Picking Brains with Wednesday Lee Friday: Joshua Hoffine.
Joshua Hoffine is a Kansas-born artist with a degree in English Literature. He worked as a professional wedding photographer before moving on to do work for Hallmark, and has been commissioned for publicity photos for various rap artists including Tech N9ne. His current works often utilize themes of children in peril, and quintessential human fears like spiders, clowns, and monsters lurking just outside your field of vision. His own four daughters are the perfect subjects, natural and photogenic girls whom you don’t doubt for an instant are truly terrified.
Artists who work in the medium of horror have a hard time of it. Unlike web comics that get passed around with gleeful abandon, horrific art is something that comes on you slow. You have to really look at it, think about it. And it’s unlikely to wind up taped to your cubicle or hung from your fridge with a decorative magnet. Still, there are some truly exceptional artists with a passion for examining mankind’s most pervasive fears. Luckily for us, one of those geniuses has consented to answer some questions just for us.
WLF/ZZN: Let’s get this out of the way: Of all the emotions an artist can choose to evoke, you’ve chosen fear. Is that because you secretly loathe humanity?
I do not harbor a secret hatred for humanity. I find Horror to be a compelling genre. Horror is psychological, existential, and inherently metaphorical.
WLF/ZZN: Please tell us a bit about your relationship with the undead. When did you first become aware of zombies?
I saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD when I was 12 years old. Upon reflection, I’m very grateful that this was the first zombie movie I ever saw. When my daughters asked to watch SHAUN OF THE DEAD, I insisted that they watch NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD first. (WLF Note: Yay!)
WLF/ZZN: I think it’s awesome that you terrify children for the sake of art. That alone is delightfully horrific. Can you reassure your fans that no children were harmed in the creation of your amazing work?
The children featured in the photographs are my own daughters. Other family members play the monsters. The girls are never frightened. For them it’s like a big game of dress-up.
WLF/ZZN: Your work is often a single frame that evokes a story. How are you able to say so much in one still photo?
I choose a moment that will offer the possibility of suspense, and then I will often try to suggest a specific sub textual meaning through my production design. Michelangelo Antonioni called this ‘symbolic mise-en-scene’.
WLF/ZZN: Many, if not most zombie stories feature undead kids. What do you think it is about zombified tots that is so damn scary?
On some level, they represent the ultimate unruly child, beyond control or discipline, bent on violent and destructive behavior.
There is also the tragedy inherent in child mortality.
Distorting traditional icons of innocence and life, and rendering them as lifeless (and soul-less) – pushes a deep button in most people.
And for some reason, people respond to diminutive sources of threat – spiders, rats, parasites, the dwarf monsters in PHANTASM, and children. Small can be scary.
WLF/ZZN: Your work features varied monsters, both real and fictional. What inspires you to choose a subject?
I look for universal ideas, or cultural iconography, that we can all relate to.
WLF/ZZN: Many horror artists assert that the horror genre still doesn’t command the respect it deserves. Do you agree with this? If so, what can be done about it?
I do agree. I am on the very fringes of the art world, and my choice of subject matter is the primary cause. I hope to continue to illustrate and discuss the potential depth of the genre. Films like PAN’S LABYRINTH and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN shine as exemplars of what the genre is capable of.
WLF/ZZN: Who in the wide world of horror inspires you the most?
It’s a tie between Mario Bava and Walt Disney.
WLF/ZZN: You’ve spoken about your emphasis on the psychology of fear. I’m guessing that you’re a Jungian. Am I right?
Yes I am. I believe that Horror functions as a projection of the repressed and forgotten fears lurking in the Unconscious mind. I study Jungian psychology partly to better inform my ability to explore and exploit this psychological process in my work.
WLF/ZZN: Your work clearly illustrates some of our most primal fears. What do you see as the value in confronting people with the things they are most frightened of?
Part of my motivation is to show how we are all afraid of the same things.
I also believe that Horror provides a sanctified space for the expression of repressed feelings, such as terror and rage – which is beneficial and necessary – for both the individual as well as society.
WLF/ZZN: How do you think your intimate relationship with monsters and fear will improve your chances of surviving a zombie uprising?
Absolutely. Horror films remind you that life is dangerous – they keep you on your toes. Horror films teach you what not to do in a crisis situation. For instance, you know from countless slasher films that you never go out into the dark woods alone to investigate a weird noise or search for a missing friend. That’s just an obvious way to get yourself killed.
WLF/ZZN: After zombies, clowns are probably next on my list of creepy things. As such, "Balloons" is freakin’ terrifying. What is it about clowns that frightens us so?
According to child development psychology, young children are easily frightened by distortions of the human form or human face. Clowns fit this bill perfectly. If you see your first clown at a very young age, you are likely to remember them as frightening.
WLF/ZZN: "Pickman’s Masterpiece" differs from much of your work in that there are five frames instead of one. It is also based on a Lovecraft story. Can you talk about the process of creating this awesome piece?
Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine asked me if I would be interested in creating 5 images to illustrate an H.P. Lovecraft story called PICKMAN’S MODEL. I read the story and fell in love with the character of Pickman, a brilliant but ostracized Horror artist. With only 3 weeks and $300 to work with, I chose to focus on the moment in the story when Pickman reveals his masterpiece to a visitor in his underground studio. I found and re-dressed 2 different basement locations to serve as my backdrop. I talked Chad Michael Ward into donating some of his photographs to double as Pickman’s artwork. I borrowed everything I needed, including easels and painting supplies, and talked my friends into helping me.
I enjoyed spreading a scene over 5 images. I may do more.
WLF/ZZN: What are you working on next?
Either a child-eating plant or a horde of spiders coming in through the window.
WLF/ZZN: How can fans contact you and buy your work?
All of my work is available for purchase on my website at http://www.joshuahoffine.com/ using PayPal. Signed original prints start at only $25.
WLF/ZZN: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Anything you’d like to say to the fans?
(WLF note: Pics used in this interview are NOT complete versions of Mr. Hoffine’s various works. They cropped and altered for space and so as not to give away the goods. The best way to see Mr. Hoffine’s amazing work is to head over to his website and order some for your very own.)Tags: horror, wednes past, zombies