Wednesday, April 13, 2011
With a pair of recent films serving up fairy tale inspired imagery I wanted to showcase visual artist Joshua Hoffine who has created an amazing gallery of stills highlighting childhood fears.
Joshua Hoffine is not a filmmaker -- at least not yet -- but his work is so cinematic that I wanted to showcase it, especially in light of the recent films "Red Riding Hood" and "Hanna." Both of these films try to use fairy tales: the first overtly and the second more referentially. Catherine Hardwicke fails to capture the dark allure of fairy tales in her teen rave adaptation of the "Red Riding Hood" story. Joe Wright, on the other hand, manages to slyly tap into the genre to give some surreal shadings to his action flick. Hoffine's work displays the kind of visual style and cleverness that makes me wish he were working in film. His single image called "Wolf," with a young child seemingly about to be attacked by a wolf, conveys more terror and emotion than Hardwicke's entire film. Maybe that's because Hoffine understands the dark side of these childhood tales and how they tap into some universal fears and emotions.
I discovered Hoffine's work thanks to a friend on Facebook who shared a link. (It pays to make your interests well known because people are constantly discovering wonderful things for me.) The images I saw were breathtaking and perfectly captured the beautifully seductive and disturbing nature of the childhood fears we try so hard to suppress as we get older. Anyone who has ever gone back and read a real fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault knows that fairy tales are not what Walt Disney has turned them into. But Hoffine is well in tune with those sometimes gruesome original tales.
Hoffine makes this statement about his work on his website: " I am interested in the psychology of fear. We are born with certain inherent and instinctual fears, such as fear of the dark, fear of lurking danger, and the fear of being eaten. As we grow older, these fears lose their intensity, and are slowly shuffled away into our Unconscious. Horror, as an art form, draws its strength from the Unconscious. Horror photography is able to present these abstract and forgotten fears in literal terms... I try to present the images within the visual grammar of a child. I want the viewer to empathize with the child, to share their point of view, to feel their sense of vulnerability. The images stress danger, and depict an amoral world where purity and innocence are under constant threat. Like fairy tales, these photographs function as cautionary metaphors about the potential dangers of the world."
And that is precisely where their strength lies. As I mentioned, Hoffine's pictures are amazingly cinematic in terms of the lighting, the production design, and the sense of story they convey. His dramatic lighting with gorgeous use of shadows and occasional bursts of color are amazing, as are his compositions. We are drawn into his pictures because of the narrative that places us right there with the children. His images are disturbing because he uses young children so the sense of the child's peril adds to the intensity of the image. We feel a real sense of danger, for example, when we see a tarantula on a baby's stomach. His willingness to push the envelope in terms of the viewer's comfort zone is part of what makes his work so effective. (I also want to suggest a Czech film called "Wildflowers/Kytice" for possibly the best live action cinematic fairy tale I have ever seen.)
His most recent project is for Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine. He created a series of images inspired by the H. P. Lovecraft short story "Pickman's Model." Since this was a photo series, you can really see Hoffine's cinematic sensibilities at play in creating a story. When asked, he said that he does hope to move one day from stills to film or video. Based on what I've seen so far I hope he does.
Here's a brief interview I conducted with the Kansas City resident who once worked for Hallmark cards.
How did you come to do this work?
JOSHUA HOFFINE: Originally I was creating a photo project based on fairy tales. While I was preparing for this project, I began reading "Danse Macabre" by Stephen King. In that book he suggests that horror films are modern fairy tales. This got my mind thinking in a new direction, and soon afterwards I began making my first Horror Photographs based on childhood fears.
The images are very cinematic, how do you approach each one?
JH: I approach each image like it is a small movie, with sets, elaborate props and costumes, fog machines and special effects make-up. I use friends and family members as actors and crew.
You said on the site you use your daughter. How does she feel about it? Does she have nightmares from this?
JH: Three of my daughters, plus a niece and a nephew, have been actors in my work. They love it. They are never actually frightened. Other family members often play the monsters. For the kids, it's like an elaborate game of dress-up.
Tell me about how you use or view horror?
JH: Horror is an art form based on psychology. I believe Horror functions as a projection of the repressed and forgotten fears lurking in the Unconscious. I believe that Horror provides a sanctified space for the expression of repressed feelings, such as terror and rage. Horror allows for psychological homeostasis, and may even provide a path towards exploring and integrating non-utilized aspects of the mysterious Unconscious mind.
There is a tremendous metaphoric capability to the Horror genre that can accommodate complex themes in a comparatively straightforward and all-encompassing way.
I believe 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. It tells us that our beliefs in security are delusional, and that the monsters are all around us.
Why the focus on childhood fears?
JH: Because childhood fears are a universal experience. We are all born with certain inherent and instinctual fears, such as fear of the dark, the fear of losing a parent, or the fear of lurking danger. As we mature, we eventually grow out of these fears. But through an image, I am able to trigger a sudden memory of that forgotten fear. I am intrigued by how the image functions as a projection of the Universal Unconscious mind.