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The 12 Days of Christmas, Day 3

Each December, the XLR8R staff takes a few minutes every morning to spout off about what we'd like to see wrapped up and under the tree come December 25. Next, Ken Taylor embraces his inner-exhibitionist with Katie West's photo book, Low Self-Esteem.

Weird fortune-cookie message of the day: “You are a sexual being.”

So you might as well let it out of the bag. Go on, don’t be afraid. Tell your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/partner/lover/mother/whatever: You dig him or her plenty, but you dig other babes and dudes, too. You’re not trying to be weird or anything, but that outmoded “for your eyes only” concept is corny bullshit–especially in the age of amateur internet porn, digital photography, and self-publishing–and it’s time to make things interesting. To know thy sexuality is to know thyself, right? And sharing is caring, right?

In that quest to reconnect your body with all that surrounds you, let Katie West’s Low Self-Esteem–an ironically titled 80-page tome of self-shot, sometimes-nude portraits, photographed mostly in my hometown of Windsor, Ontario–be the soft entry point for your newfound freedom.

It’s a freedom that West has been playfully exploring for a few years, and its visual manifestation is hardly pornographic, but still highly stylized and intensely erotic. Sometimes West’s eroticism emerges from expected places, as in the look of voyeuristic surprise on the book’s cover. Other times it’s borne of banality–a stark body perched on an old couch, set against wood-paneled walls or a stoic topless pose in front of a Dave Matthews poster. At the next turn, it explores fantasy–like stumbling upon a pixie-ish nude in a forest you traversed as a kid or in Cindy Sherman-esque dress-ups, both elegant and grotesque. And then it’s exhibitionistic, except that with West’s publicly shot images–where she slinks carefully alongside the sinks in a bathroom at her and my alma mater, the University of Windsor, or rests half-undressed under a lecture-hall desk–the nude-at-school dream is made as sense-appealing as it once was nightmarish.

West’s larger body of work, which can be viewed on her Flickr page, encompasses nearly every style of photography, from high-art fashion and formalism, to high-contrast documentary, to simple vacation-hotel snapshots, to extremely vulnerable confessional records and MySpace-style quick pics. Yet despite the sometimes strange, oft-askew poses and environments she finds herself in, her pictures are not the least bit incredible or surreal–rather they’re all entirely credible and real, drawing in (and upon) real eyes and real bodies for a genuine, sensual experience that seems at once everlasting and ephemeral.

Alas, the ephemeral theme runs deep: Low Self-Esteem is only available until December 31, so snag it before the clock strikes ’09.

MSRP: $49.95

Day 1: Keurig Platinum B70 single-cup coffeemaker
Day 2: Score! Merge Records: The First 20 Years
Day 3: Low Self-Esteem by Katie West
Day 4: New Balance 420 and PF Flyers' Number 5
Day 5: Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films
Day 6: Kenwood TT756SL 2-Slice Radio Toaster
Day 7: The Ghostly Box
Day 8: Pentax SMC DA* Series 16-50mm F2.8 and 50-135mm F2.8 DSLR lenses

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