Crowdfunding – {Un}Inhibited: An Asian Vulva Photo Book

Posted On: September 23, 2018

Because we need more Asian representation in books

About

{Un}Inhibited is the first elaborate vulva photography book focusing Asian vulvas which is designed to educate Asian women about their vulva and its anatomy so that they can understand their body & sexuality better.

A 9×9″ colour photo book, we aim to portray images to at least 20 Asian vulvas with quotable quotes from the interviews, as well as provide educational content on the different parts of the vulva. The full transcript from each interview will be posted on the project website.

WHAT IS THE VULVA?

Your vulva is the part on the outside of your genitals, the clitoris and the labia – which have an inner and outer set of lips. Vulva doesn’t mean anus (bum hole) or your vagina – your vagina is actually inside, leading up to your womb.

WHY A VULVA BOOK?

  1. I have never seen such Asian books and want to create books that can facilitate education, and healing for women;
  2.  I have been asked from Asian clients how Asian genitals looks (as if there’s some wounding around the lack of such images);
  3. Due to resource constraints, we plan to focus on Asian depictions for now and bigger books down the road.
  4. In producing such books, it is not true that we have reduced sexuality to only body parts, and don’t recognise the spirituality of our being/ sexuality. It is the lack of sexual anatomical knowledge that causes some of the sexual difficulties people have.

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 well-established 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 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

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 photo-book 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.

ABOUT MARTHA

Since 2009, Dr. Martha Tara Lee has taken the path less traveled to support individuals and couples to uncover their human potential as a Relationship Counselor and Clinical Sexologist. As an empath and highly sensitive person, she combines intuition, compassion and humor in all her private coaching sessions (over 2,100 to date) and training (with the biggest being 550 people). She holds four degrees includes a doctorate in human sexuality and masters in counseling. She is only certified sexuality educator and certified sexuality educator supervisor by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) in Singapore. In addition, she holds certificates in counselling, coaching and sex therapy. Often cited in the local media, Dr. Lee is the appointed sex expert for Men’s Health Singapore, and Men’s Health Malaysia. She was recognised as one of ‘Top 50 Inspiring Women Under 40′ by Her World in July 2010, and one of ‘Top 100 Inspiring Women’ by CozyCot in March 2011. She has published three books: Love, Sex and Everything In-Between, Orgasmic Yoga, and From Princess to Queen.

 ABOUT KELVIN

Kelvin Lim was born in Singapore in 1971. In 2002, Kelvin left a promising IT career to be a wedding photographer. It was his first taste of life as a full-time artist.

Despite enjoying great popularity and commercial success, Kelvin felt restricted by mass expectations of staged romance and surface beauty, and started questioning the authenticity of his own work. Beneath the gorgeous outfits, backdrops and poses, Kelvin sees a real person – a beauty waiting to be discovered.

Driven by a desire to understand people as unique individuals, Kelvin started photographing people outside weddings. Instead of trying to get that “perfect” shot, he spent his time listening to people, one at a time. In an undecorated studio with plain backdrops and simple lights, Kelvin welcomed people of all race and status – from famous personalities to the common passers-by, from wealthy businessmen to the odd-job worker, from newly-weds to wrinkled old couples, from newborns tasting life, to the terminally ill.

Kelvin’s subjects range beyond paying clients. Besides telling real-life stories of the less-privileged, Kelvin embraces the minorities, the lonely, and communities that conservative society considers taboo. In a career spanning 16 years thus far, he is heavily involved in several humanitarian projects, including:

  • A major project with Home Nursing Foundation, culminating in an island-wide exhibition and a book of portraits of the elderly, and stories on the lives of the poor.
  • An art residency with Exactly Foundation, documenting and telling real-life stories depicting the reality of caregiving in Singapore.
  • An exhibition and a calendar of portraits for Breast Cancer Foundation, celebrating the beauty and courage of breast cancer survivors.

Among Kelvin’s notable achievements was the Best Portrait Photography Award by Singapore Tatler, and being listed among Singapore’s finest services.

Kelvin continues to express beauty through honest conversation and deep listening. In his own words: “We have an opportunity to give back to society every time we photograph someone— anyone. The camera isn’t just a tool to capture the obvious. If we take the time and heart to listen and empathise, we will discover a beauty beneath how people look on the outside. “It’s a wonderful blessing for us, as artists, to have this ability to touch people’s lives.”

Risks and challenges

  • Search for Vulva Models – Our photo shoot began on Friday 17 Aug, and we have to date complete the photography session for six ladies. We aim to focus at least 22 ladies. It has been challenging getting vulva models especially with Malay and Indian women – with a rejection rate of about 50%. Any vulva owners of Asian origin open to being a vulva model are welcomed to contact us.
  • Publisher – We could self-publish this book and may well end up needing to self-publish. However, since the intention of the book is to help more women especially Asian women who wonder how their genitals look, we are looking for an international publisher. We’ve already researched and decided that there is unlikely any publisher in Singapore interested in this project. Any leads will be appreciated.
  • Cost of publishing – While photographer Kelvin Lim and myself (the interviewer/ author) are volunteering our time, we are bracing ourselves for the costs involved in publishing such a book. We have promised each of the models a copy of the book. With printing, bigger quantities will mean a lower cost but we do not relish storing lots of these books.
  • Other series – We are committed to publishing an Asian breast and Asian penis book as part of the series. Any interested models, partners, sponsors, and funders are appreciated.

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