Naked As The Day We Were Born: An Interview with Albuquerque Photographer M.T. West
Albuquerque has this amazing quality to it: within her walls you’ll find highs and lows, the mundane and the exceptional, the honorable and the criminal, and on days when the news seems to focus only on the criminal, it gives one a great deal of comfort to know we’re living in a city rich beyond measure in the arts. So, rich, in fact, that this community is even the safe haven and home for M.T. West, a local photographer who specializes in artistic erotic photography, both indoors and outdoors. She’s been doing this for a long while, and I’d wondered if this city’s best-kept secret would be up for an interview to discuss this life, and she said yes. In this interview, we discuss close calls with the authorities in pursuit of art, being naked out in the cold, turning misfortune into a way forward, and forging a life and building one’s artistic career in this wild, sometimes unreal city. Grab a coffee – or a beer – and listen in.
Rich Boucher: So, honestly: what sets someone on the path to becoming a professional photographer who specializes in creatively-executed, artistic nudes? What set YOU on that path?
M.T. West: I’ve always had an eye for photography, and starting taking photos at a young age. My artistic nude style started in high school, inspired by comic book art and heavy metal magazine covers. It wasn’t until a high school art show, in which my photo was stolen by a student and the same photo was bought by a teacher. That’s when I realized this could be something I would be good at. From there on I have been creating beautiful images with some of the most stunning women and men locally.
RB: Not everyone is cool to the deal: tell us a bit about the range of reactions that you get when you inform people about your career. Are the reactions generally positive? Negative? Some place in between?
MTW: I get a range of reactions to what I do (laughs). It used to bother me in the beginning a little bit, because I would hear that people would say, “She takes those kinds of photos (meaning artistic nudes) of such and such”. But I got over that after a few of my models would tell me how I made them “feel good about themselves, and made them feel pretty again, or pretty for the first time”. That – those amazing words – are why I keep doing what I do. So, I have learned to not listen to the people who don’t like or get what I do. But I do really appreciate the people who like what I do and get what I’m trying to make art-wise.
RB: How do you find time in the day for family and friends — is your occupation a 9-to-5 one? Our readers are always wanting to know how poets and painters and singers and actors and photographers manage to find balance in their lives.
MTW: My photography is like a part-time job. My family comes first, and I spend time with friends usually making some of my art. So unless I’m booked, I tend to shoot whenever I have a new idea or style I want to try.
RB: What’s the most outrageous photoshoot you’ve done so far? Can you tell us a war story or two about said photoshoot?
MTW: Oh wow, that’s a tough one…I do a lot of outrageous shoots. I guess my very first nude set I shot. We shot it downtown, underground in a walking bridge from a parking garage to the convention center. We shot late at night and there were four models that night and we had one look out. I always make my models bring a robe to the shoots when we are shooting in public in case of the need to cover up really fast. Well, I am very glad they did this night. We got surprised by a group of teens coming from a dance. Thankfully it was just them, and they walked by us kind of fast once they saw what we were doing. My other funny story is the last time I did a snow shoot. It was freezing cold out, and the wind was blowing. We went up to the foothills and hiked up to a spot with snow. This time I was shooting two models and we had one look out. The girls were taking turns posing until they got too cold. A family parks at the bottom and starts walking up; at first they see us and stay down away from us. But as we shoot we notice they start coming up more, and we think that the dad or son saw what we were shooting and wanted to get closer. So, we pretty much had to stop until they decided to leave.
RB: I’m lobbing a follow-up to Question 4 at you now: how will you top that most outrageous photoshoot in the years to come? Is there something related to this career that you have always wanted to try?
MTW: Oh yes, there will be crazier, more over the top shoots to come! I think I would like to maybe branch off into my own form of erotica in time. I still have so many ideas to create in this vein first.
RB: Do you find that all your subjects are more than up for posing nude? Have you ever witnessed cold feet?
MTW: I have a range there too, from the people who are really comfortable being nude to the people who won’t get very naked at all. But I never push and work with what people feel comfortable doing.
RB: How long did it take you to learn how to do this?
MTW: 20+ years now, and I am still learning new things every day.
RB: What does Albuquerque give to the world, in terms of art, that you’re most proud of?
MTW: I think Albuquerque is most known for its beautiful scenery. This is why I love shooting outside, because we have such beautiful landscapes.
RB: And following up on that last question: what could Albuquerque’s art scene use a lot more of?
MTW: More support of up-and-coming photographers. There are mainly male photographers here, so it’s hard to feel welcome among them. I work really hard to be where I am and where I plan to be. But as an artist, I stay mainly to myself because I have never really felt welcome.
RB: Can artistic erotic photography cure the world’s political problems? Can any art do this? Wax philosophical, if you please.
MTW: If people would not be so close-minded I feel it could be more widely accepted. But could it cure the world’s political problems? No, people can’t see the beauty in erotica. They have been taught for too long that the naked body is not beautiful and to be ashamed of it. Maybe the future generations can move past this and accept that ALL bodies are beautiful, and there is nothing wrong with being naked.
Rich Boucher is Associate Editor at Elbow Room Magazine, and is also a person who enjoys room-temperature Merlot.