The Art of Arousal

I don’t know the question,

but sex is definitely

the answer.

Woody Allen

Inspiration for my work comes from a variety of art, friends, fans of this blog, as well as the women I photograph who share their enthusiasms. A surprise gift that warmed my winter is this  delightful book that celebrates sex as a powerful creative force. Dr. Ruth Wertheimer’s The Art of Arousal is a collaboration between a serious art historian and a woman who was converted to the religion of art late in life, proving to herself that there is no deadline for pursuing new directions.

Among the features in the book is a favorite painting, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ Odalisque with Slave. Of all Odalisques, I love this for her relaxed and carefree abandon.


Like me, 18th century French painter Jean Honore Fragonard sought to indulge his client’s whims and fantasies. When the baron de Saint Julien commissioned him for a painting of his mistress: “I should like to have you paint Madame on a swing. You will place me in such a way that I would see the legs of this lovely girl.” Fragonard responded, “Ah! Monsieur, it is necessary to add to the essential idea of your picture by making Madame’s shoes fly into the air.”

The mere sight of a décolletage, the nape of a neck, the curve of a woman’s back can give intense and satisfying pleasure. In Admiration, Degas lends humor to the ridiculous positions a voyeur doesn’t mind being in for a glimpse of his goddess of the moment.


Robert Colescott, a contemporary American artist, portrays himself as the great Henri Matisse painting The Dance. Colescott asks the viewer “What if Matisse were a black American and if Matisse’s models were thick of waist, long of leg and with shocking bleached blonde hair, would we consider them beautiful?”


William Wegman is a contemporary artist who dresses up his family of Weimaraners to photograph them in humorous situations, challenging our stereotypes of human behavior. This photo is named after Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Posed as a slinky studio nude, with one leg coyly lifted to suggest s sultry modesty, she bares not one breast but eight. She knows, as does her master, that eroticism is largely in the mind of the beholder.


If my photography isn’t obvious yet, seduction and flirtation are my favorite pets: Longing fueled by chivalrous courtship and restraint. Imagination and playfulness used to stoke desire.  Thoughtful creativity and surprise employed in the pursuit of one’s beloved. Today’s teens would do well to learn the art of conversation in creating an engaging intimate space amidst a crowd. But before you think I’m a prude…

Octave Lassaert’s lithograph Don’t Be Cruel! shows how intimacy provides a safe space for exploring fantasy–or as an exercise in empathy? Here, the woman makes an advance lifting his skirt while he implores her to take it easy.


Above all, I am a romantic so the business of kissing is my favorite subject, next to gazing into the partner’s eyes and tender touching– with clothes on!  The Stolen Kiss painted by Margaret Gerard (Fragonard’s sister in law) tells the urgency of a moment when someone can walk into a situation that should not be.


Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your Valentine gift inspiration.


Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

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Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Winter Blues (and Green)

Real freedom is

being able to not have my way and

still be just as happy as if I did.

Joyce Meyer


I often hear women bemoan their choices that are different and can’t possibly measure up to those who do more or better and lean in a whole lot. What does true freedom mean if we don’t feel liberated to create a life that feels authentic to our own happiness? When we feel compelled to conform to other people’s choices and measures of success? I hear the great advantage of aging is that each passing year brings us closer to the day when we can blaze our trail (or not) without feeling inadequate, defensive or judged.

From Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood:

The phrase “having it all” has little to do with what women want. If anything, it’s a reflection of a widespread and misplaced cultural belief, shared by men and women alike: that we, middle class Americans, have infinite promise and it’s our obligation to exploit every ounce of it. “Having it all” is the phrase of a culture that, as Adam Phillips implies in Missing Out, is tyrannized by the idea of its own potential.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share how you have chosen to be true to your happiness.








Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

When In Rome Again

In Italy,

they add work and life

to food and wine.

Robin Leach


Piazza Navona on a rainy day last visit

After last year’s whirlwind mother-daughter holiday (see posts London with teen and Paris Charms with Teen,) the older brothers realized that traveling with mom need not just be an excuse to get their pesky sister out of the house.  This Spring break, Brother #1 has signed up for his turn to go on  a mother-son rendezvous.

Argentina was first choice because he’s interested in tango (and the pretty ladies that go with it,) but that’s too long a schlep from Boston for a week off. He got all excited over Iceland, but I refuse to  be any place colder in March. Where can he hop on an easy flight to get to relatively mild weather, see art, architecture, and engineering marvels everywhere he turns, while avoiding hordes of tourists? Why, Rome in March, of course!

Audio tours

Before you even start packing, let celebrity guide Rick Steves’ audio tours stoke your imagination and enthusiasm.


A few fun things to do in Rome after you’ve covered the basics:

Rent a Ferrari

This IS Italy! Why not?


photo by Conde Nast Traveler

Ostia Antica

Also known as “The better Pompeii,” Ostia Antica is only 30 minutes North of the Colosseum, compared to Pompeii’s 4 hours South. This used to be the bustling commercial port of Rome when the Romans controlled the Mediterranean. Wandering around the ruins today, you’ll see well-preserved remains of ancient brick structures from docks, bakeries, warehouses, apartments, mansions, shopping arcades, baths and sculptures–a peek at Roman lifestyles 2,000 years ago.

And if your travel companions are allergic to museums, a couple of light and lovely options are:

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

This private mansion off the Piazza Venezia on Via del Corso is also a museum open to the public. An easy walk from the Colosseum past the Typewriter building (aka The Wedding Cake or Il Vittoriano Monument.) I love its rich interiors and their mini version of Versailles’ “Hall of Mirrors.” Listen to the audio guide recorded by a family member of the Doria Pamphilj as you walk through the elegant rooms and art filled halls, pay the extra 5 Euros to tour their more private apartments. Caffe Doria breaks the museum standard fare with its delicious and generous portions for lunch and tea/coffee in old world charm.


photo by Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

Galleria Borghese

Hike up to this mansion of Cardinal Borhese that is now a small museum for lovers of classical paintings and sculpture. Make advance tour reservations, leave your handbag home to avoid one more queue to check it, get there early before the crowds, and take your sweet time  with their audio guide that is not shy about describing  the underhanded ways that wealth and treasures get acquired. Afterwards, you can stroll through the gardens or rent a bicycle wagon in the park surrounding the property.


photo from Google Images

The Galleria Borghese is an easy walk down to Piazza del Popolo with its ancient obelisk and open square. Plenty of restaurant choices along the way as you head down Via del Babuino to the Spanish steps.

Galleria del Cembalo

Between the Spanish steps and the Tiber River at a wing of the Palazzo Borghese, fans of photography can admire exhibits in rooms with ornate high ceilings.


Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) for your Rome travel tips.


Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

The New Leaf

This 2016, I resolve to 

accomplish my resolution of 2015

that I made in 2014.

Anurag Prakash Ray


A delicious new year of possibilities and beginnings, Everyone! Another golden opportunity to see ourselves with more gentle kindness and greater love. What brave adventures will you say YES to in 2016?

In an era when looking younger than our age is the ideal, Carre Otis shares her journey of self acceptance as role model to her young daughters in A Sisterhood of Inner Beauty (on Huffington Post:)

I’ve learned to surround myself with women who lift me up and leave me feeling nurtured rather than drained. I’ve learned to watch my words, too, particularly around my daughters — two of my greatest teachers — doing my best not to gossip about other women or even myself. If they were to hear me put some of those seemingly automatic thoughts on loudspeaker, such as, “I look bad today… Look at those bags under my eyes…” I now understand that it would impact them in a profoundly unhealthy way. Just as young people absorb all kinds of messages from the media, young girls learn what it means to be a woman by watching the older women in their lives.

I’m proud that today, at 43 years old, I’ve come to value the aging process and anticipate growing older with a sense of excitement. I want my daughters to see their mother fearlessly and gracefully claiming her body, her voice and her years. Easier said than done, of course. For me, it’s required discipline: Just as I’m careful about what my daughters are exposed to, I avoid magazines that critique what female celebrities are wearing, what they’re buying and what they look like. I skip right past channels that exploit “cat fights” or reality shows. And I’ve learned to walk away from any real-life judgmental conversations about women. They bring me down. They bring us all down.

And Goddess knows how powerful we can be when we feel good about ourselves! I wish you a most magical year of reveling in your womanhood at any age. Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share what new possibilities thrill you.








Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Eat Your Heart Out



I never worry about diets.

The only carrots that interest me

are the numbers on a diamond.

Mae West


To eat, drink, and truly be merry through the holidays, can we please skirt the topic of weight, workouts and diets at festivities? I do my best by walking away or staying mum when this very popular ho-hum subject comes up. What could happen in 2016 if you chuck the weighing scale, keep active in whatever way is fun for you and just listen to your body–eat natural fresh food when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full?

From Courtney Martin’s book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body:

Sex and food are the two most loaded issues of our time, the Pandora’s box of our culture, universal and forbidden simultaneously. We even use the same language when it comes to both: temptation, pleasure, crave. Just as we are surrounded by advertisements for food that we “shouldn’t” eat, invited to indulge because we deserve it, we are told, in the next thirty-second spot, that we should get back to the gym if we want to work off some guilt and make ourselves worthy of a bikini this summer. Sexual images are all around us, and pornography inaccessible at the touch of a button, but any teenage girl who wants to protect her reputation must exercise absolute restraint, wait for a committed relationship to explore her sexuality, and keep quiet about masturbation.

How can anyone, under these conditions, be expected to know her true desire? How can anyone navigate the dangerous terrain of reputation and expectation on the road toward her authentic sexuality? How can a woman excited about life emerge without hating the body that leads her into temptation?

After publishing The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life, Wendy Shanker traveled the nation doing readings, book signings, and talking to fans. She reflects, “The best lesson I learned touring is that eery woman, no matter how heavy or how skinny, feels fat. When you’re thin, you’re never thin enough.” When I see some hot girl saunter down the street, I used to give her a dirty look, sure that she had a perfect life. Now I know better. I know that she may look different on the outside, but inside she feels the same way I do. Now, instead of a dirty look, I throw a little mini-vibe of compassion her way.”

This is the heart of the matter: A perfect girl can rule just as tyrannically, and a starving daughter can ache just as deeply, inside a thin body. Our dissatisfaction is never, at its deepest, about our bodies. This is why fat women and thin women often experience the world in similar ways. If a thin woman feels inadequate and “thinks fat,” she may endure less hate coming from the outside in than a fat woman but just as much criticism and sadness from the inside out. If a woman of any size is able to stop her negative self-talk and accept herself, she may experience the world with a little peace of mind.

Obsessing over every little thing we put in our mouths takes away our ability to control our own thoughts, our inalienable right to feel good about ourselves regardless of the size of our thighs. It takes away our time, our pleasure, our energy, our vision, our joy. We are not our bodies. Our souls are not our stomachs. Our brains are not our butts.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to share how well you’ll feed Santa at last. And have the merriest Ho-Ho-Ho!







Give the women you love the most unique gift of elegant and timeless portraits

with a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

The Art of Style

You can have

anything you want in life

if you dress for it.

Edith Head


JDR by Richard Alvedon

Who defines your sense of style when dressing for the holidays?  A celebrity, a designer, a brand? How do you filter through the noise of advertising and social media to choose what is right for you?

Jacqueline de Ribes, 86, French socialite and muse who reinvented herself as a designer, has graciously lent a few dozen evening  gowns from her wardrobe to the Met’s Costume Institute for inspiration. She is known in Parisian society for her elegance and style despite her strong belief growing up that she wasn’t beautiful. “I wasn’t brought up in a family that told me I was beautiful–quite the opposite. I had a problem with my nose. I thought it was too big and too pointed.” Her relationship with her mother was strained, assuring her for years that she could never learn to walk like a lady.

Encouraged by Diana Vreeland to embrace her adventurous spirit, Jacqueline’s insecurity was quelled by Diana’s advice “Jacqueline, don’t be afraid. Whatever you do, just remember: Follow your instincts and you’ll never be wrong.”

The dresses can’t tell her full story though. Jacqueline had an irreverent flair for extravagantly mixing and matching pieces, piling on accessories and even splicing together garments to reflect her mood. Because she dressed to please and express herself, Jacqueline’s wardrobe has a sense of individuality, consistency, and timelessness. Her ambition for this exhibit is to inspire people to embrace the freedom and confidence of self-expression through fashion, saying “You can be elegant and chic by being yourself.”

Harold Koda, curator-in-charge at the Costume Institute sums it up, “It requires a certain discipline to say: This is what’s good for me, this is who I am, and whatever trend is out there I am only going to buy to the extent I can use it to frame the best portrait of myself.”

Of course, a little money to spare for haute couture never hurts. ;)

Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style is at the Metropolitan Museum until February 21, 2016.



How fun to be a fanciful belle of the ball!


Though I’m not a fan of black, I love the lace and feather detail of this velvet piece.


A sculptural one-shouldered gown from de Ribes’ inaugural collection as a designer.



Give the women you love the most unique gift of elegant and timeless portraits

with a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

Self(ie) Love and Thanks

Wealth hasn’t changed who I am.

My feet are still on the ground.

I’m just wearing better shoes.

Oprah Winfrey


I’ve finally figured out the recipe for the happiest of holidays! First ingredient: Delegate! For Thanksgiving, my teens made one dish each while dinner guests added their family specialty to the buffet. They swear they’d never seen a hostess so relaxed even when the turkey burned–a casualty of computer games distracting the designated chef. I suspect forgoing heels at home had more to do with my cool, for I firmly believe (and note this second ingredient!) stilettos should only be worn to bed.

Looking at the big picture of my year, I spy the third and main ingredient: while “nothing is better than more, except all,” happiness truly depends on our ability to choose gratitude. No one teaches me this as effectively as my stubborn teen who struggles with the concept daily, cringes at hugs, and abhors giving praise. I count him among my great blessings because he reminds me that nobody can take away my power to give myself the love and approval I need.

Fingers and toes run out quickly as I count the small miracles I am thankful for: The very many fun travel adventures and the people I’ve met in my journey, the authors and Powerful Goddesses who have generously shared their wisdom and beauty on this blog, my firstborn thriving at college, he and his sister falling in love with the fun of ballroom dancing, the other son determined to do well on his SAT, the darling husband happy at work, this blog’s fans who always add inspiration and cheerful comments, family and friends who bring laughter and sunshine to our lives, excellent health, teachers who expand our understanding, acceptance and appreciation for who we are, all that what we’ve got, and what we can choose to be.

How about you?  Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to share your small miracles.







Give the women you love the most unique gift of elegant and timeless portraits

with a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

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