Esteemed boudoir photographer and published author Susan Eckert is opening an art gallery and portrait studio in downtown Bay Shore.

Eckert was at the forefront of boudoir — intimate portraits meant for private use — on the East Coast when she emerged among top photographers in the field in 2007, after leaving the corporate world.

Her work later landed on the cover of Newsday’s second section in a January 2011 piece about the trend, which has only increased in popularity since. 

Eckert is fresh off publishing a 290-page book about boudoir through Focal Press called Body & SoulShe’s signed a lease in Bay Shore and is hoping to be working on Main Street as early as October.

“I’ve been in Bohemia for six years now,” said Eckert, who lives in Brightwaters. “So I needed a change. And I feel so disconnected from everything over there; it’s all very industrial.”

“My retirement plan had long been to be a gallery owner,” she continued. “When I was walking through this space with the owner it hit me: now would be a great time to start exhibiting art.”

Click here to take a virtual tour of her Long Island Boudoir Photography.

The Painted Image Gallery will be located at 25 Main Street, off the courtyard just west of the Changing Times American Sports Bar & Grill.

Primarily — and fitting to its name — it will showcase photographic images that incorporate other forms of art, which make each piece unique. Eckert is already working on lining up an artist who fits this style perfectly, hopefully for a first show.

“I want to explore where the photographic medium can go, and restore in people’s minds that photography is art,” she said.

She also envisions The Painted Image Gallery as a hub for artists in the Bay Shore area — even those who might keep their artistic leanings under wraps.

“More than exhibiting art, I want to reach people here who are doing really interesting work, but quietly,” she said.

In an interview this week, Eckert spoke of her experience at women’s retreat earlier this year, which attracted many women of retirement age.

“It was amazing to me that all of these talented women were doing their art but quietly, because they think they’re too old to put their artwork out there,” she said.

She also touched on cultural dynamics that sometimes push women away from pursuing artistic urges, because that would veer from what’s typically expected of them as a wife or mother.

“I would like to connect to other women artists who want to do art, who want to get involved in art, but maybe just don’t — because they’re supposed to be ‘good moms and grandmas,'” she said.

Of course, Eckert will be using the space to shoot the portraits that helped launch her career as a photographer.

Shooting boudoir, for her, has been about changing people’s lives, she said.

“It’s not about glamour or vanity for a lot of women,” she said. “It’s about self esteem, and body image. And for me it’s about giving them an experience that’s meaningful and life changing.”

Eckert also gave us a little history of boudoir (French for a woman’s private sitting room).

“Who is entitled to do it, that keeps changing,” she said. “Celebrities were always the ones who were shot in a pin-up style, and then in the 80s they started introducing it for the average woman but that was being done in such a cheesy way.”

The more modern form of boudoir took off first in West Coast, she explained. Eckert knew of only one other photographer who was shooting such portraits on Long Island when she started 10 years ago.

Now, it seems, there are photographers in every town saying they shoot boudoir.

Of course, personal, intimate portraits are as old as photography itself.

“My friend found pictures buried in a wall from somebody’s home from back in the 1940s, and they were pin-ups,” she said. “That would be considered boudoir today.”

Aside from the portrait studio and rotating exhibits, there will also be a small retail component of the 1,750-square-foot space of Main Street.

Here, Eckert will be selling wearable art and hand-crafted jewelry. The wearable art would consist of items like sundresses and scarves that are one of a kind. 

She’s also planning to book belly dancing and other classes, as well as special social, network type nights for women.

“We’re the gateway to Fire Island, where so many good and great and fun things are happening,” she said. “I want to bring some of that here.”