Talk to fine-art photographer Katie DeSantis—a familiar face to the patrons of NEAT, Alys Beach’s beloved bottle shop and tasting room, where she tends the bar—about what drives her art—and it’s hard to pinpoint just one source of inspiration. An artistic nature runs deep within her family roots, with grandparents who were in show business in Las Vegas. From the time her grandfather, also a talented amateur photographer, gave DeSantis her first camera when she was eight, it was clear that in one way or another, she’d continue on within her history of creativity and character. Her legacy is perhaps inspired by Katie's innate curiosity about the world and its beautifully diverse cast of inhabitants.
“What I really love to shoot are intriguing, strange things that not everyone thinks about,” she says. “I enjoy shooting people in their natural environments, just being themselves, and capturing the moment as it’s happening the realness of it.”
The truth behind those words allows Katie to see the world through a particular lens, one that notices the beauty in the mundane, the peculiarity in the ordinary, and the magical moments that happen while life is simply being lived. One could say she even approaches her own life with such vision.
Born in Las Vegas and raised in the South, DeSantis studied photography in high school, and went on to graduate from the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design. Her path led her to Panama City, where she dove into the scene, capturing images for commercial clients including Panama City Living and Visit Panama Beach Tourist Development Committee. All the while, she has also continued finding her own projects, from a series of photographs capturing the work of a gifted taxidermist to her own father hard at work at one of his own passions, beekeeping. Landscapes, local icons, fashion—DeSantis has found novel ways to document these as well, often eschewing digital in favor of shooting with film, a medium she cherishes.
“I think the beauty of film,” she says, “is it makes you slow down and really appreciate the craft. Often you’ve only got one shot with film, so it still has that sense of surprise. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out just like you had thought, but sometimes it’s better.”
DeSantis has been tending bar at NEAT for about a year. To her, the mingling of energy and mixing of spirits represents another creative outlet in its own right. To her, the cocktails, carefully crafted themselves and containing both the simple and the rich, are another form of artistic expression.
“I’m really thankful to have another creative outreach, because I think a lot of artists need that—something extra that keeps the creative energy flowing."
“We have a great, creative staff, and we love to bounce ideas off each other,” DeSantis says. “I’m really thankful to have another creative outreach, because I think a lot of artists need that—something extra that keeps the creative energy flowing. And the people who come in enjoy having meaningful conversations and talking about their own experiences. You can tell they appreciate culture and art and good cocktails. They don’t mind waiting a few extra minutes for us to put in that extra time and love into the cocktail, because they know what they’re getting is an art in itself.”
Katie’s time at Alys Beach has been one of growth and connectivity, as she’s had the chance to explore her craft around and among the talents of other masters of art. The architects and landscapers, interior designers and fashion influences, and the photographers and fine artists that walk the boulevards of Alys Beach have all been defining touchpoints for Katie in expanding her own creative craft.
“I think being here, working here, has helped me come into my own as an artist as well,” she says. “I think this is going to be an exciting year.”