While it may be tempting to dismiss queer British photographer Stuart Sandford as nothing more than another kid with a camera, a closer look finds that Sandford’s images successfully interlock the snapshot aesthetic with more thoughtful subjectivity. The result is a delicate, yet empowered portrayal that eschews piteousness in favor of a more light-hearted, exhilarating self.
Here, Sandford chats with Queerty about the importance of fantasy, healthy self-love, and why we need more masculine experimentation.
Queerty: What compelled you to pursue photography?
Stuart Sandford: I’m a total voyeur. I just wish I’d realized it sooner! I started off writing scripts and making films, so it’s not too dissimilar to what I’m doing now with a stills camera. I’m still creating narratives and stories; I just don’t have to spend Â£1,000,000 to do it. I don’t really consider myself a photographer either; I’m an artist who works with photography.
QT: You’ve described your work as a “celebration” of youth culture. What is it about youth culture that you find so alluring? Why celebrate?
SS: The celebration aspect has more to do with celebrating who you are than the celebration of youth culture itself. When I was growing up and first realized I was gay, there were no positive gay role models around and there was a lot of negative publicity around gay men and the AIDS/HIV pandemic. Added to that, my hometown is not the most accepting and open-minded place to live, so when I began to do this kind of work, it became very important to make it celebratory. Also, I didn’t want the work to contain any elements of pathos, like the works of Larry Clark or Nan Goldin. Although I love their work, the depiction of the pain, misery and violence that is all around us holds no interest for me in.
QT: There’s a lot of posturing in your works, such as “Joel, Paris, 2005” and “Ryan Showing Off His Muscles.” (Pictured) Why such posing? What role does it play in your art?
SS: To a degree the posing is important to define the work as authored and created images, hopefully making the viewer think, “Oh yeah, I’m looking at something that’s been considered, rather than just some dude who like taking photos of his shags,” which I do as well of course when I’m making work, I choose the setting, the clothes, the light, all that kind of stuff but, because of the snapshot style I use, that doesn’t always appear to be the case. The posing helps to give it that authored edge.
QT: What role does posing play in the development of youth culture?
SS: Well it’s important to create a positive image of yourself in your
own mind. It can be very tough out there as a young person and creating an identity for yourself or at least, knowing who you are, is empowering.
QT: In another interview you said, “I capture guys that aren’t gay but there’s a lot of male sexuality there…Youth culture is about experimenting and not necessarily being defined as any sexuality.” Do you think this view comes strictly from your background or is this part of a larger trend?
SS: It’s a little of both. I see sexuality as fluid. I don’t define
myself as gay, but I’m definitely far more attracted to men than I am to women. I don’t think it’s always important to define yourself as one of the other. It’s a societal construct and the main reason we do this is to get sex. So let’s keep experimenting, not just in our youth, but also throughout the rest of our lives.
QT: Masculine iconography comes into play in your work. Again, “Joel in Paris” comes to mind. Why such interest in iconic male subjects? Do they still hold meaning today, or have we become so saturated with hyper-masculinity that young men and boys can eschew such well-worn roles?
SS: A lot of the iconography I use comes from today’s pop culture, Joel in the Superman briefs being a prime example. That image is a fun one, but it also touches one some deeper questions: the model isn’t super muscley, as you might expect a Superman to be, he’s actually quite effeminate, yet still pulling a masculine pose. I like the contradictions in this and that it questions the role of the male in today’s society.
QT: You blur lines between reality and fiction. You’ve referred to your photographed life as a “fantasy life.” Why the need for fantasy?
SS: I think I ripped the quote about “fantasy life” from Ryan McGinley! Anyway, there’s always a need for a healthy fantasy life, especially in the strange days we find ourselves in right now. That separation between the real and the fantasy further explores the notion of what a public and private image is, something that’s integral to my work, and how that image is accepted. Although I’ve referred to my work in the past as diacristic portraiture, one thing I’m not trying to do is document or diary of my life, I’m not really interested in that. It’s been done before, and brilliantly, by the likes of Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillman’s etc. Also, I think that that approach can be very limiting in a way. So what I’m trying to do, with the input of my friends, lovers and others, is to make portraits that ask specific questions, not necessarily the individual works themselves, but the work as a whole, kind of like a meta-narrative.
QT: What do you strive for personally? What is your perfect image for yourself?
SS: Hmmm, I think I’m gonna have to come back to this one at a later date!
Darren’s Other 12″, 2006
Joel, Paris, 2005
Ryan Showing Off His Muscles, 2005
Patrick, Bath, 2006
Col’s Sword, 2005