By day a teacher in Canada, by night a ground-breaking photographer who has been feted by Warren Ellis...
She may not have an entry on Wikipedia but Katie West is one of the brightest lights on the Internet. The 29-year-old Canadian is a quiet sensation on the web, having come to the online world’s attention through her photography and writing. Her pictures have appeared in various entities online over the last couple of years, and she has also been championed by none other than the Internet Jesus himself, acclaimed comic book writer and digital savant Warren Ellis.
Katie lives in Toronto. She teaches for a living and her biggest loves include cats, Star Trek, her husband and K-pop (“among a billion other things”). She has taken a lot of pictures over the years. Some of them have been of other people but a lot of them have been of herself, naked. Her pictures capture moments of vulnerability and sensuality and that transcend convenient labelling.
Looking at her pictures, the impression one gets is of a deeply passionate artist communicating a wide array of thoughts, emotions and feelings. It’s a naked woman, to be sure, but it’s also a lot more than that. Many of her images are what she calls “awkward nudes”, where she arranges herself in unusual or uncomfortable poses, forcing the viewer to think about more than just the sight of bared flesh, though Katie has also said on more than one occasion that she has no wish to instruct people on what they should – or should not – take from her work.
Refreshingly, she has a bullshit-free attitude towards sharing such intimate images with the wider world. There is no embarrassment, no apologies (“Give no fucks” is a popular Katie West motto) and no such thing as projecting ideal body types on either men or women.
Katie was kind enough to take time out from her schedule (she was busy marking papers at the end of a semester and had just come back from a family holiday) to answer some questions via email, in which she talks about her life, photography, beliefs, thoughts on Star Trek Into Darkness and of course, her cats.
Tell us a bit about your experiences growing up and how you came to be involved with photography.
I became involved in photography because I had no other artistic skill, but wanted to be artistic. A bunch of my friends in high school were in photo classes and using me as a model, so I decided to take photo classes too.
Can you remember what the first picture you ever took was?
No, but it was probably something stupid, like birds on a wire or my face.
A big part of your photography revolves around sexuality and images you describe as “awkward nudes”. When did you start taking them? How did they come about?
I find photos where the subjects are trying to be sexy to be boring. But I like being naked, so I suppose my awkward nudes are a mash up of those two feelings: boredom and a propensity for nudity, usually in public spaces. Most of my photography could be considered erotic, because I’m naked, but in only a few of them am I actually attempting to portray sexiness. However, some people look at a photo of me crying but if they can see my boobs, they immediately label it as porn. I’m not sure those people appreciate the same things I do.
You’re very open on your blog about your nude self-portraits. Have you ever experienced any difficulties in your work or home life because of how some people perceive those images? Has it ever been an issue in your marriage?
Sometimes people ask me if being naked on the internet has ever been an issue in my marriage, and, honestly, would I be married if it ever was? I really hope that nothing about anything I’ve ever put online has ever led people to believe I’m the sort of person who would put up with shit like that. My husband doesn’t own my body, and has no say with what I do with it. If your partner throws a temper tantrum because you posted or wanted to post a naked self-portrait on the internet, then they’re a possessive asshole and you should break up with them.
But yeah, my place of employment has had problems with me being naked on the internet. Or, more specifically, one person at my place of employment had a problem with it. So I had to spend three months wondering if I was going to lose my job and going to meetings with HR, my union, and my managers. It was not something I’d ever wish anyone to go through, no matter if what they did in their personal time conflicted with my personal belief system. But that one specific person is retired now, and no one cared when it happened, even though she’d be there for over 20 years. So, you get what you give out.
If someone asked you what you were trying to say through your art, what would you tell them?
I’m just trying to breathe. And then hope that others recognize it, relate to it, and appreciate it.
Having a presence on the internet means you’ve probably had your fair share of comments from people who see your stuff. What’s the best – and worst – comment you’ve ever received?
I get a lot of really loving, caring, hopeful, encouraging messages from people online, and have ever since I started. They are always appreciated and are one of the main reasons I still make art. The worst comments I try my best to ignore, delete, and forget because they’re always stupid, have absolutely no merit, and are sent by idiots. Recently someone told me I was naïve, arrogant, old, and will always be lonely. Awesome. I try to focus on the positive comments.
You love cats. Tell us about your cats.
My cats are made of pure perfection. But no one cares as much about your own cats as you do. Except Keir Smith, he loves your cats more than you do.
Your day job involves teaching and your posts indicate that you really enjoy it. Has there ever been a desire to make a full-time living from photography or modeling?
No, there hasn’t really ever been a desire to do that. Did you know that I write? That’s what I’d like to do for a living.
You’ve posted about feminism a few times on your blog. What does the term mean to you?
It means fighting against a worldwide system that encourages inequality, oppression, ignorance, and violence against anyone who’s not a white, straight, cisgender male, basically. Even more basically, I would define it for myself as causing the least amount of harm as I go through life.
A recurring theme in your work is body positivity and being comfortable in your own skin. From your perspective, do you find it’s easier or harder for people love themselves in this day and age?
Lately we’ve been discovering new and improved way of shaming people into hating themselves. But, I also think in many ways it’s easier to avoid sources of harm. Don’t watch TV. Shape your internet to reflect you and your interests. Block douchebags on social media. Curate your experiences the same way you curate your Tumblr. Don’t give a fuck about what other people think about you because they’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve your fucks.
Tell us about the other media you’re enjoying right now. What are you reading, watching and listening to?
I just finished reading Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente; it was this amazing take on Russian fairy tales and folklore that I really enjoyed. I’m watching X-Files on Netflix. It feels like I’ve been watching it for years. But Scully and Mulder finally kissed so…worth it. I’ve been listening a lot to the Great Gatsby soundtrack because it’s kind of epic. Also the new A Tribe Called Red album, Nation II Nation. If you’ve never heard of them, you should Google and give them a listen: electric powwow. Yes. It is as awesome as it sounds.
You’re a huge Star Trek fan. What did you think of the new film?
I had read a lot of criticism of the new Trek before it came out, mostly regarding the casting of a white dude as Khan (who was supposed to be Sikh and played by a Latino man in The Original Series), how the women still had to wear stupid dresses while working on a spaceship, and how a brilliant weapons specialist was seen in her underwear, presumably simply because she was a woman, among other criticisms. And then before I saw it I watched JJ Abrams say he didn’t even like Star Trek because he thought it was “too philosophical.” And like, seriously, dude? That’s why it’s so good. Because it’s space adventure with intelligence; episode after episode forcing us to question our morals and our preconceptions of how our society should be. To get rid of that, well then you may as well just make Pitch Black. Pitch Black is a great sci-fi movie, but it’s not Star Trek. And though this latest Trek had all the right character names and the ship looked right and I was entertained, it’s not the Star Trek I love. I enjoyed the movie because I like to be entertained, and JJ Abrams is definitely good at delivering an entertaining movie. I like seeing new takes on old characters with new actors who give them new life. But I think I’d already given the movie too many strikes before even going in to it. To be honest, what bothered me most was why the movie had to have Khan at all. They already established that this is a new timeline of TOS, and with new timelines, you get free reign as a creator to do WHATEVER you want. You have all of SPACE AND TIME at your disposal with unknown aliens and planets and wormholes and exploding stars and space plagues and intergalactic wars and new advanced scientific methods and experiments and you decide to rehash a storyline that has already been done the best it will ever be done? Why? WHY? Though I do still hope they make more movies because I really like seeing Star Trek in IMAX and seeing it making a lot of money and being super popular. I’ll take my Trek however I can get it. But I’ll take my tea. Earl Grey. Hot. (I had to. And it is my favourite tea.)
And lastly, tell us something about Katie West that nobody else knows.
I’ve been posting online for well over a decade, there is probably very little about me that no one else knows!
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