Stuart Sandford is a London-based photographer whose work explores intimacy and sexuality. I spoke to him about his 2007 series Cumfaces, which consists of a bunch of photos of crowd-sourced models orgasming.
VICE: Just to clarify, did you take the photos, or did the models?
Stuart Sandford: I put an open call asking for photographs to be taken. It had to be on a bed, it had to be landscape, and it had to be head and shoulders. And then, I think I used Myspace mainly, but also a couple of other websites. And people submitted the images to me, and then I selected what I thought were the strongest images. I selected 12, and I think I received about thirty in total. So yeah, I didn’t actually take the photographs. I more directed from afar.
Was it difficult to get people to agree to share?
It was very easy. Most of them, in fact all of them, I didn’t know. I may have chatted to a few on Myspace but I didn’t really know any of them. But they were all very happy to do it. I did ask a couple people who I knew. I asked my boyfriend at the time, and he did one, but it didn’t fit with the series that I had.
How do you think you were able to get the models to be so open? Like that’s a very personal moment.
I think what it was mainly [is] that it was just a project. There was nothing too overtly sexual. I mean, you couldn’t see anything other than their face. Although it’s called Cumfaces and it is sexual, there was no nudity involved. I also think they looked at my work. I wasn’t sort of doing it in an exploitative manner, and I think that’s why they were so down to do it.
What do you feel you were documenting beyond just the “cumface”?
I thought it would be interesting to take it away from myself photographing it. It was kind of a challenge to myself, as well, in that process. It was more of an experiment than documenting anything else, in that series.
The posters for Lars Von Trier's new film, Nymphomaniac
Everyone’s expressions are just so different. There isn’t one standard face. Do you think the different faces tell us anything about that person's sexual experience?
Yeah, that’s right. People express their sexualities in very different manners. I just say, it’s a very intimate moment, so some people are quite exhibitionist with it. One I included, I think it is the one with the blond hair, he has his head back in a very ecstatic moment. But there are a couple of others who are slightly more reserved. They’re still enjoying themselves but they’re not necessarily throwing their head back and howling. We all have different ways that we like to respond to that moment.
Not just their faces were different, but their beds were very different too. What do you think a bed says about the person who keeps it?
I’m just looking at my bed. My bed’s kind of tidy, so I don’t know. As long as it’s clean and tidy, I guess that’s okay. There’s one in the project that looks kind of dirty, and I guess that doesn’t add to the image, but most of them you can’t actually see the beds. But I like that there’s a difference between those images.
Why was there a decision to feature just one person and not two partners?
Originally, when I came up with the idea, I had this word “cumfaces”, and to me it was almost like looking at selfies. I was thinking about selfies. I’ve been thinking a lot about selfies in my recent work, so I wanted to focus on just the one person, and it was kind of the perfect way to do that. This was the first project where I worked with this idea.
What are your thoughts about the posters of Lars von Trier’s new movie Nymphomaniac? They’re just very similar to your work.
Yeah, when I saw them I thought, “Yeah, fantastic.” A lot of artists and image makers have worked with that moment, and that’s another reason why I chose to ask the models to take the photographs themselves. I knew that a lot of artists had already done this where they documented it, so that’s why I wanted to do it a little bit differently. But I think [the posters] are great. They’re great pieces. I think they’re very strong.
Stuart’s newest piece relates to Cumfaces’ modern self-portraits, as it is a sculpture of a man taking a selfie with a camera.