By Red Light Girl Mary
WHEN SHE started using everyday women as models in photographs of the clothing she was selling online, Carmel Valley resident Brandalyn Rexeen didn’t realize the effect it would have on them.
Now, a few years and more than 200 ladies later, she’s made photography her career and is responsible for a net- work of women who not only have become more comfortable with their bodies, but who support each other in various aspects of their lives, whether work, relationships, illness or family.
“When I started out, I didn’t want the photos provided by the clothing manufacturers; I wanted to use photos that were a realistic depiction of the clothes on real women,” she explained.
Her models, mostly friends and friends of friends, and many more who would become her friends, ranged widely in appearance and size. “And it turned out my photos made these women feel really good about themselves.”
While also working for a local charter airplane company and raising her family, Rexeen, 35, is no longer in the busi-
ness of selling clothing, but does about 10 photo shoots each month, sometimes more.
“It never ends,” she said. “But 90 percent of the time, I’m meeting friends and we’re having fun.”
After choosing a time and place for a photo shoot, Rexeen and her subject spend a couple of hours together, photo- graphing in various locations, outfits and poses. The woman brings items from her own closet, and anything goes, from evening gowns, to lingerie.
From the dozens of raw images that result, Rexeen selects her five favorites for refining. More of an artist than a jour- nalistic photographer, she uses various filters and other tools of the trade to produce striking images.
But she doesn’t airbrush away flaws or use computer tricks to change their bodies into those of supermodels.
“I don’t alter their bodies — I just know how to work angles,” she said. “I tell the girls, ‘Don’t hide your stomach. I’m going to dance around you; I’m going to find what angle is your best angle.’”
While a few of the Red Light Girls — that’s what the women she’s photographed are called — have attended as many as 20 different shoots over the years, many of them
have posed with her once or twice. She’s getting more new- comers all the time, too.
“Most women reaching out to me always start a conversa- tion with pointing out their insecurities about their bodies,” she observed. “I understand why they do this — they are about to go out of their element of comfort and be pho- tographed for others to see, to be judged or critiqued.”
But, she said, after getting through the first few shots, things change. Rexeen helps the women sort through their clothes to come up with the best looks for the day. Once they begin shooting, the women relax and let go of their worries about body image, “quickly realizing they are joining a group of women and supporters who do not judge or critique their photos, but praise and support them,” she said. “I have photographed women in all stages of cancer, paralyzed, mul- tiple sclerosis, stretch marks, scars, extra skin, cellulite, vari- cose veins, all body types and ages.”
The people who see the results on her www.redlight- shoppe.com website, on her Facebook page and hanging on the walls in the subjects’ homes “appreciate seeing uncon- ventional bodies,” she said.
‘I feel pretty’
For many, a photo shoot means stepping not only out of their comfort zones, but out of their daily lives, and Rexeen said she respects their privacy. “They’re not models — they don’t want to be found,” she said.
Ashley DiCarli was encouraged by a friend who was one of the earliest Red Light Girls.
“She had been trying to get me to take pictures for years, and I always made up excuses of why I could not do it. When I finally decided to take pictures, it was because I needed to,” she said. “I needed something to make me feel and see that I was beautiful.”
The pair spent half a day together, and DiCarli said it was like being with an old friend.
“The photography alone with Brandy makes you feel like you are the most beautiful creature to walk the planet,” she said. “She is a genius behind and in front of the lens.”
Carmel business owner Colleen Logan, who had a session with Rexeen in Carmel Valley in late August, said the expe- rience changed her.
“I was very nervous before the shoot started and feel self- conscious getting photographed,” she said. “Brandalyn’s passion for what she does, and her wholehearted ability to see the best parts of a woman, made me feel comfortable.”
And the feeling stuck with her. “For days afterward, I felt transformed and empowered, like I could do anything I choose,” she said. “I still feel more powerful, a month or more after the shoot.”
While Rexeen charges $140 to $200 for the photography sessions, she holds several “appreciation shoots” every year, inviting all Red Light Girls to participate. Each receives one photo, and every shoot has a different theme.
“The Halloween and Christmas appreciation shoots are the most popular,” she noted. But she’s also held sessions focusing on head shots, “senior portraits,” and faux album covers, and they usually take on the atmosphere of a party as the women who are waiting for their turns in front of the cam- era sit and chat with each other.
“I wanted to give something back to them for free, so they know they’re not ‘clients’ — that I appreciate them and they’re a group of women who are absolutely amazing,” she said.