Archive for the ‘Questions’ Category

Student Interview

November 9, 2015

Interview with Chelsea Benwell, photography student at Plymouth College of Art in the UK :

When did you begin realising that it was horror photography you wanted to do?

I dreamed of someday making a Horror movie, even before becoming a photographer. The ground was always fertile. I made my very first Horror image in 2003 – a picture called PHOBIA that featured my baby girl sleeping in the leaves with a tarantula on her chest. It was made the night before an underground art show I had been invited to join. I thumbtacked the print to the wall and watched people flip out. I’d say from that moment on, Horror was my focus.

Considering all the hard work that goes into the process, how long does it take to create one of your images?

Weeks. If there is a Kickstarter involved, months. My most recent project INNSMOUTH took over a year, from first discussions to delivery of prints. It began as a 10 image sequence with Oscar winning make-up artist Joel Harlow and (I hoped) his buddy Johnny Depp. ALICE IN WONDERLAND 2 jumped into production and my team left the project. I regrouped with Kosar, whom I had worked with several times before, and then recruited Doug Jones. I chopped 10 images down to 1 and ran a Kickstarter campaign, and into production we finally went.

What has been your favourite project to date and where did the idea come from?

My favorite project was my first – AFTER DARK, MY SWEET – which dealt with childhood fears and featured my own children. The idea came from spending time with my children and realizing that they experienced all of the same fears I had as a child. I began meditating on their universal nature, and soon enough these ideas exploded in my work.

Do you find that you’re always learning something new about photography?

My first 7 years as a photographer were mad with questions and experiments, I remember a great zeal in learning something new all the time. All of my friends were photographers. I lived, ate, and breathed it. I had a true and genuine love for photography. By the time I made my first Horror photograph, I had congealed into a mature photographer with a particular and personal aesthetic. I knew how to light things, and the camera had become an extension of my arm. I no longer think about photography. I don’t look at photography, and I don’t really have many photographer friends anymore. These days my preoccupation is with what to place in front of the camera. I feel like I now learn with each new photo project how to re-explore composition and staging, how to better manipulate the viewer’s reaction, how to get more detail into my sets. I am in pursuit of scale and production values now.

What kind of equipment do you typically use? Do you tend to do a lot of post production or is that something you tend to avoid?

Canon Mark III mostly now. I used hot lights forever, but I’ve recently been using strobes for crowd scenes like LAST STAND and INNSMOUTH. I use fog every chance I get. I do everything live in front of the camera, but more and more there is an equal amount of work in post-production. making sure all the best footage fits together as perfectly as I can make it.

Are there any photographers/artists that you really look up to? Artists that may influence your work or just people that really inspire you.

These days I spend a lot of time thinking about Guillermo del Toro.

Is there an area of photography that you are interested in but maybe haven’t explored?

Yes. Countless ideas and projects. From technical fetishes like wet plate photography, to contrary project ideas, like shooting images depicting Bible stories in modern dress.

What do you feel makes the perfect horror based image?

I’m trying to figure that out every time I pick up a camera. This I know – you must have the tension of a victim and a villain juxtaposed in a single frame, the moment just before impact.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to become a horror photographer?

Be prepared for a grim reception. Galleries will not want your work, assuming (with some accuracy) that work designed to upset the viewer will not easily sell and could be bad for business. Ad agencies will not hire you if they can’t present your website and portfolio to their clients to consider. Haunted Houses are cheap, and so are bands and authors. There is just not much money in this ‘field’. In the wake of my appearance online, a few other photographers jumped in and started shooting Horror as well. Most have moved on to other subjects though, because of how little commercial demand there really is for this kind of work. I stick with it because I want to publish a book (coming next year!) and I don’t give money enough concern. I have deeper artistic motivations. If I was in it for the money, I would be a big shot advertising photographer instead of a notorious underground art monster.

Be able to separate what you do for love from what you do for money. Say yes to every gig and hustle work, and spend the money you make on shooting what you love. Eventually the 2 converge, and you spend more time shooting what you love, for money. But I shoot and hustle work all the time and a lot of it is basic photographer stuff – portraits, weddings, architecture, etc. I still keep 2 websites because no ad agency will risk offending a client. Also, people will be afraid of you. Doesn’t matter how nice you are. I kind of like it, but it’s another consequence to expect.

“The first monster that an audience has to be scared of is the filmmaker. They have to feel in the presence of someone not confined by the normal rules of propriety and decency.” – Wes Craven

Actual advice: watch every Horror movie you can, pay attention to what frightens you, read academic books on Horror and the psychology of fear, and shoot as much as you can, always careful to push yourself to your absolute best every time. Solve problems, but never cut corners.


May 15, 2015

Here is an excerpt from my wonderful interview with SUPER VILLAINS NETWORK.  Thank you Linda Covello!

Hoffine’s entire photographic oeuvre is a bullet list of our most terrifying and horrific fairytales, fantasies, and true crimes of history, all created with the same level of artistry and execution of a big-budget horror film. His sometimes-controversial subject matter ranges from the Big, Bad Wolf as werewolf pedophile, to Jack The Ripper. Hoffine has parlayed his fascination and skill for recreating the most horrific phantasms of the subconscious into a commercial enterprise, but the Lovecraft homage is being underwritten by a successful Kickstarter campaign. The photographer has a philosophical and, at times, academic outlook on the psychology of the horror genre, and can be very eloquent and informative about what haunts us and why when discussing his art and inspiration.

Hoffine explained, “I think you see a lot of people all at once warming up to horror because they’re being exposed to it more, and it’s not so shocking after a while. You start to see, in a weird way, the fun in it. It’s like drinking beer, the first one tastes awful, but you keep sipping and after a while you are enjoying it.”

This may partly explain the success of The Talking Dead, a talk show follow up to The Walking Dead, wherein celebrity guests and at-home viewers riff at times comically on the night’s episode, and bond in a sort of group therapy session.

Continuing with the analogy, Hoffine says, “The more you do it, the less it upsets you – and you are getting more enjoyment out of it. And the desensitization to violence in the media definitely is part of what is making horror more acceptable now, and more popular than it’s ever been. Maybe we’ve hit a certain peak point of saturation with violence in media where now we can handle a Bates or a Hannibal, or something like that, as a protagonist in a mainstream show … The movie monster focuses your real world concerns into something tight and manageable. In that sense, it’s a comfort. Unlike other genres, horror fulfills a genuine sociological function.”

Hoffine maintains that the horror genre pre-dates the horror genre as we now know it, and that these themes were extant in the silent film era, and they were staples in gothic literature and in the myths of all cultures, particularly Greek mythology, as well as in the Bible. He says, “You have these stories throughout history, so it’s definitely something that we’re hardwired for. Those are stories that we understand at our core.” Hoffine recognizes that we are born with an inherent sense of danger, a built-in fear response. “That’s why we’re afraid of the dark; we’re afraid something might come that our senses can’t pick up on … We’re afraid of losing our parents, of pain, of our own mortality. And so these fears are embedded in our very systems, and as we grow older those fears change to reflect more the things that we are actually dealing with.

“Regarding a monster hiding under the bed, my mind recognizes the fact that I’ve slept in this bed so many times and nothing has happened – that the fear eventually gets filed away in the subconscious, but then new, more practical fears start to take over –  fears about real things – like losing a girlfriend, or a job, is that mole turning into cancer, could something happen to my kids, injury, getting mugged, your house getting robbed: those fears are valid fears and they can become a preoccupation. But no matter what you do, unless you’re some Buddhist monk who has trained to deal with these kinds of concerns, you’re going to have to grapple with them, on some level, every day.”

Hoffine explains that a lot of those fears are pushed off to the side, or pushed down into the subconscious, but they don’t go away. “You don’t think about nuclear holocaust while you’re trying to do your job every day. But if something comes along that reminds you of nuclear holocaust, you start thinking and worrying about nuclear holocaust. You start thinking about your own mortality. I’m afraid we are the only species on the planet that has to contend with our mortality on a conscious level; it hangs over us.”

Hoffine sees the horror genre as a stand-in for these daily fears, a sort of scapegoat to handle the brunt of the existential crisis of mortality. “With the horror genre, we have some concrete monster, we have a face for our fear; it might have horns, or a hockey mask, it might have pins in its head, it might be the living dead, but always that monster represents the force of chaos that’s going to come in and wreck your life, hurt your body, or end your existence … The movie or the horror story gives you a moment to sort of walk through those fears in a very pointed, albeit artificial, way that helps you grapple with the deeper underlying fears. And those underlying fears are always there.  Because you are going to die.” Hoffine makes this last statement with serious emphasis.

“The horror film is sort of like boot camp for the psyche. It’s a rehearsal for your own death. We gravitate to these stories over and over because those concerns are universal. They transcend culture, they transcend age, they simply are there. It’s part of the human condition.  So, suddenly, people realize that if you put a story around it on TV, and you don’t really pull back your punches too much on what people need to see to get rattled, then you have something that can really be marketed.” Hoffine adds, “And like all horror fans, the more you spend time with it, the less frightening it is, the more enjoyable it becomes.”

You can find the article in it’s entirety here:

Sinister Seven Q&A with RUE MORGUE

May 15, 2015

My Sinister Seven Q&A with Rue Morgue Magazine!


We managed to snag photographer JOSHUA HOFFINE fresh from his cinematic debut, the stunning short film BLACK LULLABY, for this week’s Sinister Seven Q&A. Hoffine has been hard at work on INNSMOUTH, a “Lovecraft photograph” inspired by the master’s classic tale The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and starring DOUG JONES and featuring creature design by J. ANTHONY KOSAR.

1. What is the difference between telling a story with a photograph and telling a story with a movie?

The power of a photograph comes from its perceived limitations – it is a fixed moment in time.  This inherent feature of the photograph can be used to great effect for Suspense and Horror.  Unlike a movie, there is no before and there is no after.  There is only the single moment – frozen and unresolvable. And because the image is fixed, and does not fleet across the screen like a movie, the metaphoric aspects of the image can be highlighted as details in the background. This added layer of ‘depth’ engages the viewer in a way that is different than cinema. The photograph becomes more reflective due to its static nature.

2. Tell us about the worst nightmare you’ve ever had.

I once had a terrible nightmare where somebody was hiding in the backseat of my car and slit my throat with a knife. It was the only dream I ever had that made me sit bolt upright in bed with a gasp – just like in the movies.

3. What makes a monster scary?

The absence of humanity, I think. That could be a lack of empathy, or a relish for violence and brutality. Or it can be expressed more symbolically as a non-humanoid monster, or even a distorted human form (like a clown, zombie, or vampire) where obvious humanity has been diminished.

4. What was your inspiration behind making BLACK LULLABY?

BLACK LULLABY was intended to be the climax to my photo series dealing with childhood fears.  The inspiration for the film was simply an earnest desire to see one of my photographs move, while preserving the same ‘look’. It is an exercise in building tension, as much as it is about style. More and more, my new ideas are about moving pictures.

5. What inspired you to pursue a photo project based on Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth?

The project began as a suggestion from the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in San Pedro, California. I read the story and loved it. Part of what made it exciting to me visually, was that the story featured a single person being chased through the city streets at night by hordes of monsters. The imagery is similar to I Am Legend, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or any modern zombie movie, but exists first in this story. I like the potential grandeur of this image, it’s spectacle – but I also like the core idea of being hunted down by an entire society.

6. What is the scariest story you have ever read?

Mabye, The Big Toe in Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark.

7. What’s next for Joshua Hoffine?

Next year I hope to publish a limited edition book of my photographs and then start work on a full-length Horror movie.

Thank you Rue Morgue!

Neurobiology of Fear

December 17, 2012

Continued from post What is Horror?

If the Horror genre is best defined by the intention to elicit and manipulate the emotion of fear, what then exactly is the emotion of fear?

The dictionary defines fear as: a feeling of agitation and dread caused by the presence or imminence of danger.

Persons experiencing fear display increased alertness, concentration on the source of fear, attack and fight-or-flight behaviors, and evidence of sympathetic-nerve stimulation such as cardiovascular excitation, superficial vasoconstriction, and dilation of the pupils.

Fear evolved as a basic survival mechanism. It is the ability to recognize danger, which leads to an urge to confront the danger, or flee from it: the fight-or-flight response. This mechanism allows animals to move quickly away from a location of perceived threat and hide.  All people experience fear as an instinctual response to potential danger – this mechanism is important to the survival of all species.

Although many fears are learned, the capacity to fear is part of human nature.  Many studies have found that certain fears are much more common than others.  These fears, such as fear of heights, predatory animals, darkness, etc. are also easier to induce in the laboratory. Because early humans who were quick to fear dangerous situations were more likely to survive and reproduce, certain innate fears developed as a result of natural selection.

People also develop specific fears as a result of learning.  Fear can be acquired through a traumatic event. The area of the brain most involved with the learning of conditioned fears is the amygdala.


The amygdala is located behind the pituitary gland. In the presence of a threatening stimulus the amygdala generates a secretion of hormones that influence fear and aggression. Once response to the fear stimulus commences, the amygdala elicits the release of hormones into the body to put the person into a state of alertness, in which they are ready to move, run, fight, etc.

There are many physiological changes in the body associated with fear. The fight-or-flight response accelerates heart rate, dilates blood vessels, and increases muscle tension and breathing rate. Only after this series of physiological changes, does the consciousness realize an emotion of fear.

After a situation which incites fear occurs, the amygdala and the hippocampus record the event.  The stimulation of the hippocampus will cause the individual to remember many details surrounding the situation. Memory formation in the amygdala is generated by activating the neurons in the region.  Once the person is in safe mode, meaning there are no longer any potential threats surrounding them, the amygdala will send this information to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) where it is stored for similar future situations.  The storing of memory in the mPFC is known as memory consolidation.

Recent studies show that a person learns to fear regardless of whether they themselves have experienced trauma, or if they have only observed the fear in others. Fear responses in the amygdala can develop in both conditions.

Fear is transferable.

This is partly achieved through mirror neurons.  A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another.  The neuron ‘mirrors’ the behavior of the other, as though the observer himself were acting, not simply watching. Such neurons have been directly observed in primates and other species. Mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy.

Fear and the emotional response to dangerous situations can be triggered through observation and simulation.  Recreational Horror, such as Horror movies, roller coasters, and Haunt Attractions, all simulate danger for the bodily pleasure of the fight-or-flight response in the absence of real threat.

What is Horror?

December 2, 2012

The Horror genre is a vast sprawling landscape, populated by numerous sub-genres and hybridized genre mutants, like the Horror-Comedy, Sci-Fi Horror, and even the Horror Musical.  Some would argue that it is impossible to devise a definition of Horror that encapsulates them all.  What is the difference between a Horror film and a Thriller?  Or a Horror film and a Suspense film?  Does a movie require a monster, or a supernatural element to qualify as Horror? defines Horror as “an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting.”

The Horror genre seeks to elicit this negative emotional reaction from viewers.  Stock elements, such as ghosts, vampires, serial killers, and so forth, may populate the Horror genre, but they do not define it. Movies about the supernatural, and movies with monsters, are not necessarily always horrific.  I believe that the Horror genre is best defined by it’s intent to terrorize the audience.

Although many sequences in non-Horror films are frightening, they do so to advance narrative agendas that have something other than fear at their cores.  Non-Horror films may frighten the audience to tell their stories, but Horror films tell stories to frighten the audience.  In the former, fear is a side effect; in the latter, it is the object of the exercise.


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