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Remember your childhood fears? That sinister world of monsters in the closet and creepy, evil things under your bed might be a distant memory now, but a look at Joshua Hoffine's work will bring it all back in a second, along with some disturbing company.
Hoffine began making horror photographs in 2003. According to the artist, his work "evolved out of an interest in Jungian psychology and the archetypal imagery of fairy tales." The clean lines, magical elements, and children-in-peril themes in some of his photographs definitely bring to mind fairytale settings. However, the visions he creates are much more than that. From Lovecraftian constructions to demented killers and from satanic visions to self-cannibalism, the many faces of horror come to life in the crisp, spooky images Hoffine constructs.
I'm always looking for great art, so when I cam across Hoffine's work, I knew some day I'd ask the photographer a bit about his work. For a while, I forgot, but one day I was looking at art and working on a review for this site and the proverbial light bulb appeared above my head. I reached out via email and we conversed electronically. I learned that Hoffine's work goes way beyond lighting and shooting. In fact, each piece takes about a month to create. It all begins with the artist's conceptualization of horror.
"I think of horror as an art-form based on the psychology of fear," said Hoffine. "Creating suspense within a static image comes down to technique. What are the mechanics of horror that will lead to a specific emotional response — like shock, dread, or repulsion?"
Death is also a recurrent character in Hoffine's work, but its presence stems from a philosophical acceptance of the fact that we all have expiration dates.
"I also think that the horror story is ultimately concerned with the imminence and randomness of death, and the implication that there is no certainty to existence. The experience of horror resides in this confrontation with uncertainty. I have high regard for the metaphorical, philosophical, and even mystical aspects of horror."
This high regard for the allegorical in horror takes on multiple meanings via children, which show up regularly in Hoffine's work.
"Children embody innocence and vulnerability," said the artist. "They have great archetypal power. Immediately, and by instinct, the viewer is concerned for the child."
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The universe of monsters under the bed also shows up repeatedly in his photographs. Again, Hoffine attributes this to his interest in psychology. For the photographer, we all come into the world with some fears already pre-programmed into our subconscious.
"I am interested in the universal nature of childhood fears," said Hoffine. "I think we are all born with the same inherent and instinctual fears — like fear of the dark, fear of lurking danger, or the fear of losing your parents. As we grow older these types of fears lose their intensity and are slowly shuffled into the unconscious. Through horror photography these forgotten fears lumbering in the unconscious can, for a moment, be re-energized in the mind of the viewer."
Hoffine, who cites movies like Poltergeist, Evil Dead 2, and The Mask of Satan as films that have an impact on his aesthetics, has also brought to life visions from one of the most important figures in horror literature: H.P. Lovecraft. Pickman's Masterpiece is a series of photographs illustrating Lovecraft's classic short story Pickman's Model. The venture was very different from what the artist usually does, but had a special significance for him.
"The Pickman's Masterpiece project was a slight departure from my usual work," said Hoffine. "Firstly, it was a direct reference to a specific H.P. Lovecraft story. And secondly, I tried to tell my story over the course of five photographs, instead of just one. Pickman in the story is a deranged but brilliant horror artist shunned by the mainstream art world. He is my archetype, my patron saint."
Coming up with an idea, finding subjects, applying makeup, constructing sets, creating special effects, building props, and generating the perfect lighting and ambiance are just a few of the things that go into horror photography. This means much time is spent creating a world/stage before the shooting itself can begin. Hoffine's involvement in every step of the process is due to a limited budget, but it also means each piece looks exactly as he had envisioned.
"Unlike Crewdson or LaChappelle, I do not have a budget or a crew of professionals to help me," said Hoffine. "I am deeply involved in every step of the progress and do most things by myself. Setting up takes weeks, but shooting is usually less than an hour."
A month of work, an hour of shooting, and a deep understanding of what disturbs our psyche go into the final product. Looking at each photograph in Hoffine's website, it's easy to see that all that hard work is more than worth it.
To check out more or Joshua Hoffine's work, or to buy signed 8.5x11 prints for $35, visit his official website here.
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