Horror Photography

Aesthetics of Sickness by Neal Auch

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I'm super excited to have my work featured in the latest book from Heavy Music Artwork: Aesthetics of Sickness. The book will feature not only imagery from yours truly, but also lots of amazing creepy art from lots of amazing artists in addition to interviews with some amazing bands including Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, Napalm Death, and more!

I'm pleased to be able to offer my followers a 15% discount off the book with discount code IWANTGORE15 (the discount is available only for presell).

The link to buy is HERE.

New Teeth Photos! by Neal Auch

“My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions.” ― James Joyce

My latest batch of photos of human teeth is now complete and has been added to my gallery Dentata.  Last time I spoke a bit about how these new works slot into the general theme of Memento Mori that permeates all of my creative output in one way or another.  Since I plan to return to this subject several more times in future blog posts, I thought it might be fun to switch things up a bit for this update and instead talk a bit about the technical aspects of what goes into photos like this.

Extreme close-up photos like those in my galleries Inside and Dentata are usually called "macro" photography by camera nerds, and there are a number of technical complications associated to this genre.  First off, you either need a specialty lens, or else extension tubes to even be able to focus at such close range to the subject.  (I've used both approaches in my career; currently I'm shooting on a 60mm 2:1 macro lens but if you're on a budget then extension tubes plus prime normal lens is a great hack.)

The most interesting technical issue surrounding close-up work is the problem of depth of focus.  When you shoot at high magnification you will end up extremely shallow depth of field for pretty much any choice of aperture, meaning that only a teeny tiny sliver of the image will actually be in sharp focus.  If you like that look then fine, enjoy it, but I personally don't care for that aesthetic at all.  (I've never understood the fixation some photographers have on bokeh; to my mind this look is way overdone and is often used as a crutch by lazy photographers who try and clean up a messy composition by blurring out all the distracting crap in the background rather than taking the time to compose a simple shot free of distractions in the first place.)  To circumvent this 'problem' I will typically take 50-100 exposures for each image, with each exposure having a slightly different focal point.  Then these images need to be stacked and blended together in Photoshop to produce the kinds of shots I like, which are sharp and in-focus across all (or at least most) of the subject. 

Aside from the extra computing and shooting time needed for this approach there are other issues.  Getting close-up tends to cut down on the light, so to get a good image you'll need slow shutter speeds.  Of course, this means everything needs to be locked down on a tripod (which is also necessary because of the stacking and shallow depth of field).  All told images like this take about an hour each to shoot, plus 1-2 hours of editing time to get the focus stacking and aesthetic editing done correctly.  So...  It's a bit labour intensive.  But I love the results.  Enjoy!

Decaying Mountains: Close-Up Views of The Lamb's Teeth by Neal Auch

"My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions." --James Joyce
 

These two images are the last of my close-up studies of the lamb's head, this time focusing on the teeth.  In my last post I mused on the similarity between close-up work and landscape photography.  To me, these images seem to suggest mountain ranges.  Part of what's so fascinating about photographing teeth is getting to capture the wear and decay and scum that come along for the ride with the daily ritual of eating.  I have plans to revisit this same idea from a more human perspective in the near future, so stay tuned for that.  In the meantime: enjoy the weirdo teeth mountain range imagery! 

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Strange Landscapes: Close-Up Views of the Lamb's Mouth by Neal Auch

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“I wanted to swallow myself by opening my mouth very wide and turning it over my head so that it would take in my whole body, and then the Universe, until all that would remain of me would be a ball of eaten thing which little by little would be annihilated: that is how I see the end of the world.” ― Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers

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This series of images continues with my studies of the lamb's head. All of these shots explore textures and structures in the beast's mouth (mostly tongue and lips).

I find it interesting to bounce back and forth between still life and macro photography since, although I treat the same subject matter in both cases, these two genres of photography are almost perfectly opposite. In still life everything is rather literal, and the game is all about composition and lighting. Close up work is quite different: composition is almost nonexistent in some of these shots, and the lighting is almost always straightforward. Instead, everything is about abstraction and the focus is all about technical stuff in post-production (focus stacking, etc). I'm sure I'm not the first photographer to note an analogy between close-up work and landscape photography, but it does seem very apt in terms of both the final results and also the creative process. (For whatever reason my impression is that landscape photographers seems more interested in exploring the breadth of their subject, but that's a rant for another day...) Anyway, enjoy the weirdo close-up lamb mouth imagery!

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Diseased Flesh: Close-Up Views of Sores on Chicken Feet by Neal Auch

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"I know what the disease wants." --Seth Brundle, dialogue from Cronenburg's The Fly (1986)

DISCLAIMER:  I have been doing this project long enough to know that a significant fraction of my viewers are interested in the aesthetics of my work, but rather less interested in my concerns about the ethics of eating animals.  And that's absolutely great and a perfectly valid way to interact with the work; I think that all art is open to interpretation and that the audience's interpretation(s) should have no priority over those of the artist themselves.  In discussing my work I'm faced with a bit of a tightrope to walk: on the one hand I don't want to obfuscate my own motivations in making this work, while on the other hand I am aware that there's a danger of alienating members of my audience who don't share my concerns about factory farming.  So I wanted to preface this post with a bit of a disclaimer: while I try to avoid coming off as preachy, the subject of these images is quite impossible to discuss without being kind of a huge bummer about the meat industry.  So if that's not something you're into, you might want to skip this particular set of images.  In the next post I promise I'll have some cool creepy shots of teeth that look like mountain ranges.  But for those of you who are into this kind of thing...

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“What the meat industry figured out is that you don't need healthy animals to make a profit. Sick animals are more profitable...  Factory farms calculate how close to death they can keep animals without killing them."  --Jonathan Safran Foer, from Eating Animals

The animals that we consume are sick, but for the most part this ugliness remains hidden from the consumer.  Part of the reason I'm so fascinated by chicken's feet is that they provide a rare example of a food product where sores and deformities and disease markers are easy to see.  These images continue with my ongoing studies of the various visible sores that present on commercially available chicken feet.  It's worth noting that I do not make any special effort to get my hands on diseased animal organs, these kinds of sores are very common.

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The more I look at these things the more visually interesting I find them.  The colours are incredible: that contrast between the deep black at the heart of the sore and the weird yellow skin sloughing off and the pale healthy flesh that surrounds it all.  I have struggled with what to do about that yellow flesh, in particular.  It is such a vibrant colour that it almost looks oversaturated and I'm tempted to dial back the saturation on that particular channel to keep the image from looking too cartoonish.  But, at the same time, this really is the colour of that flesh.  Enjoy!

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A Close-Up View of the Lamb's Eye by Neal Auch

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"Thus, two globes of equal size and consistency had suddenly been propelled in opposite directions at once.  One, the white ball of the bull, had been thrust into the 'pink and dark' cunt that Simone had bared in the crowd; the other, a human eye, had spurted from Granero's head with the same force as a bundle of innards from a belly.  This coincidence, tied to death and to a sort of urinary liquefaction of the sky, first brought us back to Marcelle in a moment that was so brief and almost insubstantial, yet so uneasily vivid that I stepped forward like a sleepwalker as though about to touch her at eye level."  --Bataille, from Story of the Eye

After having focused on still life composition so much of late, I wanted to revisit my old love of close-up (macro) photography.  The first subject that came to my mind was the lamb's eye, something that I have photographed before but felt merited another investigation.  In the image above I wanted to emphasize the strange somewhat deflated look these eyes take on in death.  In contemplating the strange shape of the dead creature's eye I was reminded of George Bataille's stunning novel, Story of the Eye, and his fixation on sexual arousal surrounding various globe-like elements (the sun, the egg, the bull's testes, the eye of Granero the bullfighter, and the eye of the murdered priest).  I could write endlessly about Bataille's wonderfully transgressive and inscrutable erotic fiction, but that would take us a bit off the topic at hand and, in any case, is probably above my pay grade since I have no special qualifications as a book reviewer or literary scholar.  (Of course this complete lack of qualifications hasn't previously stopped me from posting book reviews and musing about literature, so perhaps I'll revisit this topic again soon.)

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For the above image I decided to focus my attention away from the globe of the eye -- that strange deflated shape that would have interested Bataille so much -- and instead on the boney structure of the eye socket.  I love these strange little ridges and bumps and the texture of the flesh.  Enjoy!

Variations of a Theme: Pig Foot with Tipped Cup by Neal Auch

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"And as in the daily casualties of life every man is, as it were, threatened with numberless deaths, so long as it remains uncertain which of them is his fate, I would ask whether it is not better to suffer one and die, than to live in fear of all?"  —St. Augustine, from City of God.

These new still life images continue with my explorations of variations of a theme in vanitas composition.  Both images use the same basic ingredients, and both speak to the same underlying themes of mortality and transience.  Both images use the same pig's foot and both revisit the "tipped cup" visual metaphor which appears frequently in my work, and in vanitas composition in general.  For the image above I particularly enjoyed the interplay of colours between the pig bowels spilling out of the glass.  These start out reddish, like the gore coming closest to the bottom of the frame, but get increasingly pale and grey after having been thawed and re-frozen over and over and over.  (I reuse the same organs over and over in my shots, replacing pieces only when absolutely necessary, in an effort to minimize my financial support of the meat industry.)

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While I've already spoken at length about the relation of my work with "meat as art" to vanitas compositions, I have said rather little about another, perhaps even more obvious, comparison with art history: paintings of butcher's shops and market scenes.  Such works were a sort of precursor to the golden age of 17th century Dutch still life paining.  The analogy with my own approach goes beyond the simple choice of subject matter, since to some extend a critique of butchering seems implicit in many of these works.  Painters like Passarotti and Carracci depicted butcher's shops and sought to emphasize the rough crudeness and lack of sensitivity of the butcher's assistance.  In the 16th and 17th centuries theologians often viewed a slaughtered animals as symboling the death of a believer and to combine it with the warning:

"You who with much pleasure

Slay a swine of calf,

Think how on the Lord's Day

You will stand before God's Judgement." --Groote comptoir almanach, Amsterdam 1667

I don't know if it was intentional or not, but I certainly feel a similar sense of sadness and critique of butchering when I look at Goya's famous still life with the rib and head of lamb.  Of course the state of the meat industry in Europe in the 16th century is in no way analogous to what we have in North America today and I certainly don't imagine that Goya, Passarotti, or Carracci were coming to their subject with the same kind of political biases that I have.  However, I do find it fascinating to muse on what analogies there are.

Enjoy!

Variations of a Theme: Cow Foot with Tipped Cup by Neal Auch

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"You're on earth.  There's no cure for that."  --Samuel Beckett, from Endgame

Memento mori -- meaning "remember that you have to die" -- refers to a medieval Christian practice of regular reflection on mortality, the vanity of earthly life, and the transient nature of earthly goods.  The theory behind this practice forms the basis and logic behind vanitas still lifes, an art form which I've developed something of a fixation on of late.  I've always thought of Beckett's Endgame as a kind of literary version of a vanitas, a stunningly hopeless meditation of the essential themes of the meaningless of life and the transience of all things.  I don't know if Beckett had this connection in mind when he wrote his play, but I like to imagine he did.  (He had a great love of art and was extraordinarily well educated, so it's completely unfathomable.)

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These latest additions to my still life gallery.  Both are variations of a theme, using similar ingredients arranged in slightly different ways.  This kind of variation of a theme is something that I used to avoid in my work, but lately I have been embracing more and more.  In part this is because I think that the repetition helps to drive home the underlying message, and in part this is because I'm more and more aware of the tradition of still life painting from which these works have emerged (where repetition and variation of elements in this manner were quite commonplace).

Enjoy!

A Vanitas Composition for Easter by Neal Auch

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"Now from noon until three, darkness came over all the land. At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”  Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.  But the rest said, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah will come to save him.  Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart.  And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised." -- Matthew 27:45-53

Christian imagery shows up fairly regularly in my works, and I've recently developed something of a fixation on vanitas compositions.  With Easter at hand, it was only natural to combine these elements.  As I have discussed previously on this blog, the extinguished candle is a frequent visual metaphor for death in vanitas compositions, and the tipped cup is a symbol of the fragility of life.  The reddish intestines spilling from the cup suggest blood, but also wine, and have always reminded me of the last supper.  I added the intestines draped over the cross  as a final touch.  (Readers who, like me, were subjected to a Catholic upbringing may note that the colour of the draping is off: traditionally the cross would be draped in black on good Friday, representing the death of Jesus.)  Enjoy!

Floral Still Life Compositions by Neal Auch

The Sick Rose, by William Blake

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

This image is my interpretation of a floral still life arrangement.  I've always been fascinated by those old paintings of flower arrangements that were so popular amongst Dutch still life painters in the 17th century.  In part, this fascination stems from the fact that the pretty trappings of such images were ultimately meant to convey a rather morbid message about mortality and the transience of all things.  Here I constructed my interpretation of such an image, using cow trachea "stems,", chicken foot "flowers," and some fallen duck gizzard "fruit" for the finishing touch.  I chose to use only chicken feet with visible sores an disease markers for this shot, in part because I liked how the sores make up the central region of each flower, and in part because I felt like it worked better with the underlying visual metaphor of the piece.  

Initially I composed that image vertically, since most of those old floral still life paintings were composed in that manner.  But, for whatever reason, I just couldn't find a crop that I liked and ultimately I ended up breaking with tradition by adding the negative space to the (camera) right of the image for a horizontal composition that I like much better.  (Probably all for the best anyway, since the web punishes you for shooting tall...)

This wasn't my first pass at building a floral arrangement from those ingredients.  A less minimalist variant is this one:

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Here I kept the same basic ingredients, but also added some real dead flowers and plant life, along with the pig heart and intestines.

Enjoy!

Self Portraits with Pig Organs by Neal Auch

It's just a couple of weeks until the Shadowood Collective's group exhibition Betwixt & Between the Monsters we Dream, and I'm yet again gearing up by sharing some of the images that will be part of the show. 

This diptych consists of two self-portraits, both with pig digestive organ meats.  (That's stomach in the first shot and intestines in the second, for those keeping track of such things.)  These shots are something of a departure for me in that this will mark my first time stepping out from behind the camera and sharing a photo of myself in public.  The idea of temporarily taking on the role of a model was a bit intimidating since I'm generally pretty shy about sharing my own image, the pose here is both revealing and unflattering, and I am absolutely in no way qualified to be a model.  Nevertheless, I decided to push through my initial discomfort and I'm happy that I did.  Indeed, I think a certain amount of discomfort in art is a good thing, and ultimately it was a lot of fun to try something new.  So enjoy the diptych of dick pics!

Studies of the Pig's Head in Various States of Disassembly by Neal Auch

It's just a couple of weeks until the Shadowood Collective's group exhibition Betwixt & Between the Monsters we Dream, and I'm gearing up by sharing some of the images that will be part of the show.  These four images form a series -- a quadriptich? a tetraptych? -- and are part of my ongoing studies of the pig.  Here I've shown the animal's severed head in various states of disassembly.  Moving from left to right we have the head more-or-less intact, a section through the head showing internal organs, the head with the skin peeled off, and the skin mask that was left behind after removing the face.  I don't often work with the square crop, but here I really liked the simplicity of the compositions coupled with the semi-narrative quality of grouping the images together in this way.  Enjoy!

New Marco Photography: Pig Head & Black Chicken by Neal Auch

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I've added some new close-up images to my gallery Inside!  First off, I had a chance to revisit the weird double-toe of the black chicken, pictured above.  I've shot black chicken parts several times before, and I think that this is probably the most technically challenging subject I've considered for this project.  Of course, there are all the usual complications of macro photography (shallow depth of field, stabilization, focus stacking, etc) but the most difficult obstacle to overcome here is the colour of the subject.  The skin of Silkie chicken of very nearly pure black and I wanted to shoot a low key dark image against black background.  It is extremely tricky to figure out how to light a black subject on a black background and still end up with an image that's clear and coherent.  It also doesn't help that the camera's light meter is pretty much useless in a situation like this; the camera wants to expose everything to mid-tone grey, which would mean drastically overexposing an image like this one.

Next I turned my attention to the eye of the pig.  This is my second time working with pig head, but my first time doing close-up work on that particular subject.  I find that there's something eerily human about pig eyes.  I don't know if it's the skin tone or the colour of the iris or what, but to me that first image looks oddly human.  For the second shot I peeled the pig's face off, revealing the muscle and flesh below, for a shot that feels (to me at least) much less human.

Finally I did some work with the pig's teeth.  The first image is the pig's molars; these reminded me a bit of a mountain range, so I opted for a 16:9 crop to emphasize that panoramic landscape-y feel.  The second shot is the front teeth of the pig, less majestic so I opted for the 2:3 aspect ratio that's pretty much the norm for my close-up work.

I have some exciting news and also more images of the pig's head are coming soon!  In the meantime, enjoy!  

Portraits of the Dead: Photographing The Catacombs of Paris by Neal Auch

 

During a recent trip to Europe I had the great pleasure of visiting and photographing the catacombs, Paris' infamous underground ossuary.  You can have a look at my favourite images from the trip in the slideshow above; there are many more in my new gallery Empire of Death.

 If you're unfamiliar with the catacombs, then perhaps a little history is in order:  The catacombs began as a network of old caves, quarries, and tunnels that stretch for hundreds of miles far beneath the bustling streets of Paris.  In 1786 they were blessed and consecrated by the church, and used to house corpses from the overpopulated and overflowing Parisian cemetery Les Innocents, many of which had been improperly buried in open graves leading to concerns over the strong odour of rotting flesh and the spread of disease.  In 1810 the catacombs were renovated to the form they take today: monumental tablets and archways were added, and the skulls and femurs of the dead where stacked along the walls into various decorative patterns.

This new project is a departure from my previous work along several directions.  Firstly the obvious: this is my first time featuring work on my website that isn't about the ethics of eating animals.  This is perhaps an overdue addition.  It had never been my intention to make the page entirely devoted to meat photography and, indeed, I have a couple more non-meat projects in the pipeline, but these are logistically complicated and are taking somewhat longer to complete than I had expected.  

Initially I had planned on making my new gallery Empire of Death rather more succinct than it ended up.  My plan was to display only 10-15 of my favourite shots from the trip; generally I tend to prefer a "less is more" approach to displaying my work, trying to emphasize only the best shots and avoid too much repetition.  But the more I worked on the images, the more I came to realize that this gallery is conceptually distinct from my studio work and calls for a different approach.  The repetition of similar imagery in this gallery serves to convey the enormous scale of the catacombs, something I had not really been prepared for when I visited.  But, more to the point, it was only during the editing process that I came to really see these shots for what they really are: portraiture of the dead.  Every femur and every skull is different; one would no more argue that the repetition of these images is monotonous than one would argue that a series of head-shots of different models becomes monotonous.

From a technical perspective this gallery is also a bit of a departure for me.  This is my first time featuring work on my website that is shot in available light, as opposed my studio work where I always to have complete control over the lighting.  Photographing the catacombs of Paris is a technical challenge for several reasons, but the most salient point here is the fact that the catacombs are a very low light environment.  I found myself shooting almost exclusively with the aperture wide open.  This is a technical choice that I almost never make in my studio work; for aesthetic reasons I tend not to love the shallow depth of field effect that so many other photographers are enamoured with.  Initially I had mixed feelings about this choice; however, while editing these shots I came to find that the softness of the backgrounds/foregrounds adds a sense of mystery to the images that grew on me.

In future blog posts I intend to discuss this project in a bit more detail.  In particular, I'm planning to write in more depth about the technical aspects of shooting in the catacombs and also I'd like to write a short post about my thoughts on colour vs monochrome for imagery like this.  In the meantime, please enjoy the new gallery!

New Macro Photography by Neal Auch

I've added some new macro images to my Inside gallery.  For this last session I focused on two subjects: pig intestines and chicken feet.  The former I've tried to use for close-up work several times in the past but without much success; I just ended up with a lot of nondescript pale wrinkly looking stuff.  It turns out that the solution is to move further down the digestive tract: the large intestine makes for a more visually interesting subject than does the small intestine.  Enjoy!

Framed Dead Things by Neal Auch

Over the last couple of weeks I've been exploring framed dead animal parts.  Of course regular fine art prints of all these images are available, but I'm also doing one-of-a-kind prints where each photo is framed in the same frame that appears in the photo.  Those unique pieces are signed, sealed, ready to hang, and the frames have been thoroughly cleaned of all traces of animal gore.  As always you can contact me about prints here , but I'll also have a table set up at the Hamilton Ontario Art Crawl (on James St N) on Friday November 11.  Enjoy!

New Macro Photography: Seafood by Neal Auch

My artistic output has been a bit scarce over the last month or so as my spouse and I have been adjusting to life with our newborn daughter.  We've finally started to get some semblance of a routine established and last week I managed to find an afternoon to get into the studio and work on some new macro photography.  I've put off shooting seafood for a long time now, mostly because slimy things are extremely tricky to light.  For this first experiment I limited myself to two subjects: an octopus and a soft-shelled blue crab.  I've added my favourite images from the session to my Inside gallery.  Enjoy!

Model Shoot: Sarah Samedi by Neal Auch

I recently had the pleasure of working with Hamilton-based model and makeup artist Sarah Samedi.  Sarah has a great look and is fantastically talented.  On top of all that she is also very courageous an inspiring: not only is Sarah still booking model shoots between chemotherapy sessions, but she was enthusiastic about working with me.  And, it probably goes without saying, my portraiture sessions are a high bar to clear for any model: they are long, tedious, smelly, disgusting, and completely unglamorous.  It was a pleasure and an honour having Sarah in the studio.  Above are some of my favourite takes from the session, there's more in my Accord gallery.  If you want to see more of Sarah have a look at the following links:

Model Shoot: Jessicka by Neal Auch

I recently had the pleasure of working with Jessicka, a very talented model based out of Hamilton.  Jessicka has a great look, was terrifically fun to work with, and was super open minded about getting into the gore on set.  The images above are probably my favourites from the shoot.  You can see lots more shots of Jessicka playing around with dead stuff on my Accord page.

If you want to see more of Jessicka check out the following links:

  1. Instagram: @make.you.sin
  2. Jessicka on Facebook
  3. Model Mayhem