he brought his wife and it was clear that their partnership was a complimentary one. As we explained our work and got to know another through, I ﬁnally shared… my long-time dream of a vulva book. Cautious about whether he is my photographer, “How interested are you to do this?” “200%” was the prompt reply. And so, our work began…
A WORD FROM THE PHOTOGRAPHER KELVIN LIM
Early in my career, I was photographing clients with a highly-speciﬁc, pre-determined set of expectations – what to wear, what backdrop to use, where to shoot, how to pose. Four years on, with a strong portfolio and an established clientele, I began to question the purpose of my work.
Why are people so focused on backdrops and shooting locations? Why are clients so concerned about their outﬁts, their makeup and hair, their poses? Why was I asked to photograph everything but the individual characters themselves, the real people?
I began to ﬁnd ways to simplify my portraits by minimising distractions, and maximising the expression of real feelings. No fancy backdrops or poses, no fancy outﬁts. Without distractions and props, all I had was light, and the person in front of me. The only thing left to do was to start a conversation.
It was through these conversations that I discovered how people really felt. It wasn’t just about getting great-looking shots that look pretty on the outside. When people come for personal portraits, they’re asking, “How do I really look?” “Am I normal, or diﬀerent?” “Can you show me how beautiful I can be?”
It is this emotional bond between a person and her portrait that kept me going for more than 16 years. It was also for this reason that I was drawn to Dr Martha Tara Lee’s work.
When Dr Lee ﬁrst expressed her idea of publishing a vulva book, and described one such photobook showing the diﬀerent forms of female genitalia, I was hesitant. I didn’t want to be involved – again – in something that was simply graphic, decorative, and shallow. However, as she explained what she liked and disliked about each such book she read – how she didn’t want the photographs to be dressed-up in distracting embellishments, how she loved the stories written by the women being photographed – it became clear that we both want something that connects emotionally to the reader. Furthermore, the book will be immensely useful for Dr Lee and many other professionals around the world in handling cases of Vaginismus – a condition which I never thought was so common, until I met Dr Lee and understood the work she does so passionately.
The subject of this book can easily be misunderstood, especially in our Asian culture where the slightest hint of intimacy is considered taboo. But there are real issues – both clinical and emotional – that can be addressed in this project, regardless of race or culture. I cannot be more privileged for the opportunity to contribute to the work of Dr Lee.