He's got a sense of humor, too, teasing his rapidly expanding audience with hints that he may be someone famous, all the while sprinkling his Tumblr (Work Unfriendly) with unique, offbeat imagery, building a catalogue of work that is becoming more illustrative of who he is than any personal information ever could be.
I've been negligent in not interviewing him sooner—I've blogged about him for a couple of years already—because we've become friends. I've met him and stayed with him at his home, and have benefited from his advice and support; it's hard to interview your buddies.
But when your buddies are brilliant artists, you have to step up to the plate...
But then, Venfield 8 became so popular, and the mystery was just more about having fun. Anonymity affords an artist a lot of freedom, which I am thoroughly enjoying. But presently, I think this question of who I really am isn't that important to the people who look at my work. Now, I think that element is more background noise. I think the mystery is now replaced by a sort of expectation about the work.
Venfield 8 now is almost a luxury brand of its own.
BC: Where does the name "Venfield 8" come from?
V8: Without being too specific, it refers to a time in my life when I was living and working in London. It has a special meaning to me...
BC: You recently posted a selfie with your face showing...has anyone figured out who you are? Was it amusing that so many people were guessing Marc Jacobs and other fashion glitterati?
V8: Were they? That is funny. I can't believe I actually posted that, to be honest. The whole selfie thing cracks me up, and I really am extremely shy. I actually hate being in front of the camera. That was supposed to be a private shot meant for my husband, but at the time, I thought, "Hey, this doesn't look half bad!"—the constant mantra of the selfie-taker—and I needed something new for my Instagram account, so I didn't think about it. And then, the second after I pressed "share," I thought to my myself, "Fuck, what have I done?" I couldn't even look at the comments for 24 hours. I was so worried I would be torn up, ya know? I mean people say things about my work all the time, but here was a picture of me… and that is entirely different.
"The second after I pressed 'share,' I thought to myself, 'Fuck, what have I done?'"
Thankfully, everyone was really complimentary. But jeez, I don't know if I could do that again. That first 24 hours was gruelling. Having said that, I figured because I had on those big Gucci glasses, I was adequately hidden, so my identity was safe. Not that that really matters at this point. It was just fun. But it is funny that people still try to guess.
V8: I had seen pictures of David before meeting him, and like everyone else, I was instantly smitten. I had no idea he was associated with some hook-up site [Scruff]—I just thought he was so adorable. I did some research, found an e-mail address and just pitched him. Almost from the first time I saw his pictures, the idea to shoot him in the Bruce Weber style of Bear Pond was born. Thankfully, he agreed to meet me and hear more about the project.
The thing is, in all his pictures, people identify this wholesome, cuddly and sweet kid. And in person, totally the opposite. A real diva/asshole...just kidding. He truly is this amazingly wonderful, approachable, kind, cuddly guy. I just want to squeeze him all the time. Everyone feels like that about him. It's some strange effect he has on people. It really is special.
"Everyone wants David naked."
And so, of course, the book is a book of nudes, and he was really fine with it—even though he had never posed nude before. Not that he hasn't been asked. Everyone wants David naked. But I think I got lucky because he quickly recognized that this project was about a feeling, and not sex, that it was art and not porn. Plus, I think he wanted to challenge himself from a modeling standpoint. So it really didn't take any convincing on my part—he was amazing.
Because of who he is, I found myself extremely protective of him. I consider him a friend now, and it was so great working with him and getting to know him. I am so lucky. I wish all my models were like that.
BC: How are Bear Hill's sales? It's not cheap! Do you find there is a ready-made audience for high-end photography if it's unique?
V8: Sales are good, and no—it's not cheap. I think that is the biggest obstacle,and my biggest regret about the book. But unfortunately, that is the reality of print-on-demand publishing. It costsa lot of money to make it and send it and all the billing, so the printing company does all of that, and of course, that drives the cost up. But I think it is a good investment. It is a limited edition, so once the 500 copies are sold, that's it, and it will increase in value. And if you were buy a print of my work in a gallery, they start over $1,000, so this is an opportunity to own something special and original. Thankfully, people/collectors seem to agree—they have sprung for it.
BC: Your work is unabashedly referential (and reverential): Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Guy Bourdin and Bruce Weber, among others, show up in your images. Who would you say is your ultimate inspiration as a photographer, and what is it about that artist's work that you find so compelling?
V8: Wow, that is so hard to say. I really am a sponge in terms of influence. I love so many artists for so many different reasons, and I know I am always influenced by them—probably in ways I couldn't explain. And I can't pick just one. But of course with Bear Hill I was trying to chanel Bruce without outright copying him, and I do adore Helmut for his ability to take even the most mundane or ordinary shot and make it somehow chic and aspirational.
Venfield 8's first short film, Moonr8kr:
V8: Imperfection is where the excitement lies. Perfect is boring. And really, those "perfect" boys that dominate the blogs—they aren't real. That type is about one fraction of a percentage of the population, but because it is so rare, that's what everyone holds up as beauty. Then the PhotoShopping begins—at the end of the day, it really doesn't exist. And I know there are lots of people who enjoy that, and that is cool, but I find it trite and banal. From a subject standpoint, I can see the allure, and I have worked with lots of models that fit that bill, but with Venfield 8, I like to shoot the spectrum of people. That is what is exciting to me.
"Imperfection is where the excitement lies. Perfect is boring."
Personally, I like men, not boys. Those shaved, plucked and overly manicured guys are like unripened fruit. They lack a certain element that comes with experience andIi find it almost asexual.
BC: Whom has been your favorite model to shoot?
V8: Whoever is in front of my camera at the time. Really.
BC: Where do you get your models?
V8: Some come to me, others from referrals, some from agencies...anywhere, really. As long as there is a spark of creativity and I am inspired by them.
BC: What's it like working with Benjamin Godfre? [See bonus Ben exclusive in the gallery at the top of this post.—Ed.]
V8: Fun. Ben is a wild guy. He is so smart and really beautiful, so that is a rare combination. But he also has this wild side; it's something in his eyes. It's like he knows. He knows what people want to see, and in front of the camera, he judiciously knows what to give. And he is fearless, so to work with him is about being ready to do anything and just letting the mood take you. It's rare to find a model so creative and so self-assured. It is wonderful.
BC: How does your work differentiate itself from porn? Do you see any relationship between what you're doing and what, for example, Black Spark did?
V8: Everyone has their own definition of porn, and so I can only say what mine is. I have always maintained that for something to be porn, then it has to be created with the intent to arouse people sexually. That has never been my goal. I love porn, but I don't think what I do is porn because I am trying to say different things with the images, I am not trying to turn anyone on. Of course, if people get turned on by the work, then so be it, but that has never been the goal. Plus I think there is a category of art that is porny just as there is porn that is arty—like Black Spark was. But I don't see any similarities between us, at least not now. Maybe in the future...who knows? I may set out to do something more porny. But even then, it will be a statement about something.
"I am not trying to turn anyone on."
V8: I have so many favorites, I really couldn't whittle it down to one. And like I said, I really don't think they are hot. I guess others do, but for me, I am too in the forest to see the trees.
Venfield 8 portrait by Olivier Lebourg
BC: Do you ever shoot women? [See two shots of women in the gallery at the top of this post.—Ed.] Still lifes? Animals?
V8: Yes. Lots. I shoot a lot of women as my non-Venfield 8 self, but a few have crept onto my site, and I do take a lot of pictures of my dog. Like, always. He has more tear sheets than most models! Still lifes, not so much. When I started shooting, it was always people, and it always has been. I didn't have the luxury of going to school for photography and experimenting with different subjects. So it has always been people.
BC: What's your fashion background? I ask because your "Designer Dick" series is so fashion-oriented; it's somewhat of a parody of fashion, isn't it?
V8: I don't think of it as a parody of fashion as much as it is a parody of consumerism. I like fashion, and really, these images are like absurd extensions of fashion-house campaigns. I don't intend any malice, but I want to "go there" where the fashion houses can't. Plus, I think the statement about having everything "designer" in a consumerist society is interesting. Having been a fashion photographer for so long, it is hard to escape the fashion touches that end up in my work. But I am not trying to hide them, I enjoy it. Fashion and fashion photography is always evolving, so I enjoy all that reinterpretation. I like the challenge.
"All you have to do is bend over. You don't even have to smile."
BC: Will you do another gallery show? And will you attend?
V8: Yes, and probably. I didn't attend my first one, but I was traveling. People thought I was trying to be mysterious, but that's all part of the myth. I would attend, although I am pretty shy.
V8: I don't. I have had gallery shows, but honestly, I don't have time to print and stamp and send out the work. It would be too time-consuming, and I am having too much fun taking them. I am working on getting more accessible for collectors, so stay tuned.
BC: Will you, at some point, announce who you are, or are you content to be semi-anonymous now?
V8: I am content. Besides, who I really am isn't really that important. The work is, and it speaks for itself.