Photography Jeremy Saffer has shot everyone from musical heavy hitters such as Ghost, Behemoth and Lacuna Coil to horror icons like Robert Englund and Doug Bradley, a.k.a. Freddy Krueger and Pinhead, respectively. But over the past dozen years, he's also been pursuing an extensive personal project: snapping artistic pics of female models clad in nothing but corpse paint.
That project has been compiled in Daughters of Darkness, a new 280-plus-page book that comes complete with an introduction by Lamb of God's Randy Blythe and a forward from Cradle of Filth's Dani Filth. Special editions of the tome come paired with a vinyl compilation, curated by Saffer, of Season of Mist artists such as Abbath, Mayhem, Rotting Christ and Carpathian Forest. As for the models pictured within, they include Caroline Williams, Joanna Angel, Jessie Lee and frequent Saffer muse Ash Costello of New Years Day. That being case, we asked Costello to interview the photographer about the book, their friendship and collaboration and, of course, what it's like taking pics of your friends in the buff.
SO FIRST OF ALL! JEREMY SAFFER, HOW DID WE MEET? I REMEMBER KNOWING OF YOU BECAUSE YOU WERE ALREADY A ROCK PHOTOGRAPHER LEGEND, AND YOU HAD WORKED WITH SOME OF MY FAVORITE ARTISTS.
I first met you in the Summer of 2012 — though it really feels like we've known each other for so much longer. I was doing a music photography seminar in Los Angeles, my first on the west coast, and Century Media suggested New Years Day be the special guest band for the seminar. When we met, I was wearing a Michael Jackson Thriller shirt and we immediately bonded over Michael, all things horror, and just having such a massive amount of aligned tastes in music, movies and personality. We became fast friends, and shortly after, I photographed the artwork for your album Victim to Villain, which really kicked off the long standing working relationship I have with you and New Years Day, along with our friendship.
WE HAVE BEEN BEST FRIENDS FOR A DECADE NEARLY NOW! AND WE HAVE BEEN TO DISNEYLAND TOGETHER SO MANY TIMES. IF WE COULD GO TO DISNEYLAND RIGHT NOW, WHAT'S THE ONE RIDE AND ONE SNACK YOU'D WANT TO GO FOR FIRST?
I think you may know this, but I was not into amusement parks at all when you convinced me to go to Disneyland with you — my first time going as an adult. Ash sort of has that effect on everyone around them where she will make a suggestion to do something and you just go along with it because you know its going to be fun — plus Captain EO was there, so, extra bonus in my eyes. My first trip as an adult to Disney made me a passholder and insane super fan of going to Disney whenever I am able to — it's such a cathartic break from my world that helps my mental health incalculably. If I were able to go to Disneyland right now and could only hit one ride and one food, I would get the clam chowder bread bowl outside of Pirates, my favorite go-to Disney meal, and for a ride, I would have to say Haunted Mansion — though Incredicoaster would be a very close second.
THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME I'VE BEEN IN A BOOK YOU'VE RELEASED! I HAVE VERY FOND MEMORIES OF FLYING TO STAY WITH YOU AND SHOOTING EVERY DAY FOR A FULL WEEK FOR OUR BOOK TILL DEATH ... LIKE BUYING ROPE, DUCT TAPE, PLASTIC SHEETS, SHOVEL, SLEDGEHAMMER AND AXE FROM HOME DEPOT, DEFINITELY SETTING OFF SOME RED FLAGS. WHAT'S ONE MEMORY THAT STANDS OUT FOR YOU?
The way that book came together was insane, sort of the exact opposite of Daughters of Darkness, which I shot for 12 years, planned for so long, after the book was realized it took an additional six-plus months finalizing everything and putting it together ... Till Death was put together from concept to book in hand within two months, I believe? I remember seeing Ash tweet something like, "Men are like a slinky, they are more fun when you push them downstairs." To which I replied, we should do a shoot of that ... We should do a calendar of shoots like that! ... We should do a book! And we came up with ideas via text, I booked her flight a few days later, she came out for 10 days where we got a bunch of murderous tools from Home Depot, the cashier asking if she should alert the authorities, and we spent seven days straight brutalizing poor Kriz DK [of Genitorturers] all for comedic art, and a month or so later, the book was out ... That was easily the quickest from shoot to final product I've ever done ... Most of my band shoots for magazines don't even come out that quickly.
I think my favorite memory, by far, has to do with not when we were shooting, but at night after shooting. Ash was staying on my couch and would watch From Hell on repeat. I think we probably watched it 20-plus times in those 10 days, minimally. At one point I mentioned we could watch something different I think she would dig, Event Horizon, which we did, and she was fast asleep while I was working on photos and the movie was background. One of the epic lines from the movie — courtesy of the incredible Sam Neill — hit and Ash shot up from her dead sleep and said "Whoa! That was a cool line! High five!" gave me a high five, and went back to sleep — not sure she actually woke up during that exchange — but I know we still have a good laugh about it today.
WE HAVE DONE MANY SHOOTS TOGETHER! SO MANY HAVE BECOME ICONIC! WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SHOOT WE HAVE EVER DONE?
That's a tough one to really decide, but I really love those shoots we do where there isn't a singular look. One thing Ash and I have made a habit of is doing these long shoots with three-to-five completely different looks such as herself, a cosplay (Harley), an Ash-twist on a look (Maleficent), and I don't really have a favorite look, though I can say some of my all time favorites are the Tank Girl, Harley and Lady Demon, while for Ash as Ash, I really like the newer bloody stuff we did which ended up being the cover artwork for the come for me single, the same day we shot for Daughters of Darkness. But I think my all-time favorite shoot we've done has to be the Till Death shoot. It was long, 12-plus-hour days, and it was so much fun, there was no time restraints, we just did whatever we wanted and the result was incredible.
YOU'VE SHOT SO MANY BANDS OVER THE YEARS, AND SO MANY INCREDIBLE HORROR MOVIE ACTORS! IS THERE STILL A BAND OR ACTOR ON YOUR BUCKET LIST THAT YOU DESIRE TO WORK WITH?
Plenty. I would say atop that list is Elvira — as Elvira, of course — Ozzy, Henry Rollins, James Hetfield, Ron Perlman, and the list goes on. Essentially, anyone I haven't worked with are likely on that list. I am very fortunate that every year or so I am able to take a name or two from my bucket list and move it to my list of accomplishments.
YOU'RE INCREDIBLE WELCOMING AND PROFESSIONAL WHILE YOU'RE WORKING SO I KNOW YOU'D NEVER BREAK YOUR PROFESSIONALISM WHILE WORKING, BUT WHO WERE YOU THE MOST STARSTRUCK TO SHOOT?
I get into this mode — and my assistants, as well as people who have shot with me can attest to it — I call "work mode" or "photo mode" where my brain gets into this sort of tunnel vision where the subject, the lighting, the posing, the technical details take over my brain. I am not thinking about how important or how much the subject means to me or to anyone. I am just thinking about every aspect of the shoot and, of course, making sure everything goes to plan. That being said, it's really important to have what I call a "game face" when you are around people of notoriety as you want to come off as a professional rather than a fan, as that comes back to making sure the shoot goes well and making sure the subject takes you seriously as a photographer rather than a fan with a camera who somehow gained access to them. I would say my game face is always the strongest in front of Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp, Dani Filth, Abbath, Iced Earth, Megadeth, Doug Bradley, Kirk Hammett, Rob Zombie, Warrel Dane, Satyricon, Slayer, you know, those favorite bands and artists I had grown up with as a massive fan, but I think having that fandom, having that affinity for an artist sort of drives you to get the best possible portrait out of those artists.
YOUR NEW BOOK DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS IS FINALLY HERE, AND I HAVE A FEATURE INSIDE AND AM SO HONORED TO HAVE MADE THE BOOK, BUT I HAVE TO ASK YOU, SEEING AS HOW MYSELF AND SO MANY OF YOUR OTHER FRIENDS ARE IN THE BOOK, WHAT WAS IT LIKE SHOOTING YOUR FRIENDS NAKED? ANY ADVICE FOR HOW TO NOT GIGGLE OR GET EMBARRASSED WHEN SHOOTING WITH CLOSE FRIENDS?
In all honesty, it sort of goes back to "work mode/photo mode" mentality. I started shooting fine art nude portraits the same time I started photographing bands — those are both the biggest part of my foundation as a photographer. I am not shooting erotic nude work so I am not really looking at "bits and parts," but I am focused heavily on the lighting, the posing, the framing and all of those technical details. Clothed or not, I approach shoots the same way, and that is to get the best possible image. In terms of photographing close friends for the book, I've met most of my close friends through shoots. Many of my close friends are models who I have photographed for fine art nude projects before, so the only real difference was corpse paint, though there were a few models in the book who are personal friends who haven't modeled before, those shoots were no different than photographing an adult actress like Jessie Lee or Joanna Angel. For advice on how to not giggle or be embarrassed when shooting with close friends, from the photographers standpoint, always be professional but that goes for any situation, always be professional, as I would suggest with anyone shoot, make your first set an ice-breaker which gives your subject an idea of how you shoot, and gives you an idea of how they pose and show them back of camera so they can immediately see what you're doing. Being vocal and giving visual feedback — test shots — for them to see really gives the subject an idea of the lighting and their posing. For models who are shooting nude, always bring someone with you — does not matter who you are shooting with, always bring a friend for safety, always! Beyond that, I would say giving feedback to the photographer is always good, when you see back of camera and stating what looks you like/dislike, it helps hone in on getting the shots you both want to get. Be confident.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR JEREMY SAFFER? CAN WE EXPECT ANOTHER BOOK!
Books are really what I want to do more and more of. I've done a band book, Bring the Noise, a one-off horror comedy book, Till Death, and now a fine art nude/metal book, Daughters of Darkness. I am hoping to both do follow-ups to all three of the above if possible in one form or another, but also add to the genres of photo books I have out. I do have an idea for a really in-depth music photography book, which may be my next project, but I always try to keep a few things in my mind at all times. I think Ash and I need to team up for Till Death 2 one day.