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Shot with desire: Interview with Cat O'Nine Tails

Cat_portraitPhotographer Cat O'Nine Tails creates images that reflect the sexual encounters of characters from the past, transported to the present. She spoke with Mardi James.

 Victorian dandy and wit Oscar Wilde wrote, “the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.’‘ Photographer Cat ‘O Nine Tails’ website Shot With Desire does just this with the sole remnants of Victorian morality being tightly corseted babes and their partners posing lasciviously in all their glory.

As the site preview declares, ‘‘step through the door into a wonderland of wild and wonderful adventures where anything is possible’‘. The site is a portal into the sexual encounters of characters from the past, transported to the present. 

I managed to catch up with Cat ‘O Nine Tails as she arrived home to Australia on the back of a London photo-shoot. She confesses creating is like nothing else and is hard to explain. What goes through her mind when she is working with her camera?

‘‘Line colour value, tone, shape, texture, form repetition, direction, space size, light, dark rhythm, flesh, lust, love, mythology - everything!’‘ 

She admits to being drawn to aspects of female and male sexuality often misunderstood or misrepresented in our society.

‘‘Reversing roles and standard depictions. I am drawn to the deepest stirrings of the soul, lust, passion, jealousy, desire, unrequited love, The changing face of human sexuality throughout history draws me closer too. I am fascinated with outsiders and infidels and fringe dwellers.’‘ 

The site is more than a raunchy period peep-show for those curious to see what happens when roles are reversed or gender roles are blurred.

Cat ‘O Nine Tails clearly has strong intentions to restore the balance with mainstream porn getting far too much exposure for her liking.

‘‘I am repulsed by fake, plastic, sterile, nasty representations of sexuality and beauty, " she says. "I am repulsed by staid formulaic approaches. I am repulsed by porn that completely overlooks female sexuality and desire and bad representations of women. There is so much nasty, horrible, tacky bad porn and erotica out there. I am repulsed by uncreative and unimaginative portrayals of sexuality.’‘ 

Furious about the Australian government‘s ruling to ban female ejaculation, she rages, ‘‘I am completely repulsed by censorship and by artists ripping off others work.’‘ 

But her website grew out of her desire to see more varied images of women that break the mould of narrow definitions of beauty. And the lack of erotic images of men for women‘s enjoyment.

‘‘I wanted to create a space for people of all genders and sexualities to express themselves," she explains. "I want to take viewers into another world, another time and place, an escapist fantasy! I wanted to create something unique and different from anything I had ever seen before. My site is about art and fantasy and imagination and mythology and history and all genders and sexualities and pirates and bandits and rebels and thieves. The underworld…” 

Her muses are emotions, nature, history, mythology and the works of Shakespeare. Bandits and thieves from days gone by are her influences, too. ‘‘I‘m inspired by my cast members (I don‘t call them models) and try to bring out something about them in the photos. I‘m inspired by their fearless expressions of their sexuality.’‘ 

She reveals a fascination for Victorian sexual morals. She believes the temper of those times is carved into modern sexuality. ‘‘I think I am so fascinated with Victorian ideologies because apart from the beautiful aesthetics of the era, which is quite seducing to me in itself - I find their double standards about sexuality so insightful and often shed so much light on the similar double standards we hold true today.’‘ 

Cat_art2I ask her if she would travel back to those times if she had a time machine? ‘‘Of course! You can learn so much about our current way of viewing the world from researching the past. I would love to go back in time to ancient Greece BC where female ejaculation was not only accepted as normal but the male was expected to make his mate ejaculate or it would reflect badly on his manhood! I would meet Shakespeare. I would love to see 1700s women masquerading as men to live exciting lives. 

‘‘I would love to go to a decadent Victorian ‘‘party’‘, where despite their prudishness, they all had very easy access underwear to make their naughty escapades after lunch with one another much easier," she continues. "Oh imagine if I could take my camera!’‘

Shot With Desire is where her alter-ego Cat ‘O Nine Tails travels through time and space to see all sorts of naughty and depraved things. 

So what changes would she like to see in current sexual expressions and morals?

‘‘Well I still can‘t believe I am one of the few female photographers depicting males in erotic ways! I would like to see beauty as a less narrowly defined consumer product. I try to present a broader view of beauty on Why does beauty have to be what they tell us it is? Ah!’ 

‘‘I would like to see censorship laws changed so that unsealed men‘s magazines in Australia don‘t have to Photoshop the vagina and ‘'seal' it up, removing all proof of internal labia. I think that‘s sick and abnormal and constitutes a very unhealthy view towards women‘s bodies. Why is a clitoris and labia so offensive it needs to airbrushed away?

"I would like to see the Office of Film and Literature classification not be swayed by a bunch of fundamentalists that don’t represent the views of average Australians. Imagine that!’‘

Cat believes Australians are more relaxed about their sexuality and are always supportive of her site, barring the censors! Shot with Desire is strongly rooted in Australia.

‘‘I shoot a lot outside on beautiful natural locations, beaches, forests, cliff-tops, - it‘s very important to me for it to have that context and not to be shot just in a studio," she says. "I base some of the shoots on female bushrangers (people might be familiar with the Stand and Deliver series which was published in Slit a few years ago), the profile pages of my cast of characters are based on old Australian court documents from the 1800s. It‘s all based on my character - Cat 'O Nine Tails, who is a female convict.’‘ 

Cat_artThe opening premise of her site is a stern letter written by a church warden to his Lord, revealing his distress at the moral decay within the walls of an antipodean women‘s penal colony. He feverishly accounts the depraved fantasies of inmate Catherine O‘Nyenth; the things she thinks she has seen are what you experience when you open up the old storybook when you sign up to

It’s a journey Cat ‘O Nine Tails has gone on and one that the members can take too. ‘‘It‘s very personal as every photo is taken by me. A journey out of the daily grind of everyday life to lush realms where anything can happen!’‘

Cat O'Nine Tails is a Sydney-based photographer. Check out her work at Shot with Desire.

Photos courtesy of Cat O'Nine Tails


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