Have you ever had an experience that you dreamed of for a long time? Ever since coming across Suma Jane Dark’s boudoir photography, I knew I absolutely needed to shoot with them. This past March, I had the opportunity to visit their Portland studio and step in front of their lens. Suma makes the photoshoot experience luxurious and so very intensely personal. When I got my photos, I was in awe of the art they created.
Suma Jane Dark isn’t just a photographer. They are a queer non-binary person, a vegan, a plus size monochromatic influencer, and a person of Jewish heritage. Suma inspires queer and plus size people with their online platform, sharing about their love of fashion, photography, and the vegan lifestyle.
Suma’s art focuses on boudoir photography for plus size bodies. They’re the best person to lead you through a personal art such as boudoir because they put themselves in front of the camera, too, and know what the experience is really like.
I recently chatted with Suma about their passions, veganism, and of course, how their Jewishness influences their work.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
How did you discover your love of photography?
I’ve been obsessed with the editorial images in magazines like Vogue since I was little. I used to collect vintage magazines just to stare at the photographs of stars like Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson. I still remember my first Google image search: “fashion photo shoot.” I even kept a folder on my computer with all the images that I loved and it faithfully made the trek from desktop to desktop to laptop, etc. As far back as high school, I loved to create concepts and have my friends “model” while I shot them with my old point and shoot and eventually with a very basic DSLR.
But the funny thing was, I never even considered being a photographer professionally. I was a cinematography major, then an aesthetician — it actually wasn’t until my mid-20s that it all clicked.
A big part of your work is empowering people through boudoir photography. What is it about boudoir that you find so important?
When people feel better about themselves, they treat everyone else in their lives better, too. That self confidence radiates out. My work is all about showing people their best selves, and helping them to love who they really are. I think if we were all a little bit more in touch with ourselves, the world would be kinder in general.
How does your Jewishness influence your work as a photographer?
I approach my work with a heart that is open and full of love. I want to create an experience both for my subjects and for the viewers that is not only positive, but also leaves them with questions that could lead them further along their journey as human beings. I believe that boudoir photography in particular has the ability to provide a great space for healing and empowerment, and spiritually, I feel I have a responsibility to give that to others.
Was your social platform a natural extension of your photography, or did you start that for other reasons?
I wanted to get comfortable on the other side of the camera, as well as to connect with folks who had things in common with me. For someone who was always so passionate about photography being a means of personal and social change for the better, I was still very deep in my own insecurities and would hide whenever people wanted to take my picture. I wanted to challenge myself to go through what my clients go through so that I could direct them from the heart. Now I can say, look, if I can work through this stuff, you can, too!
On Instagram, you talk about being a plus size person who is also vegan. When did you become vegan? Do you ever feel like your veganism is misunderstood?
I stopped eating meat when I was 7 years old when I first learned that “meat” was made from animals. I was horrified. I wept. I could not believe that other people knew this fact and continued to eat it. I spent practically my whole life as a vegetarian, until I learned in my late 20s about the horrors of the dairy and egg industries, and that’s when I became a vegan.
Many people pass into and out of veganism because they think of it as a diet. It’s not. It’s a moral philosophy. And for me, it is spiritual, as well. I do not believe that I have the right to take life just for my own convenience or enjoyment. I was not born a lion. I wasn’t born into a time or a circumstance where I need to hunt and butcher for my survival. There are more compassionate options available now to a large number of people. I believe it is only right for me to choose them. I am just a human being. No creature owes me their life.
How would you describe your Jewish practice at this point in your life?
Very personal. My dad was born in Israel and his first language was Hebrew. Even though my mother converted, she didn’t practice, and didn’t encourage me to explore my heritage as a child. So I did not have a strong foundation for my practice growing up. I came to it in bits and pieces. I was always very inspired by my dad. He was so kind, so bright, and he left behind so much good in this world. I try to honor his memory with my practice and hopefully will also leave behind a lot of good here when my time is up.
What inspired your love of monochromatic fashion?
At various points throughout my life, whenever I’ve felt lost, I’d dress monochromatically to take my focus off of my clothes and onto myself. It was just easier for me to see myself that way. It was clarifying. I feel more in touch with myself now, so I’m wearing a lot more color, but I still love how sleek and easy monochromatic looks are.
What is your favorite Jewish comfort food?
Latkes — with applesauce!
Image courtesy of Suma Jane Dark