Profile: Joshua Hoffine

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Published:  December 27, 2011
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Profile: Joshua Hoffine

The time and detail that go into creating one of Joshua Hoffine’s photo shoots is essentially the equivalent of making a short movie. This amazing horror stylist, make-up artisan and photographer has been plying his fear-tastic trade for nearly a decade and producing some of the most spine-tingling photography you’ll ever see.

Yet strangely, Hoffine grew up in a city we more often than not associate with The Wizard of Oz, it being Dorothy’s hometown. “I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City with my parents and two younger sisters. I attended Kansas State University where I studied English literature. I currently live in downtown Kansas City with my four daughters. I started making photographs shortly after graduating from college, when I discovered an old Polaroid camera hidden in the back of the closet. I started playing with it and quickly became obsessed with photography.”

While Hoffine advises that his work has always tended towards a dark subject matter, it was not until 2003 that it turned to full-blown horror. “Horror is an existential genre with the metaphoric capability to accommodate complex themes in a comparatively straightforward and all-encompassing way,” Hoffine explains. “Horror engages us emotionally and allows us to experience repressed feelings, such as terror and rage. Horror provides an environment where these taboo feelings are sanctioned. By doing so, horror helps us cope with the real terrors of everyday life. Wes Craven calls horror ‘boot-camp for the psyche’.”

Hoffine’s blog is one of the internet’s hidden gems, and a fantastic inspirational – and technical – resource. Here you will find behind the scenes images of each shoot’s set-up. As you watch each ‘set’ come to life you gain a deeper appreciation for Hoffine’s horror series, as it soon becomes clear that there’s a lot more involved than simply splashing some fake blood around or peppering the floor with rubber spiders. Hoffine is lucky to count amongst his friends talented make-up designers and loyal prop builders – not to mention the models themselves, and his own children even star in some of the shoots. Yet the reason Hoffine began this blog in the first place is actually rather interesting. “When my work was first released online, it drove me crazy to read mean comments about my obvious and ham-fisted Photoshop work – [especially] on images where no Photoshop work had been involved. So I began documenting my shoots and started a blog,” he explains. “Plus, by ritualistically acting these scenes out with my children, there seems to be a performance aspect to my work that is integral to the art. I wanted to highlight that.”


This leads us to wonder if, in a similar manner to accomplished photographer Jill Greenberg (who was heavily, and we feel unfairly, criticised for her series of children crying), this has ever got him into trouble with the ‘critics’? “Yes,” he replies, somewhat tersely, as we seem to have hit a sore point. “I keep all my hate letters.”

When setting up a shoot, Hoffine prefers to begin by writing a short treatment rather than sketching out the details first. “I then set about finding a location or building a set, finding and making the props, and preparing the make-up effects” he says. “I recruit the friends and family members I’ll need as actors and crew. Preparation is the longest part of the process, and can take weeks. The shoot itself lasts for hours, with most of the time spent on lighting and make-up.
“I stage everything practically, but shoot digitally,” he adds. “I sometimes use a laptop to see exactly what I’m getting as I shoot. I download the footage into my computer and process the final image in Photoshop – making sure that it looks perfect before printing. I like to shoot with a digital Hasselblad or the new Canon 5D. I use hot lights rather than strobes, and I use a fog machine every chance I get. I closed my studio in 2008 when I abandoned the pursuit of commercial work. I have studio space to build sets available to me through my photographer friends.”

Given the improbable nature of the subject of Hoffine’s horror shoots, and in stark contrast to many of today’s heavily Photoshop- enhanced images, surprisingly the majority of Hoffine’s shot elements are captured in-camera, using Photoshop merely to tweak the images in post. “While the bulk of my work was created without the use of Photoshop, I will use Photoshop if a desired effect is beyond my resources. A good example is my recent photograph Keyhole. I really wanted the severed head in the image to be my sister Becky. I could not afford to make a believable replica of her head. So, I rented an inexpensive prop head and used that on set. I photographed Becky splashed with blood separately, and then grafted part of her face onto the prop head for the final image.”

Hoffine’s friends and family often help out with his shoots; however, sometimes he still simply has to do things himself. “My friend Jason Coale helped me with the make-up on Devil, and my friend Patricia Castillo helped me with Babysitter and Keyhole. Otherwise, I’ve traditionally done the make-up myself. The locations are usually the homes of my friends. So far everyone has been cool with my bloody mess.”

In light of this, we then assume Hoffine has some great fake blood recipes up his sleeve, so we ask him how to make the best stuff. “Dark Karo Syrup [a brand of corn syrup], Hershey’s chocolate and red food dye,” he says. “I got the recipe from the movie Slither. It’s cheap and it’s edible. If it doesn’t need to be edible, I add a little detergent for easier clean-up.”

Hoffine hopes to release a book in the near future, but in the meantime you can own one of his unique images in jewellery form. “The jewellery is made by my fiancée Jen, for her company Strychnine Sisters Custom Accessories. I’ve always been reluctant to merchandise my imagery – no t-shirts or posters or magnets – but the jewellery seemed like a cool idea.”

Currently Hoffine is working on his next piece, and it’s not quite what you’d expect. “I’m working on a robot image right now, and I’m making two new images based on childhood fears later this summer.”

joshuahoffine.com

All images are copyright by Joshua Hoffine.

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