Portraiture, Dowsing, and Decay

How do you choose your models and convince them to pose?  

There is usually some kind of weird chemistry I can't explain. I just know when someone is right for my work when I see them. It's like dowsing with a camera. Actually, I usually don't have to do much convincing. They're either into it or they're not. Many of my models are my friends or relatives. Some people, like the writer Poppy Z. Brite, specifically request to be mutilated. Others have lighter fantasies. 

How do they react to the finished portrait?

 Their reactions to my work vary but are generally positive. I obviously want to make my models happy. Now if the public at large is disturbed by my work, that is simply splendid, but I am not out to disturb my models or fuck with their heads. It's ironic, but some of my sickest, most disturbing work engenders pure happiness with the models involved. 

Your work contains classic buildings like Versailles and the Brighton Pavilion. You deliberately juxtapose their beauty with a shroud of death and decay. 

 These combinations never seem incongruous to me. Versailles conjures up a welter of emotions and decadent facts. Its neoclassical art is largely an expression of raw political power. If you walk from the Salon of Peace down the famous Hall of Mirrors to the Salon of War at the opposite end, you can't help but notice that the latter is far more sumptuous and impressive in its decor than the former. I've read that in the years following the French Revolution the elegant and empty halls of Versailles had straw covering its floors, and cows wandered freely beneath those silly paintings of royalty depicted as Olympian gods and goddesses. I only wish I could have photographed it then. In answer to you question though, I cannot separate the bloom of beauty with that inevitable dark shroud that follows it like a bridal train. It is just there. 

Why the fascination with cemeteries? 

 My preoccupation with cemeteries grew out of a youthful interest in horror films and ghost stories, but has matured into a genuine interest in funerary art and architecture. Cemeteries are outdoor art galleries. I could never live anywhere that didn't have interesting graveyards.

What images would you use to define yourself? 

 A simple unretouched image of a man behind an old-fashioned view camera on a tripod, with his head under a darkcloth. A man with a camera for a head, holding a bouquet of dead day lilies in one hand, and a dripping, spotted octopus in the other. 

You are called a Horror Artist. Is that a limitation or an explanation? 

 I consider my fascination with horror to be only part of my larger obsession with the weird, the bizarre, and the unusual, but make no mistake about it: I am a horror artist. There are no limitations on that. I will not deny my faith.

Ahead: a small Potter gallery