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I can’t eat shoots so I’ll leave

I can’t eat shoots so I’ll leave

I’ve been working creatively and artistically all my adult life, be it in the theatre, as a writer, or as a visual artist. I didn’t pick up a camera and think that I could make art with it until 2004 and only then because I saw it as an easier (and much cheaper) way of making narrative images that explored the ideas I wanted to explore. I never wanted to be a photographer but that’s what I’ve been labelled as for the past eight years.

As a way of exploring and looking at the world photography is truly an amazing medium, as Sontag said it’s a passport to a different world. Photography has been great for me and I’ve met some wonderful, extraordinary, talented people along the way (including most of my photographic heroes like Slava Mogutin, Bruce LaBruce, Nan Goldin and Wolfgang Tillmans) and had some amazing opportunities that I’m extremely thankful for.

I studied fine art and have no interest whatsoever in the technical properties of photography (as some of my critics will certainly attest to) but was always more interested in capturing a moment, be it totally staged for the camera (which 80% of my work was) or caught on the hoof.

Now, though, it’s time to hang up my camera and focus on other projects, projects that photography just isn’t suitable for. Photography as a medium of choice lost its creative spark for me a long time ago and it’s now time to ‘move along please’.

Part of the decision to call it a day is that I think I’ve said everything I ever wanted to say with photography and, in fact, probably said it with the first photoshoot I ever did in 2004 with an actor friend of mine called Ryan. One single image from that shoot ‘Ryan showing off his muscles, 2004’ encapsulated all my photographic ideas and that shoot remains my favourite.

It’s closely followed by the last shoot I did (above), this time with a friend called Jeff at the end of 2011. Both of those shoots present young men in intimate situations in a fun, playful and possibly sexual manner. I see them as both celebrations of youth (celebration was always an important aspect of my work as, growing up in the 80s in the north of England there were no positive images of gay youth having a good time, or gay anyone for that matter) and documents of a moment, a moment before the onset of reality, the onset of adulthood, the onset of becoming a man, when one is still making decisions about who we are and what we want in life, decisions that define us for the rest of our lives.

Another reason for moving on, and here I’m echoing JD Samson’s article in the Huffington Post from October of last year, I want to be in a position where I can create work that I’m proud of whilst not making a product out of it because I have to make a living.

A lot of people think I’m successful but how do we measure success? I’ve been called ‘the queer-Brit Terry Richardson’ and my work has been described as ‘like Nan Goldin meets MySpace’. I’ve exhibited around the world, in London, New York, Berlin, Basel, Rome, Madrid, Rotterdam, and Vienna, amongst other places. In 2010 I curated the group show ‘HUNG’ (which brought together a number of international artists who work with the male form including Bruce LaBruce, Slava Mogutin, Walter Pfeiffer, Brian Kenny, Gio Black Peter, Jan Wandrag, Jesse Finley Reed, Billy Miller, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya) and co-curated ‘Boy BANG Boy’, both of which took place in London. My work has been published in numerous international magazines including BUTT, Maenner, Attitude and Basso. I’ve shot behind the scenes for New York fashion week and I’ve interviewed and photographed the kids from the Harvey Milk High School in New York. Both dream jobs. In those terms then I’m most definitely successful.

However, if success equals financial security, knowing when the next pay day might be or being able to pay my rent, then I’m a monumental failure as I’m always broke and have been ever since I pursued the idea that I could make a living wage from my art. I’ve put any money that I have made straight back into making work and that has, at times, and quite literally, left me both hungry and without a roof over my head to call my own. It’s only thanks to the love of my friends and family and a handful of supporters of my work that I’ve managed to make it this far. I’m eternally grateful to them but, as one gets older and (possibly) wiser, I realise that it can’t continue and in the dilemma that defines our times – the dilemma of the 21st century of the need for both freedom and security – where once I would have chosen freedom, I now choose security.

It’s tough as hell out there in the art and photography worlds to make an impact because so many people these days are doing it. Print magazines and newspapers are declining rapidly and slashing budgets accordingly and in the process doing away with their photography departments. There’s nothing unusual these days to have a photography editor at a newspaper or magazine with no photography staff on board.

We live in the age of the freelancer where everyone has a camera with them 24/7, even if it’s just on their phone and the quality of the camera is so good that it can be printed in a magazine or newspaper.

I was recently asked for some advice by a young (gay) photographer. Not only about making work but also about how to get that work you’ve spent days, weeks and months producing out there. And how do you survive as you create and disseminate your work. I told him something that if I’d been told 10 years ago I would have totally ignored: Get a job that you don’t hate, make enough money to do your photography as a hobby – something that you don’t have to rely upon for an income – and if at some point you’re financially ok then quit your job and concentrate full time on your photography if it’s still what makes you happy. I hope he didn’t listen.

So what does the future have in store for me? Well, I still have my finger in a few creative pies and although I’ll no longer be behind the camera, for those of you who are following my Bodybuilding project you’ll certainly be seeing more of me in front of it. I’m hoping to secure the funding to make this project into a documentary feature (a sort of Super Size Me but with muscles) for releases in the summer of 2013. You can follow the project online.

As well as that, I’ve been developing a feature screenplay with the Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce for the last two years and it now looks as though it’s finally good to go. I’m going to try persuade Bruce to give me a role in the finished film as I’d love to get back into acting as it’s what put me on the creative path back when I was 14 and something I wish I’d never stopped doing.

Other than that, and for the first time in my life, I think I’m ready to actually get a proper job. To have a boss to tell me what to do and then go it. To go home in the evening and forget about the days work whilst I’m taking the dog for a walk. To have drinks with my friends and then eat dinner with my beautiful boyfriend before calling it a night and knowing that I’ll be doing the same thing the next day. Right now that sounds pretty good. So if anyone wants to give me a job I’m ready – as ready as I’ll ever be.

As part of his decision to quit photography, Stuart Sandford is selling his entire back-catalogue of negatives from 2004 to 2007. You can bid in the 10-day eBay auction here (starting on 27 January).