Cat O’Nine Tails is one of the few female photographers today working with men as erotic subjects. Her website shot with desire brings together richly imagined photography for people of all genders and sexual orientations. Sydney-based Cat speaks to Filament about making her vision a reality.
We need more people taking an adventure with depictions of gender and sexuality and not just sticking to the same old formula – creating new ways of seeing and feeling is well overdue: let’s rock the boat!
Why did you start shot with desire?
I have always channelled my discontent into artistic outlets. In school I made demented paintings and sculptures about gender and media stereotypes. The fringe and underground is where I’ve thrived. I have also long been interested in sexuality, and studied gender and sociology. I am motivated by the double standards in the art world and adult industry and my frustrations with the mainstream media’s bland gender standards.
Shot with desire grew out of my need to see more varied images of women that break the mould of narrowly defined ‘beauty’, and the lack of sexy erotic images of men for women’s enjoyment. So in many ways it is a reaction against what I don’t like, an attempt to create something to be what I see as lacking. We need more people taking an adventure with depictions of gender and sexuality and not just sticking to the same old formula – creating new ways of seeing and feeling is well overdue: let’s rock the boat!
Your photography encapsulates a lot of the things that Filament identified, through research, make erotic photography appeal to a broad range of women. For example, the rich and interesting environments, a wide range of body shapes and lots of eye contact. Are these qualities that appeal to you personally, or like us, did you go through a process to determine what your audience wanted?
I like to shoot in a vast array of settings, with different lighting to transform the ‘cast members’ into mythical beings, gods or goddesses, and to keep my style from stagnating. I view everyone as a potential work of art: I see beauty in everything. I choose subjects with a wide range of body shapes to show off the diverse nature of beauty that is overlooked in the mainstream. I am so lucky to work with such brave and fearless subjects; I like to call them my ‘lords and ladies of misrule’. I often choose subjects with a fiery attitude, rather than simply looks, because that brings so much individuality to a shoot.
I see beauty in everything. I choose subjects with a wide range of body shapes to show off the diverse nature of beauty that is overlooked in the mainstream.
So, I didn’t do any research to see what images would sell, I photograph what I want to see. The images I create are my response to the world around me, and every photograph says as much about the subject as it does about me.
You also do a lot of work for lads’ mags. What are the differences between how lads’ mags want their women photographed, and how you photograph women for shot with desire? Which do you find more challenging?
I work for lads’ mags and an array of alternative magazines, including lesbian sex magazines, queer women’s art and culture magazines, gay newspapers and fetish websites. I suppose the main difference is working for a client, and when I work for a client I’m working hard to give them what they want. Lads’ mags require shaved armpits and legs, but that’s irrelevant for shot with desire. Still, you would be surprised how open some lads mags editors are to depictions of women that break out of the usual formula; it can be a bit self-perpetuating. I did my first ever six-page feature for a very mainstream Australian men’s magazine nine years ago, shot in a warehouse with a quite androgynous model, complete with mohawk, piercings and tattoos, and I photographed her in very non-traditional ways. The editors loved it because it was so different. I’ve also shot plus-sized models and they’ve loved that too.
You would be surprised how open some lads mags editors are to depictions of women that break out of the usual formula; it can be a bit self-perpetuating.
Sometimes it is more challenging to photograph for shot with desire when I’m shooting subjects with little or no modelling experience. Posing naked is an art in itself. I feel humbled that so many models see my photography and want to do their first erotic shoot with me.
Your choice to put content for all genders and sexualities all in one place is a very unusual one. Why did you decide to do this?
I wanted to create a haven for people to escape everyday life, and a space for people of all genders and sexualities to express themselves. I also want to take viewers into another world – another time and place, a fantasy. I also wanted to create something unique and different from anything I had ever seen before.
I think it is important for me, as a female artist, to portray male and female nudes. This allows me to shoot group shoots and play around with representations of submissive men and dominant women together too.
Is shot with desire intended to get your audience off?
Shot with desire is my character, Cat O’Nine Tails’ journey into an erotic lush realm where she meets all sorts of characters in all sorts of naughty escapades. Of course, it is meant to be very erotic. Whether the audience gets off or not is up to them – people have told me they have, though!
Whether the audience gets off or not is up to them – people have told me they have, though!
Do you feel that youre making art, porn or erotica?
I call it erotica or erotic art. My definition of erotica is something that appeals to the mind and the senses. Work on the site ranges from fine art nudes to dreamy vintage nudes to sexually explicit hot and heavy.
What are the most common objections people might have to your work?
I haven’t had many objections, just overwhelming support! I’ve found people in New Zealand and Australia to be particularly supportive, I suppose because it’s the first site of its kind in this part of the world. I’ve had a few objections from some people on my European trips: one woman said rudely, ‘No one wants to see naked men; people only want to see naked women.’ When I showed her my photos of men she changed her mind and got quite aroused, saying she never knew men could look so good naked!
One woman said rudely, ‘No one wants to see naked men; people only want to see naked women.’ When I showed her my photos of men she changed her mind and got quite aroused.
Apart from involving men, how is shot with desire different from something like suicide girls?
Shot with desire has cast members rather than models. It’s like opening an old storybook and entering a world of fairy tales, myths and legends. I want it to be a sensual and sublime experience, so we don’t have message boards or journals where the model posts what they had for breakfast. It pays homage to the past and people living on the fringe: bushrangers, circus freaks and deviants. It’s about art and fantasy and imagination and mythology and history and all genders and sexualities and pirates and bandits and rebels and thieves.
The site and the shoots within have a strong narratives. Where do these stories come from?
The story of shot with desire comes from a letter that the seemingly perverted the Reverend William Bedford writes regarding the Female House of Correction in 1838 with extreme moral concern about the ‘over developed and ungovernable sexuality’ of the female convict inmates, in particular Catherine O’Nine. He sits at her bedside every night and writes down her sleeptalking, telling of her strange erotic visions, which she believes are real. Every shoot is meant to be an adventure Cat O’Nine Tails has either witnessed, been involved in or dreamed: ‘Her vivid descriptions and her maddening belief in their authenticity mean one could almost fall for her ways and believe she has actually witnessed these depraved imaginings’.
I’m influenced by Victorian ideas of female sexuality, and how the upper classes tried to hold law and order over a new colony in a wild new land.
Everything is a target: anything that annoys me about how men or women are depicted is potential fodder to subvert.
I like to shoot old myths with a modern bent, or retell a story and reverse the gender role. Everything is a target: anything that annoys me about how men or women are depicted is potential fodder to subvert. People understand perfectly when they see my images reversing the stereotypes! There’s often a real sense of humour in the photos too.
What advice would you give to the budding photographers reading this who want to work with men as erotic subjects?
Treat your subject with utmost respect. Be professional, supportive and encouraging. Be humbled by the experience, not superior. Someone is trusting you a lot to let you photograph them in this way. Find the beauty in your subject and focus in on it. Put your heart and soul into every image you take. I’m proud that every person I’ve worked with has had fun, loved the photos and wanted to shoot with me again.
See more of shot with desire at www.shotwithdesire.com. This interview appeared in Filament magazine Issue 4: March 2010. Unfortunately that issue is sold out, but you can still get hold of our latest issues – yay!