Grave Beauty: Jeremy Saffer Captures the Corpse-Painted “Daughters of Darkness” (NSFW Pics + Interview)
Photographer: Jeremy Saffer
One of the things I treasure most about the metal community are the fans. Fans of metal music are often really serious fans: it doesn’t just stop at liking one song or even liking one band. But they also like to find out who did the album art, who produces, and who photographs their favorite bands.
Jeremy Saffer has most likely photographed your favorite band. From Arch Enemy, Misfits, Slayer, Behemoth, and Slipknot to bands on every part of the metal spectrum both well known and underground, his work is recognizable. He has amassed his own fanbase of music lovers who appreciate and follow his work -- many artists seek him out for promotional campaigns, portraits, and album art too.
Saffer is somewhat of an underground celebrity, or at least he is in Western Massachusetts, where we both live. We have such a small, tight-knit community here that it seems like every band knows each other, what photographer is shooting which model, and has worked with them or their sister -- there’s about two degrees of separation from everybody.
Saffer and I were about one degree of separation apart for a few years because he was shooting a lot of models I knew. He's most definitely never shot any sort of porn or adult content, but his work shooting art nudes has been legendary. The metal scene seems to attract pornstars and sex workers on the periphery as well, so among Dominatrixes and strippers who knew about good music, it became sort of a feather in your cap to have shots by Saffer in your portfolio as a model.
I first got to shoot with him modeling underwear designed by Mick Deth (rest in power) of Eighteen Visions for his clothing line "Dethless." We bonded, of course, over black metal.
A few years later in my career, when I was interviewing bands, I would run into him in the press pit while covering a band or show for a publication -- lots of great memories from New England Metal Fests, multiple years in a row. At one point, he was even photographing Cannibal Corpse right after I was interviewing them. We went on intersecting like that for some time before I got to shoot with him again.
In those days (mid 2000s), I had my own successful niche fetish website. I had shot different photosets of me in various stages of undress while wearing corpse paint, clutching bottles of Jim Beam in graveyards, wielding axes, cutting off fishnets… you get the idea. When Saffer asked if I would shoot for his nude corpse paint book, Daughters of Darkness, I was so stoked. Sure, I had been naked in corpse paint before (hell, who hasn’t?) but never in a professional studio for fine art purposes.
I took it seriously and thought a lot about what I wanted to bring to the table and what type of makeup I wanted to present. The shots we got that day are so amazing -- seeing them all these years later, with the idea and concept fully realized, brings up a lot of feelings. The book is like a high-concept collection of photos of some of my favorite people and friends, and a who's who for those in the know of the New England model scene.
With heightened anticipation for the finished product and so much buzz and excitement about the release of this book, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to talk to Saffer about his work and experience creating this collection.
-- Bella Vendetta
When did you originally come up with the concept for this project, and how long before you actually started shooting it?
The actual project started in 2008, but the seed had been planted long before I started the project. When I was a kid, getting into black metal, I would always go to my local record shop (Music Outlet) and I would go through the metal cds and vinyl. Any artwork that stood out to me, I would buy that album based on the artwork alone… anything with corpse paint, a nude woman on the cover (usually in a forest, or in an occult type setting), or anything with both… I would pick up that album and usually end up really liking the album and that band. When it came to merch I was the same way if I knew the band. Witchery, Cradle, Marduk, Dimmu, Theater of Tragedy, Tristania, Mactatus, etc. etc. all used that style of imagery.
So in 2008, at the time I was about 50% music photographer (magazines, album covers, etc) and 50% model photographer (fine art books, galleries, etc) and this was the project that was going to combine both of these into a single long form project. I did a photo shoot with a model named Lydia for a clothing line. The idea behind the shoot was to mock the Pulp This Is Hardcore album cover but have a corpse-painted nude woman and it would say “This Is Black Metal”. I shot first for the shirt design, but being that both the model and I were fans of both black metal and nude art, we decided to do a few sets of photos in-studio and around the basement of the studio. I immediately loved these photos. They reminded me of that excitement a decade earlier, finding this art, and buying the album based on that art. Daughters of Darkness had been born. At first I was thinking, okay I’ll do a short series, which quickly turned into shooting for a book. This was pretty much my main “personal project/side project” so to speak for over a decade, so while I wasn’t doing band work, I was shooting for this project every chance I could.
How long did you shoot for? How many models?
This project technically went from 2008 to summer 2020 (I did sneak a last shot in there) but there were periods where I would do 10-20 shoots for this a month and some periods where I didn’t shoot for this project at all for months at a time, especially the last year or so. I sort of felt after a decade of shooting for it, the project had hit a point of completion and I was ready to take a break from it, which is where finding the publisher came in. As soon as I started going through all the photos, it really re-lit that flame to shoot for it even more, so there might be more coming from this project in the future. As for how many models… there's a handful of models who shot for this multiple times, but all in all there were about 400 separate models who had shot for the book. Some of the early shoots from the first two years were lost in a hard drive failure where both the original and backup failed at once, but luckily the final edited images from most of those shoots were saved off site and are in the book.
Any favorite model to work with on this project?
There are no favorites really, each shoot was unique in its own way. I really liked getting to bond over black metal with so many people, making some amazing friends and collaborators along the way. It was great having so many models involved who aren’t models. People who are just fans of black metal, friends of mine from over the years, and so many people who have only done one fine art shoot, for this book. It's great to have so many friendly (albeit corpse painted) faces involved in this book. And the really cool thing is, it sort of is a history book for my photography where I can really see who I was working with, what I was doing in terms of camera, lens, lighting, and other technical aspects during that time period... each page is sort of its own memory to me.
You clearly have a penchant for corpse paint and the black metal aesthetic, are there any specific bands that have inspired you or whose corpse paint you particularly admire?
Without a doubt Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Immortal, Satyricon, Limbonic Art, Dissection, Setherial, Thyrane, Tristina, Darkthrone, the endless list goes on for bands whose aesthetic, art, and merch have inspired me over the years. Black metal is such a beautiful genre. It has such a duality of being raw, grim, cold, but beautiful. You look at images of forests, winterscapes, human form… and even in black metal when you get lost in the atmosphere of a Darkthrone riff, get that massive sound of Immortal filling your ears, or the more symphonic and romantic bands like Cradle of Filth… there is so much beauty in black metal, not just in the artwork but also in the music. In terms of my favorite corpse paints, the most iconic to me, I would say Abbath is always number one, as his never changed and most others have changed a bit over the years. My favorites are Dani Filth, Horgh, Euronymous, Frost, Gaahl, Satyr, and this is another list that could go on forever.
The forward of the book is written by Randy Blythe, what can you tell us about how this collaboration came about?
Randy has been a long time supporter of this project. When he was first getting into photography (for those who are unaware, he's an incredible photographer) he would often pick my brain about camera things, and each time we crossed paths we would share work, talk photography, and generally nerd out on photo things. I showed him the corpse paint project early on, and since he had first seen it, he had been super pumped on the project as he is also one who deeply understands aesthetic and has an appreciation for black metal. Every time I would see him he would ask when the book was coming out, giving me that nod to keep going and being supportive at all times. He’s an amazing human being. So when the book became a reality, it made sense to have certain people involved with it such as Randy, who knows me, knows my work, and knows the history of this project, and of course Dani whose art has inspired so much of this project.
I’ve gotten the chance to see some of the prints that will be going out with special orders and they are extremely high quality. How meticulous is the process of choosing finishes and paper and other details for the book?
In terms of the book I had a very specific vision for how it should look. I knew what type of paper I didn’t want, I had a general idea of the layout and design, so luckily, being that the publisher had agreed with me on all aspects of the book (size, page count, every detail you can imagine) it was pretty easy. In terms of the autographed prints (autographed by the models in the book) coming with the book, that was a no brainer going with metallic prints which really make the corpse paint pop off the paper.
How did you know Rare Bird was the right publishing house to go with?
Short answer… I walked into my first in person meeting with the owner and he was wearing a Satyricon hoodie, we spent about an hour or more nerding out about black metal prior to even talking about book details. I knew I had found the right publisher… but the longer answer goes so much more beyond that. I had first met them through Nekrogoblikon. I had done a photo shoot for Nekrogoblikon's book (Written by the greatest goblin of all, John Goblikon) which came out on Rare Bird. Somewhere along all the talks of photo things, I had thought… maybe I should ask if they would be interested in Daughters of Darkness. I sent in an email with all the info on the project, and I did not get a “we will think about it” “we will get back to you”. I got an almost immediate “YES! Let's do it!” That showed me the publisher not only understood the concept, but the entire project. As we put together the book, every small detail that was important to me, was important to them, every little thing I wanted to have for the book, they made it happen. This is not a case of a publisher coming in and production lining the book… we spent hours and hours and hours on the phone discussing, choosing images, order of images, every little detail, and each conversation would end up about 50% book stuff and 50% black metal nerding out session. In the end Rare Bird really went above and beyond to make my vision a reality and to do this book in the way I wanted to, and that’s gotta be super rare to find in a publisher.
Any other things you want to mention, links you want to drop or stuff to get us excited?
Well, we are just about a month away from the release at the time of this being typed, so I am very excited. I am of course sort of bummed that the pandemic has put a stop to gallery shows and book signings, which I was very much looking forward to, but we will do those in the new year when it's appropriate to do so. I can't wait for people to get the book in their hands, especially with the new specs of it being such a massive book. The items we've added to the preorder, the soundtrack especially, are super exciting. I just spun the test press of the soundtrack last week and it's absolutely killer. 45rpm on heavy weight vinyl… another really cool thing that came from this project, being that both myself and the owner of Rare Bird are vinyl collectors, black metal fans, and fans of metal compilations… this was another dream come true situation.
Bella Vendetta is a film producer, photographer, performer, and writer hailing from Western Massachusetts. Her writing has appeared in metal magazines, gentlemen’s magazines, and art publications. Since she can’t go to shows or stripclubs anymore, you can generally find her deep in the mountain woods photographing witches or hanging out in 100 year old graveyards.