Anyone who knows me personally or follows me on Twitter, Facebook or here on my website knows that I am a true music lover. I’ve made no bones about HIM* being my favorite band. Their influences range from Type O Negative, Black Sabbath, Depeche Mode, The Cult and Madonna giving them a goth rock edge bands have since tried to capture. With a unique, inimitable sound, HIM has found themselves buried deep in the hearts of fans in vampire and gothic subcultures putting them right in my path. As a matter of fact, I love ALL kinds of music and promote, market and organize events with bands and when I love what a band does, I do my best to make sure that other people do too. This interview came about because of that pursuit of all things that I love.
Jules, my best HIM buddy, had been perusing the internet and came across the photo below of Ville Valo, front man of the Finnish band HIM, which led her to the website of rock photographer Paul Harries. She had seen the photo before and so had a million other fans. The “Smoke Print”, a bold black and white masterpiece capturing billowing smoke coming out of the singer’s mouth. Actually, many of Paul Harries photo shoots of Ville Valo are fan favorites. But this one in all of its better high resolution glory straight from the source was for sale. To fans like us, we felt we hit the jackpot.
Impressed by the dimensions and quality of Paul’s work, I ordered two. One for me and one for my tenacious bestie, Jules. I emailed Paul and told him that if he was interested that I could promote the print on some HIM fan forums to drum up some more sales. Afterall, I am a promoter and seeing as how the band has been dormant for a while, I thought any interest would be beneficial in keeping HIM in the hearts of fans that were missing the band terribly. Paul got back to me quickly and the promotion started. We exchanged many emails and kept in contact. He informed me that he was about to release yet another iconic image of Valo known as the “Oxygen Mask Print” and asked me to do the same as before since the promotion was definitely working.
It turns out that Paul asked Ville to sign a limited number of prints (which are all sold out) and was simply waiting for them to come back from Finland. He was even gentlemanly enough to email me this photo “sighting” of Valo signing them so that fans could be sure that their coveted purchases were on their way soon. You have to understand that there had only been a few random pics of Valo since the fall of 2010, so fans were a little eager to see how Ville looked. Was he okay? Was he alive? But most importantly… HOW LONG WAS HIS HAIR? Yes, his hair is quite the topic of never ending fan forum discussion. I posted the information along with this photo. The fans got their fix and the prints flew out.
Once again, fans jumped all over it and bought the signed prints, proving that people haven’t forgotten about HIM and that the band’s reclusive singer has some kind of supernatural hold over his fans. That very notion is what gave me the idea to ask Paul if he would be interested in doing an interview with me. You see, Paul is the chief lens man for Kerrang! Magazine in the UK and has photographed countless bands like Slipknot, My Chemical Romance, Black Veil Brides, and Green Day. He is in a unique position when it comes to sharing some inside information about Valo as he has photographed him for over a decade since HIM’s career first started making waves during their breakthrough album Razorblade Romance back in 2001. The “Oxygen Mask Print” is a unique photo and naturally, fans had some questions about it among other things. Paul has mentioned before that it is one of his favorites and it has been featured in gallery showings as well.
The following is the fruit of the above inquiry. When sharing or posting this interview or any photos herein, please link back to this website and give proper photography and interviewer credits. Thank you.
Interviewed by Alex “Lady~A” Savage
AS: Had you always wanted to be a rock photographer or was it an occupation you landed in?
PH: No, I wanted to be a Rock Star but I have no musical talent.
AS: Fans are curious about your medium and what kind of camera you prefer. Digital is assumed along with the use of digital filters. The “Smoke” print is so clear and the smoke captured perfectly. Can you geek out about cameras for a minute for all the budding photogs out there who think you are AWESOME?
PH: I use Canon a Canon 5D mk2 at the moment and process on Mac with Photoshop. For lighting I use a Bowens kit. When I shot film I used Canon for 35mm and a Bronica for medium format.
AS:What was the first shoot you had with Ville? What was your first impression of him?
PH: That would be the day he shot the Wicked Game video (strip club version) in London, 2001 maybe? I did a shoot with him in the street outside the venue. He did not have much time so it was bit of a rush. I do not think we left much of an impression on each other that day.
AS: The Oxygen photo is a good indicator of Ville’s sense of humor as in not taking himself too seriously. You have mentioned before that it’s one of your favorites. Many of us fans are very familiar with that entire shoot. It looks like you guys were having a lot of fun. What can you tell us about the genesis of that photo? Whose idea was it to use an actual mask? Was it just a prop laying around?
PH: I love the actress Fairuza Balk and I found the attached image of her. I thought I’d have to rip that idea off and Mr. Valo with his amazing eyes would be perfect. I showed the image to Ville and he was into it. I have been asked if this was some kind of joke about his smoking and I can honestly say it didn’t even cross my mind, I just thought it would look cool.
AS: Is there a place or scenario that you would like to do a shoot with Ville that you haven’t?
PH: I can’t think of anything off hand but I do wish we had worked together more in the early days.
AS: Many fans had this question as we all know how photogenic the man is and sometimes he almost comes off like an editorial model. Do you have to give Ville much direction in a shoot or is he a “natural”? What is his general mood on set with you?
PH: We kind of just get going and try things out, the shot evolves from that. Our shoots are pretty relaxed.
AS: Now a fashion question. Is there wardrobe involved or do you usually shoot Ville in his own clothing?
PH: His own clothing or topless! Kerrang! once hired a red velvet smoking jacket for him to wear for his Christmas message shoot.
AS: Mostly, you just photograph Ville and that could be at the direction of Kerrang!. Have you ever photographed the whole band?
PH: I have shot the whole band a couple of times but it is mostly Ville on his own when he does press trips.
AS: This is a question from me. From the Oxygen photo to sessions you did with him later, things took a decidedly darker turn. Ville has been very candid about his alcohol addiction and his stint in rehab. I always thought you captured the essence of a man on the brink of self destruction. Ville’s poses and facial expressions were disturbing, haunting and beautifully captured. It seemed that those shoots went beyond the normal rock star antics into a vulnerability Ville was allowing you to see. Many fans still find it hard to view your photographs of him from his pre-rehab period. What was the mood like during those darker photo shoots with him and what differences had you noticed in him from working with him before?
PH: On a personal level he has always been the same with me, I think maybe you are reading too much into the images. That shot of Ville with the black eyes was my idea but I am not sure it works very well…it was not intended to show any inner darkness or anything like that.
AS: This question was based on interviews I had read about Valo’s addiction struggle at the time. These photos and subsequent shoots seemed different to me than others Paul had done with Ville in the past, so I wanted to investigate them more. Paul’s answer was very informative to me.
AS: Time for the gratuitous question! So, do you just have TONS of photos of Ville laying around that we’ve never seen? For instance, I know that you just recently became aware of being in HIM’s Ode To Solitude video where you are on video photographing him, but yet we have only really ever seen a few of those actual photos in Kerrang!. They are very sought after, by the way. I’m sure there are all kinds of contractual issues there…BUT…if you can…can you give us a photo of Ville we’ve never seen? Something you can share? Pretty please….with a cherry on top?
PH: Here is a shot I took of Ville while he was being interviewed for Kerrang! in September 2007.
For full size, go HERE.
Thank you again Paul, for indulging HIM fans and admirers of your work! It is awesome of you to take the time to answer these 10 questions. May you continue to take beautiful photographs and keep on rockin’ in the free world.
For Paul Harries Official website, click HERE.
* HIM’s official website is currently under construction.