Another entry in my catalog of pulp/suspense photography, this is For Love or Murder. This image is based off The Glass Triangle, old pulp magazine cover that I discovered recently, at the excellent pulpcovers.com. They have been my muse for the past few months.
Making the Image
This image was lit with two LED light panels, my new toys. I used a 7100T 312 as a key on Elizabeth and Spectro-LED 9 as a fill on me. The “daylight” setting on them is not a perfect match (the 7100T is a little more purple), but they are close enough that it doesn’t seem to be a true problem. If I was to invest more money in the kit (and I probably will) I would drop it into the 7100’s anyway. They have custom color temperature controls, magnetic diffuser panels and run off rechargeable batteries.
This was shot on a 5D Mark III, using the 24-105 f/4. I had intended to shoot this image a while back, but during setup the weight of my 5D broke the head of the cheap tripod I was using. The camera fell lens first, and shattered the UV protector on my lens. The drop wedged the frame of the filter tight enough that I couldn’t remove it and had to take it to a WebbCam, our local photography specialist, for repairs. The lens escaped unscathed, luckily.
Pulp vs Suspense
I like to classify what I do. It helps when people ask “What do you take pictures of”, expecting you to say “flowers” or “weddings” or something like that. I’ve struggled with what to say and finally landed on the phrase Pulp Photography.
As I described before, I draw a lot of inspiration from the pulp of the 40’s and 50’s; Suspense Radio, EC Comics and the like. These simple stories strike a chord with me, and beg me to recreate, interpret and breathe life into them.
I have a connection to the beach. Living close to the Atlantic, summers often meant weekend or week long trips to the shore, where we would spend days at the beach and boardwalk. It’s something of an icon of my childhood.
We took other trips too, tropical vacations and Disney World and camping through the southwest. But the beach was an easy escape for us and we found ourselves there a lot.
I took my first picture on the beach, on an old Canon AE-1. I can’t remember how old I was, but I remember the image. Just my parents sitting on a towel, nothing too fancy. But it was the first time in my life that I pushed that shutter button.
It would be easy for me to say that was the moment I fell in love with photography, but it would be a lie. It didn’t start a lifelong obsession or redefine me as a person or anything like that.
All that said, I remember the feeling I got. Honestly, I do. It was a Prometheus feeling. I was doing something that I’d only seen adults do, up to that point. It felt like stealing fire from the gods.
I had that feeling again, this year. Elizabeth and I went to Lewes for a weekend and I took my new 5D Mark III. My intention was to use the time as a crash course in all things 5DMIII. I had to learn the camera quickly, because I was going to shoot a music video with it the following weekend.
The beach is normally a muse for me. This trip, the inn was too. It’s called the Blue Water House and it alone is a reason to visit Lewes. We stayed in the Caye Largo room, which was bright yellow and full of monkeys.
When we packed to leave, it was with confidence. The trip had accomplished everything I wanted. It had restored that feeling of fire – stealing wonder that I first experienced on a beach with an AE-1. This time in a little seaside town, with a camera that’s all mine.
All the images here and on flickr were taken with a 5DMIII.
Sometimes things come organically to me. Most often it’s photography pieces. This image, Unexpected Company, is something different. It is the organic foundation of a new photography project. This image begged to be hung alongside my other domestic suspense works, Jilted and Self Portrait with Corpse. These three will now make up the set Love Hurts, and they will not be alone. I plan on creating more images over the next few months.
My History with Suspense
Christmas 1994. Along with the requisite Godzilla toys, I receive a collection of Suspense radio shows on audio tape. These, along with Escape, The Shadow and Lights Out, will dominate my cassette player for months. It’s my first introduction to noir and I’m hooked.
Not long after, these shows are supplemented by a new kind of comic book – one based on a very old series. In the early 1990’s, Russ Cochrin began reprinting old EC titles, including their legendary horror line: Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and the Haunt of Fear.
I probably have around two dozen of these comics. They brought imagery to the stories Suspense was whispering in my ear…horrific, lumbering terrible imagery.
It’s fascinating to note that these titles met their demise after a critical paper was published linking comic book violence to juvenile delinquency. Strong regulations were placed on the industry, changed the landscape of the medium forever. The effect of Wertham’s largely falsified negative view on the medium and the establishment of the CCA was the proverbial nail in the coffin for EC’s horror line.
The Legacy of Fear
Even today, EC and Suspense’s stories continue to be republished, revisited and applauded. It’s a testament to the quality of work their creators produced. They were able to captivate out minds and extend their stories beyond the time they were written. They touch something carnal inside us, an animal instinct that makes us glance over our shoulder as we leave the room.
While I did not turn out to be a violence – driven delinquent (much to Mr. Wertham’s chagrin), I was definitely influenced by these works. When I look at these images, I can imagine Joseph Cotton describing them or the Cryptkeeper smiling sardonically in the background. They are my contribution to the genre, my legacy. And you will see more of them.
I’m now selling my photographs on Fine Art America. Fine Art America is a great website that allows artist to connect with art lovers and offer their artwork with very little overhead cost. They have a wonderful selection of custom print sizes and matting and mounting options.
If you’re interested in a photo that I don’t have available on Fine Art America, please contact me and I’ll gladly add it to the collection.
For the last three years, I’ve been going to the Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day. For those who are unfamiliar, the Mummers Parade is part parade, part costume competition and part folk festival. Mummers clubs in Philadelphia spend months building floats and scenic elements that mesh with their group’s theme.
It’s also a time for the clubs to celebrate. Which means laughing, drinking in public, cheering and generally having a great time.
For me, the Mummers parade has become a kind of symbolic. It was the first thing I shot with my 7D way back in 2009. I strapped on old lenses from my AE-1 and wandered out into the streets, only begging to understand how to use the camera.
Ever since, I’ve gone back every year, and have always returned to those original lenses. It gives me a kind of “back to basics” feeling, to arm myself with the same equipment and situation and see how I perform.
There’s a challenge that we face as documentarians. I’ve noticed it recently with weddings, but it’s also true of things like the Mummers parade. When you shoot similar situations over and over, you need to find ways to keep them fresh to yourself as an artist. You need to continue to be engaged in them, otherwise you’re just phoning it in.
I like this challenge. I like the idea that skill, true ability, is born out of repetition. The talented artist isn’t one who shoot something different every day, it’s the one who shoots the same thing over and over and makes it look new every day.
The Things They Left Behind
“Is there something special about them?” Rafe asked. “Is that why you came rushing down here?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Someone left them behind in my apartment.”
From the collection Just After Sunset.
Scott Staley is plagued by ghosts. Not your average, run of the mill, horror story ghosts, but the ghosts of objects, the possessions of the dead. The attacks on 9/11 killed everyone in his office at the World Trade Center; Scott alone survived because he played hooky that day. And now, relicts from his dead coworkers are appearing in his apartment. They carry a weight, a power, that is intended for Scott alone.
I have the collar from my first dog, Bear. He died over ten years ago, but that collar still holds the same emotional weight that it did when he wore it. I have a connection to it; seeing it and touching it sparks a series of emotional memories that I had forgotten.
I was in high school when the WTC was attacked. I wish I could say that I watched them with horror, but it was more of a confusion – I was unable to process what was going on. Afterwards, everything changed.
It’s funny, because the generation beneath mine has no recollection of pre – 9/11 America. But my generation does. We remember the hope we had for the country that we were going to inherit. And then, within three hours, the entire scope of our country changed, was uprooted.
That’s not to say that there’s no hope for our future, because there is. I believe in America, I believe in this country and its people. I believe that we’ve come out stronger, harder and closer to one another after that day of horror. But the attacks left a hole that will be felt for a long time.
That’s what The Things They Left Behind is all about. This is not a horror story; it’s the aftermath of one.
Crouch End and Battleground
This is it; the final hours before Halloween, the ultimate day of horror. That time of year when all the creatures trapped in your nightmares are given free reign of the world. It’s a time to trust your imagination, to believe that the monsters under your bed are real and hungry. It’s a time to face your fears because they are coming for you and they are more powerful than ever before.
This week, I present two of my favorite horror stories. One is a twisted walk through a town out of time, the other is a battle of wits and rage.
I’ve seen a lot of strange things in Crouch End. If you’re here half as long as I’ve been, you’ll see your share too. There are more strange things happen right here in this quiet six or eight blocks than anywhere else in London…
From the collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes.
There is a small section of a small borough in London called Crouch End. You can visit, if you like, but don’t lose your way. Sometimes, especially late at night, those who get lost never come back.
But sometimes, they do. And they tell stories of horror and demons. Of malformed, inhuman creatures and archaic incantations. Of death, slaughter and and monsters. You see, Crouch End is not an ordinary place. Somewhere, deep within the twisted streets, the walls of reality get blurry and things come through.
This was the first image in the series I envisioned, the image that started it all. Elizabeth and I covered the back of our closet in posterboard and she scribbled that chilling phrase over and over, much like what happens in the real story.
The newspaper article was created in Photoshop afterwards, and was probably the most complicated aspect of the image. I used a real newspaper clipping and replaced the headline with my own. That headline, “60 Lost in Underground Horror”, along with the writing scrawled on the wall, “Beware the Goat with a Thousand Young”, have always stuck with me, and made Crouch End one of my favorite horror stories of all time.
There was a tiny, coughing explosion and blinding agony ripped his thigh. One of the bazooka men had come out of the footlocker. A small curl of smoke rose lazily from his weapon…The little bastard shot me!
From the collection Night Shift.
Renshaw kills people for money. It’s a living. Because of his chosen occupation, and because he’s good at it, he sometimes makes enemies.
But he’s never made enemies like this before.
One night, Renshaw receives a small footlocker full of toy soldiers – the little green army men everyone had as kids. But there’s something different about this battalion. They carry real weapons. They use real military tactics. And they want Renshaw dead.
To his horror, Renshaw must turn his apartment into a battleground; waging a one – man war against the tiny soldiers. A war that only one of them will survive…
This was an incredibly fun image to create. Shot in my bathroom and lit by a low scoop light in the sink, I feel this image excellently captures the rage, desperation and claustrophobia of the story. I processed the shot in a “Band of Brothers” style, pulling out almost all saturation and adding lots of grain in post. I’m really pleased with the blood on my cheek…it reminds me of Watchmen.
I have a final image in the series, but I was delayed by the hurricane. I’ll be adding it later this week, along with a longer reflection on the process of making these images.
Happy Halloween guys! I hope it’s a scary one!
The Road Virus Heads North and Sneakers
This week, we’re going to deal with the horror that lies just outside your field of view; the monster lurking just around the corner or the killer crouching in the back seat of your car. This week, it’s about knowing that what you fear is out there, waiting for you to move, to look up and to see it coming.
Because this week, the horror is coming for you.
As this week’s images are larger than normal, I highly recommend clicking them and viewing the full res versions of flickr.
The Road Virus Heads North
The picture was still there, but it had changed once more. Now it showed two glaring white circles – headlights – with the dark shape of the car hulking behind them. “He’s on the move again,” Kinnell thought…
From the collection Everything’s Eventual.
It was a painting titled “The Road Virus Heads North.” It depicted a man driving a muscle car down a dark road, grinning like a homicidal maniac, and Richard Kinnell couldn’t refuse it. He found it at a yard sale and, being a horror writer, had to buy it.
But Kinnell slowly begins to wonder if this painting is not just canvas and oil. Its creator, a tortured artist who was driven to suicide by his hallucinations. And the more he looks at it, the more it changes; first the background and then the maniac himself. It changes until Kinnell can recognize the path the Road Virus is traveling, and see the tide of destruction it leaves in its wake.
As he watches the Road Virus cut across the Maine countryside, Kinnell realizes with horror: the maniac is following him home.
My original intention was to use the mirror around the fireplace to depict the Road Virus sneaking up on on its helpless victim. However, when testing the shot out, I found it worked better as a panorama of the room. It leads you from the brighter right side to the darker left side and reveals the horror so much more effectively.
My good friend Samuel Hall played the Road Virus. I shot a second picture of him from a different, lower angle and converted it into the painting in Photoshop, using posterization and brush strokes.
I actually had to reshoot my side of the panorama, because my shadows didn’t match properly and could not be photomerged. While reshooting, Firecracker climbed up on the table in the background and offered his services as a model.
“So this guy’s supposed to haunt…what, the bathroom?” And suddenly he laughed, because, gruesome as the story had been, there was something comic in the idea of a ghost haunting a shithouse…“You know people…guys would tell me they’d seen him. Not all of him, just his sneakers under the stall door.”
From the collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes.
John Tell is afraid to use the third floor bathroom of his recording studio. It’s because of the sneakers. At first, he thought they belonged to an employee. But they never leave. Day after day, month after month, those sneakers remain on the floor of the stall.
Truth is, it’s not the sneakers that terrify Tell. It’s the man they belong to. Because there was a drug dealer murdered in the bathroom, stabbed in the eyeball with a pencil. And only Tell knows that he hasn’t left, that he’s still in that third floor stall.
This image was the most fun to create so far. My buddy J Farell jumped at the chance to play the terrified record exec. I chose to shoot both pictures in the same stall, to give an unsettling uniformity to the piece.
This is one of the times that an image in my head comes to perfect fruition on the camera. Everything here is exactly as I pictured it a month ago when I was planning out the shoot.
I was tempted to sketch “All that you love will be carried away” on the wall of the stall, but felt that it took away from the image I was shooting. Next time, perhaps…
Some behind – the scenes photos from this image:
Next week we conclude with two of my favorite horror stories (and maybe a third if I’m feeling ambitious)…so try to stay alive until then.
The Gingerbread Girl and I Know What You Need
This week is about fighting back. It’s about digging in your heels and gritting your teeth, dealing with the pain and the horror and coming out stronger. It’s about who you are on the other side, in the aftermath of conflict. How it has changed you, toughened your skin and hardened your gaze.
This week is also a look into King’s work with women. He walks an interesting line when writing female characters; they tend to be domestic and fit into traditional archetypes but are tough – as – nails and carry a powerful inner strength. Often they arise from devastating circumstances by finding resolve that they never knew they had.
These are two of those women, Emily and Elizabeth.
The Gingerbread Girl
She could outrun him. Something in his gait said he would be fast for a little while and then flag, no matter how strongly his insanity and his fear of exposure pricked him on. She thought: “It’s as if I was in training for this all along.”
From the collection Just After Sunset.
After the death of her child, Emily’s life starts to fall apart. Her marriage disintegrates and, alone in her own world, she begins to run to soothe her pain. She soon learns of Pickering, a nasty man who is despised by the locals.
After accidentally finding one of his dead victims, Emily is kidnapped by Pickering. He ties her to a chair in his kitchen, intending to rape and murder her. During a chance moment alone, Emily frees herself from the chair. As she tries to escape, Pickering returns. Emily’s realizes her only option is to do what she’s been doing for months. She has to run.
There’s a whole genre of horror that is not supernatural boogymen, ghosts and haunted houses, but incredible tales of adversity. That’s what The Gingerbread girl is; a terrifying foray into a world where horror is the monsters around you.
This image was shot in Ocean City, MD on a rare warm day in October. Although I had originally intended to shoot from in front of the model, I prefer this view; from the side and above. The empty expanse of beach and ocean serve as a nice compliment to the solitary girl sitting alone.
I Know What You Need
I don’t know how he can do those things. I doubt if even he knows for sure. He might not mean to do you any harm, but he already is. He’s made you love him by knowing every secret thing that you want and need, and that’s not love at all.
From the collection Night Shift.
His name was Edward Jackson Hamner Jr. He’s a forgettable face; the kind of guy who blends in with a crowd. He’s socially awkward, introverted and a little strange.
And he knows Elizabeth better than anyone else in the world.
After her fiancee is killed by a speeding motorist, Ed Hamner is there to comfort Liz. He listens to her, he helps her cope and he watches as she slowly falls in love with him. Why wouldn’t she? He’s the perfect guy; almost too perfect.
As their relationship progresses, Liz begins to realize that Ed Hamner might be more than he appears. Wherever he goes, unexpected successes and tragedy follow. And anything he wants, he gets. Even Liz herself – whether she likes it or not.
Voodoo and it’s mythic rites are fairly uncommon topics for horror writing these days. Stories like this harken back to a time when we believed anything was possible if it came out of the darkness of a third world country. King does an excellent job modernizing it and making it believable and terrifying.
I shot this image at the southern pier on Ocean City’s boardwalk, just at sunset. The car is a die cast Audi R8 instead of a Fiat convertible. There’s some warm/cool split toning on this picture, which I always love against the ocean and sky.
Next week, we turn to supernatural horror and the things that lurk just out of your vision. Watch out behind you.
Gray Matter and The Sun Dog
I love fall because I love Halloween. Everything about this season makes me smile; cool nights, pumpkin beer and a good horror story.
I decided this year I would contribute to the terror of the season with a photo project: a series of horrific images taken from Stephen King’s short stories. Over the next four weeks, I’ll be recreating moments from these tales in photographic form. Today we start with two older stories: one is a scene of quiet domestic horror, the other is a literal snapshot of hell.
“Something gray” is all the kid can tell Henry. “Didn’t look like a hand at all. Just a gray lump.”
From the collection Night Shift
One cold winter day, Timmy Grenadine walks into Henry’s Nite Owl, too frightened to go home. He describes a scene of terror to the men there; of the old, fermented beer and his father Ritchie’s literal decay. More than a story of the domestic effects of alcohol, this is a tale of what happens on the edges of reality to those who don’t take heed of the expiration date.
This is the first piece in the series I shot. The hand is mine. I overlaid images of peeling paint and cracked stone to give the impression of skin flaking and rotting away. In Stephen King’s story, the negative effects are the result of a bad case of Schlitz beer. I used Genny Cream as well, a generous contribution from my friend Andrew Feierabend.
The Sun Dog
God knew how the dog had gotten into that Polaroid world in the first place, but when its picture was taken, it could see out and it wanted to get out…
From the collection Four Past Midnight
Kevin’s birthday present this year is something different: a polaroid Sun 600 camera. But this is no ordinary camera; the only photographs it produces are of a vicious black dog. Maybe the dog is trapped inside the camera, or maybe the camera is trapped inside our world and looking into another. But what Kevin knows for certain is the dog is getting closer. And closer…
I love mixing destiny with horror. I love the idea that there is something behind you, following you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s analogous with our real deaths; we are all going to die, there’s nothing we can do about it and it keeps getting closer.
This is a modernization of the story, call it the T3 Dog if you want. The bloody paw print is made from the mold of a real – life Grey Wolf paw. The “dog” on the LCD is actually a sloth bear, heavily modified in Photoshop.
I started with a more traditional processing of the image, but was drawn to the look of a poorly processed polaroid instead, something closer to what the Sun 600 would actually produce. Light leaks were created in Lighroom using gradients of varying exposure levels.
I’ll see you next week for more horror. Remember, beware of stray dogs. They may bite…