Victoria Beckham once said she wanted to be as famous as ‘Persil’; I sat in a Starbucks some time ago, drinking my latte, waiting to go into Madame JoJo’s for a burlesque shoot and Diane asked me what I really wanted to do with my life. I sat and thought for a while and then replied to her that I wanted to be the ‘Robbie Williams’ of photography… I still do!
Andy Warhol famously quoted: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” and with the advent of social networking someone quipped: “In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people”.
I was once famous for the wrong reasons back in the early 90’s; I had been left in charge of a company that sold reverse-osmosis water purifiers to the domestic market and I was asked to demonstrate how wonderful they were to a couple in Essex. The next day I had a whole page spread in The Guardian regarding my underhanded and scaremongering tactics. In my opinion it was a totally unfair review! The system really did remove shrimp, algae, bacteria, stray metals, poisonous chemicals and carcinogens from tap water… It’s not my fault Essex tap water probably didn’t contain any of them to remove is it?
Needless to say, when the company’s director came back from his holidays he was less than happy.
All my life I’ve struggled with conformity: At school they taught me things I didn’t want to know and failed to teach me the things I wanted to know. Knowing Pi to ten decimal places has never once helped me in the real world, neither has dissecting a frog. Much more useful would have been how to really shine up a pair of shoes, how to roll a decent cigarette or how to avoid police capture after a really good day of shoplifting.
I was too young to be a punk in ’77. I was eleven. My parents, school and counsellor hated my dress sense and earrings. I was continually picked up by the police in Kings Road and Soho and taken to the nearest police station where my parents were duly phoned and asked if they knew where I was… Of course they didn’t! How responsible then, of the local West End constabulary, to once put me in a holding cell with a group of late teen skinheads sniffing glue and drinking cider… I came out of there wrecked, to an interrogation by my parents and a police accusation that maybe I was a ‘rent boy’.
In ’77, growing up in Bromley surrounded by The Bromley Contingent which included Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Severin, Jordan and Billy Idol amongst others what hope was there for me?
I was too young, anonymous and on the very periphery of something un-conformist and new… Something I loved. Punk music had a message that I understood. Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Sex’ and similar shops in Soho sold things I didn’t understand but liked the look of… The seedy underbelly of London cried out to me.
Having learnt Pi, having dissected frogs and having been beaten up by my German teacher I eventually left school with a reasonable amount of ‘O’ Levels to enter the adult world of work… My first job, as a draughtsman taught me how nice Chinese BBQ Pork Buns were and how not to try to beat up 25 year old, rugby playing colleagues. In subsequent jobs I learnt not to take snakes to work, not to date the claimants if you work for the dole office, how to make a sale without the money seeing the till, how to strip down an M16 and how to demolish phone books and the party wall between a gunsmiths and a TV rental shop with a .357 Magnum.
I learnt that in a warehouse, even if you dislike your colleagues you shouldn’t drill through their hands when putting up storage racking and I learnt that Selfridges was a shop and not a dating agency where every girl on the perfume counters and shop dressing department was fair game. I also learnt from Selfridges that celebrities weren’t to be abused and that calling Craig Charles a pervert and spending an evening taking the piss out of Tony Blackburn’s beautifully sequinned ‘bolero’ jacket will get you fired.
The last straw came aged 38: I had blagged my way through the building trade, from the very bottom, to the eventual position of senior management in a multi-million £ building supply company. I had the company car, the salary, the medical benefits and the company pension. I also had regular counselling, a hundred mile round trip to work and back on the M25 every day and an office where I could lock the door and cry my eyes out.
Eventually, after shooting the office ‘darling’ topless in a graveyard during working hours, going to work dressed as a Chinese resplendent in my silk Kung-Fu suit and buying my first set of studio lighting through the company and posting subsequent photos of my MD/CEO grinning like someone who keeps body parts under his desk onto deviantART I was asked to leave and follow my calling as a photographer.
Which brings us almost up to date… the 1st August 2009.
My second bout of fifteen minutes of fame: Take a while out from reading this, open a new tab in your browser and Google ‘Andy Craddock + Church’.
Over 16 million hits on my website in just over a week, 115 of a possible 195 countries visited my site including The Vatican City. I just hope Pope Benedict XVI became a fan! Approximately 77% of the visitors added me to their favourites. On the day the story broke I was the third most popular read item on the BBC New Website, (more popular that day than even the recently deceased Michael Jackson), over 1300 websites and forums linked to my site, I was in 5 national newspapers, I was front page news in two Jerusalem newspapers (where unfortunately my neighbour was on a religious mission), I was on BBC radio twice and BBC TV.
Even better than the above; I was in the two local papers every week and according to their loyal following I should have been run out of town (and Cornwall) by the locals bearing pitch forks and burning brands. Won’t somebody please think of the children!
All of this media attention just for shooting a couple of near naked models touching one another while lying on the altar of a local 13th Century Church. Whatever next?
What the media failed to mention was that behind the controversy was a less than serious photographer chasing his dream. With my tongue firmly in my cheek I want to offend a few people and those that aren’t offended I want to make laugh, to provoke them into thoughtfulness or to make them see things from a different point-of-view.
I’m not a wedding or child photographer! I’m not a paedophile. My fellow St Austell residents and the Cornish in general needn’t fear me. I am a guy that has worked with a lot of the UK’s major burlesque talent, I have worked Gay Prides and Sex shows. I work The London Xpo and other sex trade shows. I work with Transvestites, Drag Artists and Transsexuals. I work with burlesque designers, latex companies and BDSM suppliers. I work with alternative models and glamour models. I also try to work with my heroes from the 70’s and 80’s whenever I get the opportunity.
I do charity work… In 2009 for St Luke’s Hospice in Plymouth (with the Plymouth Calendar Girls) and the Macmillan trust (by auctioning some of my ‘Church’ work in London through the Fetishvisions charity in September). I spent over a year working with an autistic children’s group in London as an organiser and photography tutor. I am fully CRB checked.
Part of my business is or was a social enterprise helping to promote Cornish models to a wider audience.
Part of my business is a social enterprise helping to promote the Cornish LGBT community, the Cornish BDSM community, the Cornish alternative modelling scene and the Cornish glamour modelling scene. To this end, my studio was supposed to be a safe haven where all were welcome and a venue where I could hold a party monthly that these diverse groups could meet with one another and the locals without prejudice.
Neolestat is a brand name, it was and will be again, a studio, an art gallery, a modelling agency, a mini boutique and a party venue.
Andy Craddock is a guy having fun, doing what he loves to do with people he loves to work with. I have no message to preach in my work apart from maybe tolerance. I am non-conformist and here to amuse you if at all possible.
In the words of the great Robbie Williams (though horribly out of order to suit my purpose!): “I’m a burning effigy of everything I used to be, shake your arse come over here; Let me Entertain You”.