Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Interview with Photographer April A. Taylor

April A. Taylor's Post-Apocalyptic Princess

April A. Taylor is an internationally published and exhibited dark art horror photographer from Detroit, Michigan whose work has been featured in over 50 galleries, books, magazines, DVDs, calendars, websites, conventions and events. Her recent publication credits include Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, Darkfaery Subculture Magazine and WU Magazine. Over the next year her work is slated to appear in several more books and magazines in two different countries, including the horror anthology What Fears Become (featuring authors such as Piers Anthony and Ramsey Campbell).

We had the absolute pleasure to interview April A. Taylor, which fortuitously landed during Women in Horror Month! She uses her long-term love affair with all things horror to create dark art, horror and fine art photography which is described as “unique, unusual and unconventional”. Below you can read about her cinematic photographs, how she feels about women breaking into (and taking over) the “boy’s club” of horror, her most prized possession, what kind of art she has hanging in her home and just how fortunate she feels to spend her days covered in fake blood and call it work.

Fatally Yours: Hi April and welcome! When did you become interested in the field of photography?

April A. Taylor: Hi Fatally Yours, it’s my pleasure to speak with you today! I’ve been interested in photography since I was very young, to the point where I usually joke about coming out of the womb with a camera in my hand. I didn’t become serious about it until 2007, though.

Fatally Yours: How would you describe your photographic style?

April A. Taylor: The grittiness of many of my photographs has often been referred to as looking like it’s from the ‘70s and although that wasn’t intentional, I definitely see a lot of the style of the ‘70s in my photographs. In addition to which, I’m not content to take photographs at the same angles that most photographers do; I’ve been known to lay in greasy railroad tracks and climb trees just to get a different perspective on something.  And those photographs are almost always the ones that become fan favorites so my willingness to get my clothes dirty and, at times, to take what some would call “a risk” has definitely been a good thing, and has defined a lot of my work and my style.

Fatally Yours: Horror obviously plays a large part in your art. What made you want to focus on dark art and why? 

April A. Taylor: I’ve been in love with horror movies and novels since way before it was probably age appropriate. When I started focusing more seriously on photography, I was instantly drawn to the dark side of humanity. It didn’t take long for me to connect that with my love of horror. Each of the photographs has a dual meaning; the meaning you see on the surface, which is the more basic horror story, and a back story that is usually rooted in social commentary. Horror/Dark Art just makes the most sense to me and speaks to me the most.

Fatally Yours: I’m really struck by the vividness of your photographs, which really helps them stand out from other horror art. What inspired you to use this mode of expression? 

April A. Taylor: Most horror/dark artists use starkness to express the horror in their images. I chose to go in the exact opposite direction with the majority of my work by infusing it with bright, vivid colors. The intention behind this was to make the photographs feel more real to the viewer, in order to allow them to feel as if they’re seeing the scenes happening right in front of them.

Fatally Yours: Can you tell us how you go about creating the back story and characters for your photographs? 

April A. Taylor: The basic storylines come from a number of different places; some are inspired by things I encounter in real life, some come while sitting still and rooting through my blood-soaked imagination and others come from the models (for example, She’s Dead is based on a poem written by model Shannon Waite). Once a basic storyline is selected, I create a back story for the character(s) that is fleshed out enough to allow me to inhabit their headspace during a shoot. I also make sure that the basic concept has a dual meaning (societal commentary) as I never shoot gore just for the sake of gore.

Fatally Yours: What is your creative process before, during and after a shoot? 

April A. Taylor: Once a storyline is selected, a model(s), costuming, props and a location are chosen. Based on those, other elements of the shoot fall into place organically. On the day of a shoot I listen to music that allows me to inhabit the headspace of the character(s). Once I’m on set, I walk the model(s) through the basics of the storyline and any specific poses/actions that I want to capture. My sets are typically run more like a movie set in that the model(s) actually acts out the scenes that are captured instead of just holding a pose. I experiment a lot on set, in that I don’t just capture what was already in my head, I also capture any new ideas that come to mind during the shoot and also anything that the model(s) wants to try out. Once the shoot is done, I use music to stay in the headspace of the character(s) during the editing process in order to best bring out what the character(s) was trying to say in the shoot.

Fatally Yours: Which one of your characters would make the most interesting dinner guest? 

April A. Taylor: That depends on what you’re serving, as they all have, shall we say, particular tastes in food. But in all seriousness, probably either the unnamed character from Loss of Innocence, as that character is the manifestation of the beaten down (but never broken) spirit of the city of Detroit or the Princess of Decay from A Twisted Fairytale, as she’s torn between two different personalities and that would definitely make for some interesting conversational twists.

Fatally Yours: What do you hope to accomplish/express through your art? 

April A. Taylor: I seek to shed light on the darkness within all of humanity. Most people try to hide their darkness; I think it’s better to bring it to the forefront in order to examine it.  I hope that my photographs will make people pause for a second and think. Sometimes people are visibly jarred by looking at my photographs and since the point of art is to evoke an emotion in someone, be that a good emotion or a bad emotion, I take it as a compliment whenever someone has a strong reaction of any kind.

Fatally Yours: What equipment do you work with?

April A. Taylor: I use Canon equipment and do the majority of my Dark Art shoots with a wide angle lens, as opposed to the more traditional usage of a portrait lens, which is part of why my photos have a different “feel” to them.

Fatally Yours: How does digital manipulation play a part in your art? 

April A. Taylor: Aside from enhancing colors and sometimes adding what I’ve dubbed “bleed frames” I don’t really use a lot of digital manipulation. All of the makeup that you see was really on the models and the props and background were all really there during the shoot, too. I prefer to capture things for real whenever possible as I believe that a viewer can tell when something has been altered, no matter how well done it is, and that keeps them from really believing in the photo.

Fatally Yours: What was the first photo you took that made you go WOW!?

April A. Taylor: Probably the photo from the Post-Apocalyptic Princess set that features the princess holding an oriental fan while standing in front of the Michigan Central Station (which is an abandoned train station in Detroit, MI).

Fatally Yours: If you could choose a horror icon as a subject for your photographs, who would it be and why? 

April A. Taylor: The child in me that grew up loving the original A Nightmare on Elm Street says Freddy Krueger and Nancy Thompson, but the one person working in horror that I’ve always looked up to is Clive Barker, so it would be very interesting to photograph him.  His work has always pushed boundaries and I admire his courage to be completely open about who he is with the entire world.

Fatally Yours: Music usually plays an important role in the creative process. What is your favorite kind of music to listen to? 

April A Taylor: When I’m not creating I tend to listen to Alternative and Indie music, with a lot of my time spent listening to the two latest albums by Green Day. But when I’m creating, I listen to music that helps me inhabit the headspace of the character(s). For example, the theme song for Mine is “Lights Out” by Breaking Benjamin. Sometimes my day to day music does inspire me (a Green Day song led to the creation of the Nuclear Series) but for the most part I tend to put on something with a heavier/darker feel to help me create a Dark Art piece. Fortunately I have a very diverse collection of music, so there’s something on my iPod for just about any scenario.

Fatally Yours: Do you feel women in your business get the proper recognition when compared to their male counterparts? How about women in the horror industry as a whole? 

April A. Taylor: There are not many women in my specific niche of the horror genre, but as with just about any industry, men do unfortunately seem to get more recognition. The horror industry has long been known to be basically a “boys club” and this can be seen through the disproportionate number of working male to female directors, writers, etc. Things like Women in Horror Recognition Month are shedding light on this issue, though, and independent film festivals such as BleedFest are making it easier for female filmmakers to get their work in front of the public eye.

Fatally Yours: What women do you admire?

April A. Taylor: I admire every woman who is working really hard to break into the long standing “boys club” that is the industry of horror and I give special props to Rachel Talalay for all of her work within the industry. I admire the women in history who have stood up for women’s rights and civil rights. And I admire the women in my personal life who do amazing things daily, such as my aunt who spends almost all of her spare time making hats and scarves to donate to the homeless.

Fatally Yours: Who are some of your favorite photographers?

April A. Taylor: I really love the non-landscape work that Ansel Adams did earlier in his career.  I find that a lot of the other work that I’m really drawn to is being produced by people who have no interest in actually having a career as a professional photographer. There are a lot of really talented people out there who have shared their stuff with me, some who have been kind enough to say that mine inspired theirs, and I love to look at photography of all kinds/from all fields.

Fatally Yours: Recently, have you come across any new artists whose work you’ve absolutely fallen in love with? This can include photographers, filmmakers, musicians, etc. 

April A. Taylor: Although I wouldn’t say I came across him recently, one of my absolute favorite artists is Chris Mars. His work inspires me greatly. As to musicians and other artists, I constantly seek out new work and seem to have a new favorite song and movie every other day, so any list of recent favorites would be extremely long. However, my current favorite song is “A Walk Through Hell” by Say Anything and the last movie I saw that I really loved was Buried.

Fatally Yours: What is your most prized possession? 

April A. Taylor: Aside from my camera I’d say my iPod. Music is one of the few things in life that I really don’t think I could live without.  The second runner up would be my passport because I want to see, and photograph, the entire world.

Fatally Yours: If you weren’t a photographer, what would you want to be and why?

April A. Taylor: A cinematographer, which is something that I may eventually branch into. I’m too strongly connected to telling a story through a visual format to not have some form of a camera in my hands.

Fatally Yours: What kind of art do you have hanging in your home? 

April A. Taylor: I have a lot of Halloween related art (most of it throwbacks to “classic Halloween” from the ‘30s – ‘50s).  I also have several pieces from artist Matt Busch.

Fatally Yours: You also shoot many haunted attractions. What is your favorite haunted attraction you’ve visited and/or shot and why? 

April A. Taylor: I have many favorite haunts around the country, but probably the best one I’ve ever been to is The 13th Gate in Baton Rouge, LA. It is the most lovingly detailed haunt I’ve ever seen and, for obvious reasons, the visual presentation of a haunted attraction is very important to me. As far as just having a really fun and unusual experience, though, The House of Shock in New Orleans wins hands down for their full body contact style of haunting.

Fatally Yours: And lastly, one of my favorite questions to ask…What are some of your favorite horror movies? 

April A. Taylor: I have so many favorites!  Here are the ones that come to mind immediately:  A Nightmare on Elm Street (the original) parts 1 & 3, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Evil Dead, Fido, Shaun of the Dead, all of the Romero zombie movies, Hellraiser, [REC], Cube, Saw (parts 1 & 2), Halloween (the original), Trick R Treat, 1408 (the director’s cut), The Collector, Cabin Fever and The Human Centipede.

Fatally Yours: Let me sneak one more question in here…can you tell us about the next series you are going to shoot or any other projects you have lined up? 

April A. Taylor: Although I have several sets lined up, I typically don’t discuss them in advance. I will say, though, that a few popular sets are going to have continuations, one of which will probably really surprise the fans with the direction that it’s going to take.  As to publications, appearances, etc., some of my darker Fine Art pieces will be featured in an upcoming horror anthology entitled What Fears Become. Some of my work will also be seen in an upcoming short horror film entitled CathARTic, written and directed by Devanny Pinn.  I will also be making appearances this month at Con Nooga in Chattanooga, TN and MystiCon in Roanoke, VA and then in April at Motor City Nightmares in Novi, MI.

Fans can see more of my work at www.aprilataylor.com and can get sneak peaks of upcoming shoots, exclusive content & discounts, etc. by “liking” the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/aprilataylorphotography.  Thanks, Fatally Yours!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Enter the Dark (2011)

Enter the Dark is a short, 17-minute film from writer/director Todd Miró. To be honest, I was thinking this was going to be another Paranormal Activity-inspired flick, and to some extent it does share a similar style, but surprisingly it isn’t a cheap knock-off, but rather a creepy and effective short film.

Charles (Charles Yoakum) has a problem. There’s something in his house scaring his family and it just won’t leave them alone. They’ve all heard voices, seen dark shapes moving in the shadows, felt that uneasy sensation of being watched. Finally Charles captures something on his audio recorder that proves they’re not all going crazy. He decides to make a stand, enlisting the help of his long-time buddy, Rob (Rob Sandusky), to delve into the mystery of his unwanted guest and hopefully send it on its way. If they can somehow figure out what the entity is and what it wants, maybe they can all finally have some peace.

Rob’s worried about his buddy. He’s been acting really strange lately … well, even stranger than usual. Rob knows that things have been rough for Charles – struggling to make ends meet in a down economy, dealing with the unexplained disappearance of his brother-in-law, Marcus, and now these claims of some ghost harassing his family. Rob is skeptical that there’s anything paranormal going on, but he agrees to help his friend out if only to find out the real nature of the problem.

With the lights out, two friends are led on an adventure of paranormal encounters: cold spots, an eerie children’s book, unexplained apparitions and a final mystery that leads to a disturbing conclusion.

For a low-budget short, Enter the Dark looks polished and professional. The film is shown from multiple perspectives – from the hand-held, night-vision camera the men carry to just a regular “third-person” camera view. I liked how the perspectives switched back and forth from these cameras, keeping the viewer interested and the action tense. I also enjoyed how the majority of the film was lit by either the night-vision on the hand-held camera or a single flashlight. This gave the film a more claustrophobic, and therefore suspenseful, feel. Indie filmmakers should take note, because a high-quality look can be achieved on a budget, and Enter the Dark is a prime example.

The quality of the film isn’t just in the visuals, though. The acting is also top-notch, with actors Charles Yoakum and Rob Sandusky putting on convincing performances. I completely believed them as the two friends and I also really enjoyed their character development in the short. Kudos to the actors and to writer/director Miró for giving us realistic characters that were also nicely fleshed out, all within a very short running time.

The film also has some awesome creepy moments. The whole story starts slow with focus the character development discussed above, but it quickly builds to eerie scenes that lead up to a startling ending. I liked the overall subtle creepiness of the film plus the psychological aspects that were explored.

Enter the Dark is an entertaining, scary and thought-provoking short film that makes me look forward to future projects from writer/director Todd Miró. It is currently scheduled to screen at several film festivals, and I urge you to check it out if you get a chance! You won’t be disappointed…

Visit the film’s official site!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Black Death (2011)

According to Wikipedia, the Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history and is estimated to have killed 30% – 60% of Europe’s population, reducing the world’s population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in 1400. This has been seen as having created a series of religious, social and economic upheavals which had profound effects on the course of European history. It took 150 years for Europe’s population to recover.

The death and pestilence spread by this deadly plague was of Biblical proportions, and it seems that the dark mark it left upon history would be the perfect material for a horror film. Lucky for us, Magnolia Pictures’ Black Death has risen to the occasion.

The year is 1348. Europe has fallen under the shadow of the Black Death. As the plague decimates all in its path, fear and superstition are rife. In this apocalyptic environment, the church is losing its grip on the people. There are rumors of a village, hidden in marshland that the plague cannot reach. There is even talk of a necromancer who leads the village and is able to bring the dead back to life.

Ulric (Sean Bean), a fearsome knight, is charged by the church to investigate these rumors. He enlists the guidance of a novice monk, Osmund  (Eddie Redmayne) to lead him and his band of mercenary soldiers to the marshland, but Osmund has other motives for leaving his monastery. Their journey to the village and events that unfold take them into the heart of darkness and to horrors that will put Osmund’s faith in himself and his love for God to the ultimate test.

Black Death is a gripping film dealing with issues of faith, temptation, redemption, salvation…all huge issues back in the Dark Ages and still relevant today. It has a bit of Wicker Man-feel, only because of the dark secret the blissful and untouched village hides. It also has a much more somber feel and isn’t a film to take lightly. I liked how the film subverted the usual Christian vs. Pagan dynamic and made the pagans vicious instead of their usual hippie-dippy selves.

Speaking of viciousness, the film also boasts some wicked medieval battle scenes, complete with swords, maces, axes and even an iron maiden, among other torture devices. Despite the bloodshed being far and in-between, I was surprised how bloody the film actually was, especially in contrast to the subdued tone of the film and stark beauty of the cinematography.

The film looks stunning, from the cobblestoned streets of medieval Europe to the dark woods the characters travel through to the sun-dabbled village they finally arrive at. The mostly cold and bleak visuals echo the overall ominous atmosphere of the film. The grand scope of the cinematography makes me wish I had seen Black Death in a theater, but even on the smaller screen its grandiose scope wasn’t lost.

I liked the storyline because it had an epic feel and because of the themes it explored. As mentioned previously, I liked how the Christian vs. Pagan dynamic was flipped, with the pagans persecuting the Christians instead of the other way around. I also liked how the film showed unwavering faith in the characters as they were faced with temptations and challenges. The film ends on a brutal, downbeat note that was definitely disturbing and shows how evil can corrupt even the most faithful.

The actors gave performances equally intense to the storyline and visuals. Sean Bean is especially good as the God-fearing Ulric, but I also liked Eddie Redmayne’s performance as the conflicted Osmund. In my opinion, though, Carice van Houten stole the show as the village’s necromancer Langiva.

Director Christopher Smith has crafted another unique film with Black Death and is definitively one of the most versatile directors of the horror genre. He gave us the spooky Creep, the darkly humorous Severance, the intense Triangle and now the bleak Black Death. His films are always engaging, entertaining and original, and Black Death is no exception.

Buy it on Amazon!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

And Soon the Darkness (2010)

Two American girls are on a bicycle tour through remote Argentina, but decide to set out on their own for the last few days of their vacation. Stephanie (Amber Heard) is trying to get over a recent break-up while Ellie (Odette Yustman) is the more free-spirited, wild one. After the two have an argument, Stephanie leaves Ellie sunbathing alone by an isolated river. When Stephanie returns to reconcile with her friend, she finds Ellie missing. While searching for her friend and getting no help from the local police, Stephanie turns to a fellow American named Michael (Karl Urban) for help. However, it seems that even Michael has his own secrets that make Stephanie distrust him. With no one to trust, will Stephanie be able to find Ellie before this movie turns into another Turistas or Hostel? Hmmmm…I’m betting not…

I was ready and willing to give And Soon the Darkness a chance…I figured it might do something new and put a twist on the whole tourists-in-peril sub-genre. I was even willing to put up with the poor man’s versions of Megan Fox (Yustman) and Scarlett Johansson (Heard). The film started off okay…especially since it was actually filmed in Argentina and the vistas were pretty spectacular. However, the film didn’t offer anything unique in regards to its storyline, which really is a pity considering the beautiful location they had to work with. Instead it limps along the well-tread “torture porn” road with a bit of black market sex slavery thrown in for good measure. If I had wanted to see that I would have just re-watched the excellent Shuttle (watch it NOW if you haven’t seen it yet) instead of sitting through this bland “horror” film.

In fact “bland” is an apt word to describe And Soon the Darkness, as it applies to nearly everything in the film. Bland acting, bland writing, a bland storyline, bland torture…The only thing that wasn’t bland was the direction by Marcos Efron and the cinematography by Gabriel Beristain. Of course, the natural beauty of Argentina may have made capturing its loveliness easy! I would even go so far as to say that if the film was re-cut it could be used as a way to promote tourism for the country (providing they cut out all the kidnapping, unfriendly locals, crooked police and torture…which should be easy since the film doesn’t really boast many of these scenes).

If you’re looking for horror, though, you’ll be sadly disappointed with And Soon the Darkness. While it has some great touristy shots that look like they belong in National Geographic, the film’s storyline fails to evoke any real scares since its premise is something we’ve all seen before (and in better films). It tries for a slow burn but falters in that it never actually goes anywhere. By the time Stephanie figured out what was going on I was beyond caring anyway and I just had to throw my hands up in the air when the story went the clichéd way of so many other films. I was at the very least hoping for a bit of a twist at the end that would differentiate this film from its ilk, but no such luck.

What I do find interesting is that this film is actually a remake of a 1970’s film of the same name, something I did not find out until after viewing the 2010 version. Despite the remake’s failure, I’m just a little bit curious as to how the original compares and may seek it out. If it turns out to be a fantastic film, I may have to actually thank And Soon the Darkness for actually doing something for me besides showing me pretty pictures of Argentina. For now though, the only thing that And Soon the Darkness did was bore me to death…and make me want to visit rural Argentina, even though the film should have had the opposite effect in both instances.

Available on Amazon!
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