“Come for the breasts, stay for the heart!” That’s the tagline on Katie West’s blog. It’s more than just a clever line though; there’s also an abundance of truth to it.
The photographer, model, writer and college teacher from Toronto isn’t one to shy away from laying herself bare, both visually and emotionally. Since she’s started posting her work online, Katie’s become a beloved and respected artist precisely because of her stark honesty, whether it’s in her uncompromising blog entries and short stories or her vulnerable yet powerful self-portraits, many of them nudes.
“I could write an entire essay on why self-portraits and my reasons are always changing,” she explains. “It started because I was my most available model, and the person who knew best what I wanted to see in my photographs. From there it changed into being my best mode of self-expression and, by extension, a type of therapy; the kind that was cheaper and easier for me to swallow than anti-depressants and other medications that I was often prescribed.
“It then became a sort of diary that I used to chronicle my life; taking pictures of every moment, when I felt horrible and heartbroken, and when I felt just fine. Most recently, I’ve been using my self-portraiture to challenge and question ideas I’m currently interested in and trying to work through them. I’ve been more aware of what it means to be a woman who shoots nude self-portraits and what that says to an audience. “
As for why she chooses to do nudes, Katie simply answers, “It just seemed like a natural progression if what I was striving for was an honest, vulnerable portrait. I don’t like how clothes can get in the way of what I’m trying to convey. Maybe people are distracted by the nudity, but personally, I’m distracted by having to pick out something to wear!”
In just a few years, Katie has already self-published two coffee table books of her photos (the first is currently out of print and the second — a limited edition — has sold out), appeared on a couple of book covers, and worked with other photographers and models — and she owes it all to the Internet. “The internet is the only reason I am able to do what I do, maybe even why I continue to enjoy what I do. Without the internet, I would never have met a disturbing amount of incredible people, would never have been able to travel the world the way I have, or share my writing and photography with as many people.
“I just think about how many projects I know of that were only possible because of the Internet. A huge example is the Coilhouse magazine, much of which was made when its three creators — Zoetica Ebb, Nadya Lev and Meredith Yayanos — were situated in LA, London and New Zealand respectively. Such a feat could never have been considered without the Internet.”
And it’s not just the ability to collaborate that the Internet’s facilitated. Katie also thinks it’s become easier than ever to sell art online, making it possible for people who couldn’t indulge in their art before to “open shops and make a couple extra bucks.”
“And since it’s also easier to buy art on the Internet,” she adds, “many people are finding new artists to support and new ways to spend their money. Internet is good for art, I say.”
Katie’s candid approach to self-expression extends to her ink as well. “I’m not a big believer in having tattoos mean anything,” she says, simply and matter-of-factly, about the reasoning behind her tats on her back and her stomach. “That seems like putting too much pressure on something that seems impossible to love forever.”
She got her first tattoo when she was just 16 in her friend Dan’s basement. “I’m pretty sure Dan just made something up and tattooed it onto my back,” she says referring to her blue and pink star. “When I was 18, maybe, I got the writing under the star just because I felt like getting a tattoo. I looked up some Latin on the Internet and got it done. It’s ‘non est ad astra mollis e terra via‘, which was a quote from Seneca that means ‘There’s no easy way from the Earth to the stars.’
“When I was about 20, I became obsessed with thinking my stomach looked too plain, so I booked another appointment with Dan, picked some birds off the wall and put the word ‘Avolare‘ in between them. ‘Avolare‘ is Latin again and it means, ‘to fly away.’” She adds with a laugh, “If the tattoo on my back was supposed to remind me to have good karma, the tattoo on my stomach was supposed to remind me to do whatever I wanted.”
Katie’s planning to place her next piece, which will be of her cat Logan, on her side and have it wrap around her. She’s also going to get ink done with her friend Jack in Japan, so she and Jack can be — I quote, caps and all — “BEST FRIENDS”. “Jack was going to get one regardless, and so I wanted to get one too,” she says. “I’m thinking it will probably be another random one.”
If there’s one thing about Katie that’s as well known as her sincerity though, it’s her pure, unadulterated love for everything Star Trek. “Do you have three hours?” she says with a laugh when I ask her about it.
“Star Trek makes me feel awesome. It relaxes me but, at the same time, makes me think. And it’s not thinking like, ‘What the hell is going on on this island?’” she says, alluding to a certain popular JJ Abrams series. “It’s more like, ‘Should the crew of the Enterprise have violated the Prime Directive to save Wesley Crusher’s life?’ Or ‘Have human beings really evolved at all, or are we still “a savage race,” as Q claims?’ Ah, such questions are my most favourite things.”
“But even the characters are wonderful. And, of course, some are very sexy,” she says, leading directly into my next question about the Trek actor who she’s very openly had a thing for. “Patrick Stewart’s best moment outside of Trek? Hm. I once saw him in an episode of Ricky Gervais’ Extras and he was hilarious.”
“Also,” she adds, playfully, “when he stars opposite me – in bed.”
Katie’s plans for the future include lots of traveling to places like New York, Japan, Philadelphia, LA and San Diego.
She also wants to do more writing. “[I'll be] participating in an amazing book called Coming and Crying, which is edited by Melissa Gira and Meaghan O’Connell.” Other than that, she’s also got two ideas percolating in her head at the moment; one she’s not ready to talk about yet and the other… well. “I have this awesome idea for this crazy vampire epic that I have about ten pages of notes for, but that’s just kind of a joke.” She pauses, and then adds, “An awesome joke.”
On top of all of that, Katie’s got a black and white photo book planned for before the end of the year. And, as always, expect more pictures and postings on her site. “Sometimes I stop taking photos,” she says. “Right now, I haven’t taken a single picture for almost three months. But it comes and it goes; when I’m not taking pictures, I’m writing, when I’m not writing, I’m taking pictures. I don’t think I’ll ever really stop either.”
(Photos are © Katie West)