Art

Joshua Hoffine: Real Horror Show

Children’s’ worst fears and nightmares are stylishly brought to life in Joshua Hoffine’s incredible scenes of childhood dread. A pioneer in the fast growing horror photography genre, Hoffine used his own children as models to recreate encounters with chilling imaginary myths from the thing that lives under the bed to the monster under the stairs. Boo! Indeed.

Story by Lora Wiley- lora@citizenbrooklyn.com Photos by Joshua Hoffine
Photo © Joshua Hoffine

Photo © Joshua Hoffine

Citizen Brooklyn: What scared you as a child?
Many things. I was scared of the dark. As a small child, I was afraid of the monster under my bed or hiding in my closet. I was afraid my parents would die. I was afraid of walking into quicksand. Because I lived in Kansas and had seen The Wizard of Oz, I was also afraid of tornadoes.

CBK: What scares you now?
Now my biggest fear is that something bad might happen to my children or my wife. I am scared of cancer. I am scared of nuclear war, biological weapons and disease epidemics. I am scared of random acts of violence. I am frightened that I will be caught in a mass shooting. I am terrified of being poked in the eye or going blind. Actually, the list is longer now than when I was a child.

CBK: What’s the craziest reaction any one person has had to your work?
The most unexpected reaction came from a woman—a client of mine—who started to cry when she saw my photograph WOLF. She had been molested as a child, and the image brought old emotions to the surface. I was flustered with concern, even as she gave me a hug and suggested I allow my images to be used in therapy.

Photo © Joshua Hoffine

Photo © Joshua Hoffine

CBK: What is your definition of fear? Of a monster?
Fear is “a feeling of agitation and dread caused by the presence or imminence of danger”. Horror, as an art form, exploits and manipulates this hardwired response. Horror simulates a threat, a source of danger, which ultimately fails to materialize. The effect, however, can be intense.

A monster is a metaphor. Sometimes the monster is a metaphor for the ‘outsider’, but more often he is an agent of chaos. All Horror refers to the same idea: there are forces of chaos and destruction in the world that can threaten our lives and security at any point—and we are powerless to stop it. The monster’s form may change, but his ultimate meaning does not.

CBK:What has been your experience working with children within the context of this series?
I used my own children as models, so it was a lot of fun to do. For us it was like a big game of dress up. I didn’t teach them how to be actors, I taught them how to be mimes. I taught them to take posing suggestions for the camera, how to mug and make faces. I don’t know what it would be like to work with unfamiliar children. I would be very concerned about earning their trust and making sure they were never actually frightened.

Photo © Joshua Hoffine

Photo © Joshua Hoffine

CBK: Ever had any hesitation about using your own children as models? Why?
Yes, there was some hesitation at first. While I made sure that my children were having fun during shooting, and were never actually frightened, I still worried about scarring them somehow. I also knew that using real children in these photographs would be seen as reprehensible in the eyes of many people.

CBK:You’ve gone from working for Hallmark Cards to horror images. Describe that transition.
My time at Hallmark as a young photographer helped instill in my work a real focus on storytelling, on evoking a strong emotional response. Only now, I evoke emotions like dread and terror, rather than love or nostalgia.

CBK: Having been a pioneer in the horror photography genre, any advice for aspiring horror photographers out there?
Do not approach horror photography as portraiture. Instead, think in terms of situations, and treat your horror photographs like scenes from a movie. Depict a moment in a story, and make that story clear to the viewer. Suspense is built in the dynamics between two characters—a victim and a villain.

Photo © Joshua Hoffine

Photo © Joshua Hoffine

CBK:You launched a Kickstarter to create just one image. What goes into these pictures from the production standpoint?
LAST STAND was the zombie image we financed through our successful Kickstarter campaign. We built a living room set. I spent weeks picking out wallpaper and gathering furniture and props. I met with model volunteers to select my zombies, and then made costumes for everybody. I recruited my friend J. Anthony Kosar, who won Season 4 of FACE/OFF, to design and apply the zombie make-up for me. He came into town with his dad from Chicago. I had a sculptor make part of an exploding zombie head for the gunshot effect. And I flew in A. Michael Baldwin, who played the boy in the original PHANTASM movie, to be my lead actor. It was a lot to coordinate.

CBK:What childhood fear do you have yet to photograph?
I have several image-ideas written down, ranging from swarming rats to things reaching for you while you’re swimming in water.

Photo © Joshua Hoffine

Photo © Joshua Hoffine

CBK: In the past, you’ve implied horror gives humans a context to deal with life’s fragility and suffering. Can you elaborate on that?
Wes Craven calls horror “boot camp for the psyche”. Someday, each one of us is going to die. We are the only species that has to deal with this knowledge. We are all self-conscious of this unavoidable fact. Horror faces this knowledge straight on and does not blink. By recognizing the fragility of life, and the suffering nature of existence, horror gives us a kind of psychological vocabulary for dealing with it.

CBK: If you could make a horror film, what would it be?
I’m writing a horror movie right now. It is very similar to my photographs, and deals with a monster and a young girl.

CBK: Describe your typical Halloween at home.
We used to go trick-or-treating, but the kids are getting older now.  So this year we are dressing up, going to a haunted house called 3rd Street Asylum, and then watching “Halloween 3” at home.

Photo © Joshua Hoffine

Photo © Joshua Hoffine

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