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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Visceral Visionaries: Joshua Hoffine

I'm continuing the Visceral Visionaries series with someone whose work I've been really taken with of late. The stunning photography of Joshua Hoffine has been getting a ton of publicity lately, and I'm more than thrilled to contribute to it. Using primal childhood fears and fairy tales as a basis, he has crafted some of the most unforgettable imagery you'll ever see. Thanks to the delightful and twisted Vault Dweller Tammy Jones (a.k.a. 1twistedmind), I had an opportunity to meet with Joshua, and this interview was the result of that meeting.

What led you to delve into this type of warped fairy tale imagery in your work?
I used to read fairy tales to my daughters. I fell in love with the imagery of these stories. I had decided to make a series of photographs based on fairy tales. While I was preparing for this project, I began reading Stephen King's Danse Macabre. In that book, he suggests that horror films are modern fairy tales. My mind started moving in another direction, and I ended up making a series of photographs based on childhood fears instead.
Many classic fairy tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Bluebeard, function as cautionary tales about the potential dangers of the world. Likewise, so do many Horror films. The dangers of the world are represented symbolically or metaphorically - as monsters, ogres, trolls, child-devouring witches, and so on. The same also can be said for horror films.
Many famous horror films are, in fact, closely related to classic fairy tales. PSYCHO draws heavily upon Little Red Riding Hood. Norman Bates, like the Wolf, dresses up as 'grandmother' before slaying his victim. Both stories are predicated upon the idea of 'the wolf in sheep's clothing'. Both the Wolf and Norman Bates adopt a mask of normalcy in order to hide their monstrosity and violent intent.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is a modern-dress version of Hansel and Gretel. Only the kids in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE are lured into the witch's house not by candy, but by their search for gasoline - an understandable motivation during the gas shortages of the 1970s.

The horror film, like the fairy tale, also engages with what Bruno Bettelheim has called 'the existential predicament', where 'a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, an intrinsic part of human existence.' While Bettelheim argues that the fairy tale has an inevitably optimistic outcome - the 'happily ever after' ending - the horror film remains ambivalent in this respect. What it continues to share with the fairy tale, however, is a focus on the process of overcoming the dangers and obstacles in life. Fairy tales and Horror films need to continually construct problems for their protagonists to deal with.
What the fairy tale teaches the child is that life will have difficulties, but they will be overcome. What the horror film teaches us is that life will have difficulties, and they will be overcome, but that the process will then start over. In the modern horror film, the monster always comes back, even after it has been defeated. Each stage of life presents it's own set of dangers, obstacles, and difficulties. We never reach a plateau in life where everything is simply 'happily ever after'. The process never ends. It continues until death.

The big buzz about you is that you don't rely on Photoshop, but you've said that's a bit hyperbolic. How much is live and how often do you need to resort to post work?
I shoot everything possible live in front of the camera. I act out my photographs like small movies. The vast majority of my images are straight photographs. On occasion, however, I envision something that cannot be shot practically, such as the blood in LADY BATHORY. In those instances, I'll shoot the problematic elements separately and then use Photoshop to combine them with the main photograph.
I want my images to be as believable as possible. This is why I focus on shooting things practically in front of the camera. Digital composites tend to feel plastic and lifeless.

What was the most difficult piece to stage and why?
HANDS and DEVIL had the most difficult sets to put together. Both of those images required sets with raised floors for the actors to stand inside.
LADY BATHORY was challenging as well. Getting dried blood in the grout lines of the tile took days. Getting a woman to hang hog-tied from the ceiling was difficult. And cleaning up all the sticky fake blood was a nightmare.

Which is your personal favorite?
I love them all. BASEMENT and CANDY are probably my favorites.

You've mentioned that the children in the photos are yours. How do they feel about this, or their mother? How do you feel about it?
My girls are fiercely proud to be a part of my work. Their mother has some issues with it, but sees how much fun we have and how much it means to them. Personally, I love the fact that I'm making these images with my family.

What led you to use your own daughter? I heard you're using your older daughter for a new one. Tell me a little about this.
I was using my daughters as models before my work turned scary. It was already a very natural thing for them to be photographed by me.
The challenge has been how to make these frightening images, while still having the experience be safe and enjoyable for the children. I could not have done this with other people's children, even professional child models. My children, on the other hand, know and trust me. They're with me as props and sets are being made. The familiar with the artifice of photography. They know it's not real. It's more like an exciting game of dress-up, where they get to be the star.
My eldest daughter Arinna played the victim in my latest photograph BABYSITTER. This was the first time I had used her as a model in a horror image. My youngest daughter Sade will be the star of my next image, called WINDOW. I want to make sure that all of my daughters are represented.

Has your work ever gotten you into any kind of hot water? Explain.
It's been awhile, but I used to get hate mail. Especially when the work first emerged online. But nothing serious.

How much work and planning goes into each photo? Talk a bit about the process.
I begin by writing my ideas down in a journal. I don't make preliminary sketches, but write a description of the photograph instead. Years may pass before an idea goes into actual production. Production lasts for weeks, as I gather the props, prepare the sets and make-up effects, and recruit the friends and family members I'll need as actors and crew.

Did your wife at the time have any issues with the work you began to do?
Not at first. She became much more sensitive to the work as we were going through our divorce, afraid of what people would think. Once she realized how much everybody admired the work, she softened her position and has been very supportive over the past few years.

Are you able to support yourself on this work alone? If so, when did this occur?
Almost, but not quite. I still shoot simple jobs on the side, like weddings and portraits.

What was the turning point when you realized your work was resonating with people and getting some media attention?
It literally happened overnight. I had been creating the work in private for years. One day a horror blog posted a link to my website and my images shot through the internet. I went from 40 hits on my website a month to tens of thousands a day.

What is it about children's fairy tales that are such a source of terror?
Witches, ogres, trolls, wolves, evil queens - fairy tales have the best monsters. Classic iconic monsters that we all are familiar with.

Can you let my readers in on any future photos/projects on the horizon for you?
WINDOW will be my next photograph. I'm hoping to get some more work done on my short film BLACK LULLABY over the winter months.

Check out Joshua's complete portfolio at JoshuaHoffine.com.



Great photos, except the first one of the topless young girl in the mirror is a bit unnerving on an entirely different level. Less horror and more sexual abuse.

BJ Colangelo said...

It's a young girl trying to go to sleep, it's only sexual abuse if you make it out to be that way. It's just a little kid, they run around without clothes on all the time. It's not trying to be sexual...it's realistic, I slept like that all the time. Plus, it's his kid.

1twistedmind said...

After meeting Joshua for the second time, I can assure you that "sexual abuse" was not his intention at all. He even talked about this in his seminar and about how people perceive his photography. He is an absolute joy to be around and talk to!

Wings1295 said...

Dark and disturbing stuff, man. The guy has an eye for what makes us creeped out, without doubt!

KT Grant said...

These pictures are visually stunning as well as scary. Taps into all my childhood fears.

Clowns! *shudder*

Pax Romano said...

Good god, this is the stuff that nightmares are made of ... much more disturbing than any movie.

senski said...

Absolutely astonishing. And you simply have to go to his website to see the painstaking effort he puts into producing these grotesqueries. He just made another fan who's going to start purchasing those monthly prints. And when Joshua comes up with a coffee table book, not only will I buy it, I'll buy a new coffee table to put it on!

Love these Visceral Visionary posts (and the tag), B-Sol. Any chance of J.K. Potter sometime?

B-Sol said...

Hopefully, the coffee table book is coming very soon!

DM said...

I only just ran across this man's work a few months ago and I simply love it! He does such a wonderful job capturing the art of horror and fear.


Amazing and evocative stuff, I enjoyed the interview as well. He really puts a lot of thought into the genre.

viagra online said...

awesome images, I almost piss my pants, specially the last one, that women with all those spider in her mouth and with a baby in her arms, men anything that have a link between terror and babies, that really freak me up.

Anonymous said...

The true horror of the monster under the bed is that the blocks spell "Daddy No".

B-Sol said...

Good Lord, I never noticed that!

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