Kristy Westendorp, Unraveled | An Interview

Kristy Westendorp is a documentary-style photographer living and working in Victoria, BC on unceded Coast Salish territory. She is passionate about telling true stories and encouraging all people to embrace what is rather than what “should be”. She loves tropical plants, vegan ice cream, handmade ceramics & pot chocolate. 

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Kristy teaches on Documentary Photography in the Academy, become a student today!! 


Here is Kristy, Unraveled…

What inspires your art?

So many things inspire my art but ultimately, it’s people and their stories that inspire me. I have seen photography get to this point where a lot of folks are making images that look like they’re straight out of magazines. Nothing is out of place- the outfits are perfect, the aesthetic is perfect, everything happens in a field of wildflowers or a beautiful minimalist home. And many of those images are so so lovely but it leaves out a majority of people. They see those images and think “One day I’ll be worthy of photos like this. I just have to change these 482 things first and then I’ll hire a photographer.” I really love taking the ordinary places people live and what they really look like and telling the true story of their lives. When I have a client message me and say “you made our life look like magic!” I can sincerely respond back “Your life IS magic! I’m just showing you.” Today’s constant barrage of social media can have us caught up in a comparison game  and often it leaves us feeling like we’ll never be good enough. I’m inspired by all the people who think their story doesn’t deserve to be told. I want to show them differently!

What do you shoot with? Camera body and favorite lens?

I have to keep it real and tell you that I shoot with a very old, very sad looking Canon 6d. I’m looking to upgrade in the near future but I’m a big believer in stretching our technology as far as we can. My sensor died and I replaced the sensor instead of the whole camera. It does everything I need it to so I’ve held onto it as long as I can! My favourite lens is a 24mm 1.4 Sigma Art which is also extremely banged up because my gear gets taken everywhere with me and I don’t baby it. It still works great. It just may or may not look like someone took a bite out of the plastic because one of my kids rolled it off a dresser once accidentally. I tell you all this to let you know: it is not about your gear! Work with what you’ve got and focus on what you can control! 

What other ways do you express your creativity?

I’m also a potter! Since I’m a digital photographer and so much of what I make never leaves pixel form it’s really rewarding to also have something very tactile and tangible to interact with. I find that all the things I do creatively impact each other and I think it’s good to take a break from sitting at computer desks to get our hands dirty. I think that’s part of why houseplants are so trendy right now. We spend so much time in virtual worlds that our hands crave that organic touch! 

How do you de-stress at the end of the day?

Am I allowed to say getting high? Because, getting high.
Ok, also...listening to music, obsessing over and rearranging the houseplants mentioned above, and of course watching too many episodes of a tv show while eating popcorn. Also, I’m very into a nerdy deckbuilding game about space but don’t tell anyone because I don’t want it to ruin my cool rep.

What kind of music do you listen to while editing?

Lizzo’s album “Cuz I love you” start to finish on repeat. Is there other music?

What is your favorite book?

Well, that’s a tough one but I’ll say The Giver by Lois Lowry. There aren’t too many books you can read as a child that are still relevant and amazing as an adult and this one definitely qualifies. For some reason I’ve always been very drawn to dystopian fiction and it kind of feels like training for the current political climate. If you haven’t read this book, you should because it’s a real quick read as far as classic goes and I think you’ll like it.

Name one movie that inspires you.

Life is Beautiful (La vita è bella) To be able to tell a Holocaust story and have it also be a love story and (impossibly) a comedy as well I think is such an art. I think it’s always important to hold onto joy within everything. So a movie that can make me both laugh and cry is always going to be on my top 10 list. It also shares the story and feeling that most parents know of trying to protect our children and keep them safe even through really scary situations which I think is again, very relevant with a lot of what’s going on in the world today. But perhaps that’s a whole other conversation!

How do you handle self-doubt or creative slumps?

Mostly crying. Ok, that’s only half a joke. But I have amazing people in my life who cheer me on when I’m sure that I am the worst photographer and business owner in the world and should definitely quit and get a job at Starbucks. (They have benefits! And coffee!) Usually it just takes a small pep talk for me to remember why I do what I do. And I have a number of very loyal clients who only have photos taken by me and I remind myself how valuable the work I do is even when I feel like I’m failing. You can’t get moments back and no one is looking at the photo I took of their child and thinking “Wow, her focus isn’t tack sharp” or “Maybe she should have cropped this differently.” Whether our work is perfect or not, it’s important. And we’re getting better all the time. I am learning to extend myself the same love and compassion I offer to others and that’s a whole ass journey but I’m getting there. (Some days more than others. But it’s a start!)

What has been the most difficult part of your creative journey?

Quite honestly, the creative journey is less of a struggle for me than the practical entrepreneur components. I struggle with charging enough and structuring my business to be functional and profitable. That’s why whenever I mentor someone I always come in hard with a disclaimer that you should also talk to someone else about how to do the paperwork’y parts of things because that is far from my strong suit. As someone with ADHD I can either focus obsessively or not focus at all and my brain doesn’t like to focus on things that aren’t fun for me. This is something I’m hoping to change in the near future. But in the meantime, I just struggle by the best I know how and maybe will take the time to watch some courses on the business aspects of things on the Academy in the not-to-distant future!

Who is one of your favorite photographers?

Ok, well full disclosure that this is hella biased because he is one of my best friends, but Kevin Lowery. I am not only saying this because I love him, though. His work is so real and he uses it for such important things. Whether that’s highlighting male vulnerability in his intimate portraiture or capturing an important political campaign. He tells stories beautifully and makes everyone feel important and I just think that is so so beautiful.

Sarah DriscollComment