Christopher Dean, a.k.a. “NecrosHorns,” has established a formidable international following with his black metal photography. NecrosHorns is not only a leading metal photographer, but he is also regarded as a staple within the scene. As a former pilot who once barely escaped death when his engine went up in flames, he takes more risks than most.
NecrosHorns has collaborated with a long list of famed black metal powerhouses, such as Nifelheim, Marduk, and Mortiis. His photos are known to be remarkably intense, intimate, and emotionally charged. Of course, NecrosHorns, under his birth name, has received major honors for his non-metal work as well. Whether his subject is a person, place, or object, NecrosHorns manages to brilliantly bring out its essential qualities and character like no one else. His distinctive photographs all bear his inimitable artistic trademark.
We sat down with NecrosHorns to discuss his creative journey, exhibitions, books, and more. This is that conversation:
First off, I would like to say that I’m a huge fan of your work, and I’ve been following it for a long time. Readers should already know that you’re a revered figure within the black metal world. So, you started out creating wood art with pyrography, acrylics, and also blood as paint. You’ve done wood carvings with blood for Archgoat, Darvaza, Marduk, and Blasphemy…
It was an accident, actually. I was just doing wood carving. That was way before NecrosHorns existed. I’ve always been interested in crafts in general. So, I was just carving, and then the tool slipped and cut my hand, and a lot of blood poured over the wood. I was like: “That’s a really cool idea!” So, that’s how that started, but it was a process. Little by little, it evolved into the beginning of NecrosHorns, but I did that for over a year maybe before. It was not even something that I planned to do. I was just doing it for myself. Then people were like: “You should show it around!”
Would you be willing to share anything about your evolution as a photographer?
I’ve always been interested in photography. It’s a passion I’ve had since I was little, but I never had the opportunity to own a proper camera or study to be a photographer. At a certain point, I started creating altars to build atmospheres that reflected the essence of my work. One day, I was at a concert here in Stockholm. This band called Turbocharged was playing. It’s a band from Ronnie Ripper. He was Vomitory’s first singer. I took some photos and videos with my iPhone after the concert. I showed them to him. He’s really into photography and knows a lot about it. He asked me: “Do you know you have an eye for this?!” I told him: “I’ve always loved doing this, but I never really tried professionally.” He was like: “You should!” I got inspired, and then I bought my first camera and started learning. And, well, now it is what it is.
On Iblis Manifestations, you told Shayan from Trivax that Tomáš Corn, Cult of Fire’s former drummer, remarked: “We have plenty of photos from our concert, but you always manage to capture an angle completely different than someone else…” Your work is, of course, immediately recognizable. You perfectly capture the ritualistic aspects and symbolism of the black metal world. You are also a master of chiaroscuro. Could you please speak about how you developed your unique artistic approach?
I mean, that’s a really interesting question because many people in the metal scene will probably hate me for this, but I always say: “Who has the best photographers in the world?!” There are two industries. One, something like National Geographic. The second, fashion houses. No one invests more money and technique in photo sessions than fashion houses. So, most of my inspiration is from fashion photographers. I’m not talking about the core of my work in the way of feeling. I’m talking about technique. There’s one photographer called Paolo Roversi. He’s amazing. There’s also the designer Rick Owens. His photos are so dark that they’re kind of black metal photos.
I feel I need to bring that technique with the essence of my dark approach and create something unique. That’s why I search for different angles. I always say: “If you have a camera in your hands, why do you always have to shoot straight?! You can twist it. You can play around with it.” I don’t try to focus on taking the sharpest photo; the mistake that many photographers actually make when they shoot a concert is they go for the sharpest photo. But what is the moment when you have the easiest opportunity to shoot a sharp photo?! That is when they are doing nothing onstage — they have just laid down the guitar and are waiting between songs. Maybe they just put down the water. And, yeah, you get the sharpest photo, but it’s a photo that lacks emotion. So, I really go for the moment when a lot of things are happening, and I really try to capture that energy. I want people to tell me: “I don’t know which band this is, but I can see there was a lot of energy at that concert from your photo.” That’s what I want to capture, and that’s the part of concert photography that I do differently. I always say: “When the other photographers put their cameras down, that’s when I put mine up.”
Could you tell me a bit about how you approach photo sessions?
As a photographer, I feel the camera shoots two ways. It not only captures the subject, but it also captures my essence behind the camera. So, I try to always have a proper connection with whomever I shoot. When I’m going to shoot a photo session, part of my workflow is to meet the musicians, talk with them, hear them, and build a connection. When they have trust, then we shoot together. I build up trust and let the other person put out emotions in a way that they would not do if I was an outsider.
In addition to metal photography, you also capture travel destinations, architecture, and so forth. You’ve been honored more than once, including this year, by the 35Awards, which named you one of the top 35 photographers in Sweden and part of the top 10 in Stockholm. Would you like to say anything about how your black metal photography ties in with your non-BM work?
I’m really into many things. I love architecture in general. Actually, when I finished high school and had to choose a career, my decision was between architecture and psychology. I ended up as a pilot! None of them worked, but I became a pilot for four years… But still, I’ve always been interested in architecture. Two architects are actually among my biggest inspirations. When I travel, I search for buildings they have done so that I can photograph them. For me, photography is art. The way that I capture even a building has to be from a different angle. It has to be a different expression. I try not to just take the photo. I try to elevate the architects’ creations through my photos. So, I feel like I’m paying tribute to what has inspired me, and that’s not only the case with architecture but in general. Since I was a pilot, as I said, I always traveled a lot, so I’ve always been interested in cultures and the psychological aspects behind them. So, I always try to travel to different places and learn about them.
In a way, there’s been a connection with my work as a photographer of both metal and cultures. One of the reasons that I capture Cult of Fire probably… I mean, it could sound arrogant to say better than others…
Well, you absolutely do! Your photos with Cult of Fire are unreal!
Thank you. It’s because I’ve been to India. I’ve been to Nepal. I understand the concept of what they want to show differently than other people. So, when I see their concerts, I understand the cultural approach to their music. I feel a connection with the band, and it’s a lot of fun because I got a few people who wrote to me: “For me, you’re a silent member of Cult of Fire.” I was like: “Woah, thanks! I appreciate it.” I love the band. I actually have a Cult of Fire tattoo.
You attended the slightly belated 35th-anniversary December Moon gig by Morbid in January. That featured key surviving members plus a couple of very special guests. The event was such a hit that there will be another concert this December in Oslo. You took phenomenal pictures and even managed to capture the semla, as ceremonially thrown by Jens “Dr. Schitz” Näsström. The semla is, of course, an essential part of Morbid’s imagery. What was it like to document that historic occurrence?
The concert was at a really small venue. It was extremely packed. They wanted to keep the underground feeling of what Morbid was back in the day and make something really intimate. So, it was really difficult to shoot photos there. To be honest, I had no idea who was going to be the singer. I did think that Erik from Watain was going to be the drummer because I know he has connections to Morbid. It was a really intense concert, really difficult to shoot.
When they played “Disgusting Semla,” they threw a huge semla. It was a monster, and it was dyed green. I’ve been slapped by dead animals and blood but never by a piece of semla! There were so many things happening at the same time that I didn’t even see the semla coming into my head. So, it was fun! After the concert, some people started picking up the pieces from the floor and putting them up on the tray. I was just cleaning pieces of semla from my camera, from my hand, my sleeve, and everything. It was funny, one guy took a piece of semla from my camera and just ate it. I was like: “That’s really disgusting!” But, yeah, it’s Morbid. So, it was a really interesting concert, really wild, again, really difficult to capture. There was a lot of energy!
After the concert, I talked with Necrobird [one of the brothers of Morbid’s late frontman, Per Yngve “Pelle” Ohlin, a.k.a. “Dead”], and he told me: “I saw you with the side of my eye, and I saw your camera. I was just wondering: ‘This guy is risking his camera at this really wild concert to get the shot?’” I showed him the photos later, and he was like: “Fuck, I love it! These are amazing!” I was like: “Thanks!” I’m happy that I got to capture the event in a special way, and that Necrobird got really happy about the photos. We actually made a collaboration. He signed some photos that I shot.
You recently had an exhibition at Cosmic Void Festival in London. You furthermore acted as a live photographer there and took part in “Astral Pit” — a conference that also included Metal Hammer’s Jonathan Selzer, Cult Never Dies’ Dayal Patterson, and Midnight Odyssey’s Dis Pater. How was your overall experience at Cosmic Void?
It was intense. I was really excited about the festival in general. I never thought in my life that I was going to have an exhibition. Now, I’ve had 10 in total. When I was on the shuttle to the building where the exhibition took place, I felt for a moment like: “Damn, I’m in London, one of the capital places in the world when it comes to art, and I’m here having an exhibition at a really big festival with amazing bands and really packed venues and everything.” I was so happy to see people from all around the world who know what I do. I’m really excited that I can manage to inspire people by capturing their favorite bands in my own way, and that they feel that I capture the core of each band in a respectful way with integrity.
After Cosmic Void, you attended Black Night Sorceries Fest MMXXIII, which took place on October 4 and 5. That was actually the first black metal fest ever in Israel. As in London, you brilliantly photographed proceedings and had another exhibition. So, do you have any memories from Black Night Sorceries that you would like to share?
The promoter is a really passionate guy. In general, people are really passionate over there. Like in London, a lot of people approached me and told me: “Hey, I’ve been following your work for many years! I love what you do. I have some of your work already.” To hear people showing how much they appreciate what I do was mind-blowing. All the bands that were there formed a really tight connection because we were sharing something that is part of history in a way now. It was great making new friends and meeting old friends I haven’t seen in many years like Ryan from Death Worship and Blasphemy. I haven’t seen him since 2017. So, to share everything and connect again with people that I know was a really beautiful experience.
The day the war started in Israel, you photographed Darvaza’s Omega and Kommander L., who acted as live support for Darvaza. You did that between raid alarms and as military helicopters soared. The day before, you obviously had an indescribably fantastic yet highly dangerous photo shoot with Wraath. You called it “the most intense session probably in black metal history…” You also commented: “We took the risk and made history.” You stated that the series of images represents freedom against religious oppression. So, it is my understanding that Wraath said he wanted to shoot with you, and you suggested that you do it in the Via Dolorosa. Would you like to tell our readers about what you accomplished with Wraath and a bit more about the meaning behind it?
I feel the core of black metal is the feeling against mostly Abrahamic religions. I had this idea beforehand about shooting with one band there. I didn’t talk with anyone about it because I didn’t want to push it or create false expectations. I was also thinking that if we do something like that, we are probably going to get arrested or something. Then I talked to Omega, and he said: “We have the idea to do a photo session maybe outside in some countryside area or something.” I thought the Via Dolorosa was the best place we could do it because that’s part of the core of Abrahamic religions. I cannot speak from the perspective of Wraath or Omega, but I really wanted to do something that stands really strong and shows that we stand free against the chains of all Abrahamic religions, a really primordial feeling. With everything that goes on around the world right now, it can be misinterpreted, but it’s not about insulting any of the passersby or any race. I’m not going to accept that.
I absolutely know that your intentions were only positive, and I know that Wraath would not want to insult any group either — that’s in no way what he’s about.
We didn’t plan. We had the main idea. We went to shoot. We wanted to show the discomfort of the people around, but I was not waiting for a Muslim or a Jew or Christian to cross. I was just like whatever person is in the moment is the person that is in the photo. I was not targeting anything specifically. I have to be honest: when I was shooting, I had tunnel vision. For me, it was only Wraath and me and no one else in that place at that moment. I just saw shadows crossing, and I just tried to capture those shadows in the image. So, I was not aware until I saw the photos of who was in the photos. For example, there’s one photo that I have not published yet, and there is a Muslim on one side and a Jewish man on the other. So, that’s what we wanted. I just thought: “We have seconds to do this. I don’t have a second opportunity.” So, my intention was not to capture a specific group or type of people. We didn’t have the time, and I didn’t have the vision in the moment to look around. It was just improvised shooting, and we hoped for the best.
In response to “The Omen…,” one of the photos with Wraath, someone wrote that it should receive a Pulitzer Prize, and I agree! So, anyway, you’ve authored nine books of photography: The Soul of the Stage, Dark Portraits, The Black Holes of My Mind, Cosmic Void Archives Vol. I, Imaginary Landscapes of Reality, A Journey Through Death, Ruins of the Modern World, Nature and Femininity, and Death and Rebirth. Is there anything you would like to say about this topic?
To see people collecting my books these days makes me super happy. I’m preparing something for next year that is going to be a summary of my 10-year career in one book. There’s plenty of things that I want to release and do. As I’m really active, I could put out like four more books now, but I don’t want to do that right away because I don’t want to lose the magic and essence. I try to keep my books small and focused. I don’t want them to be repetitive. I like to divide, as opposed to mixing up what I do. That’s why I have two different Instagram accounts.
As I said, the cultural aspects are really important to me, not only the music part. So, when I released the book about my experiences in India and Nepal, I felt it was something really powerful to share with people. It was great to see many people in the metal community get interested in that as well and say: “Oh, he’s a metalhead, and he’s capturing what he’s seeing in his own way.” So, I feel it’s actually a way to break taboos in society and push the limits as well. That’s not an easy thing to do in general. It poses a lot of challenges.
You’ve photographed so many great bands: Watain, Nifelheim, Urgehal, Valkyrja, Misþyrming, Mortuary Drape, Mork, Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult, Marduk, Endezzma, Djevel, Ritual Death, Carpathian Forest, Kampfar, Rotting Christ, Mortiis, Whoredom Rife, Nordjevel, Mare, etc. That was a mouthful, but it’s important that people understand the scope of your reach within the community. Needless to say, you’ve had a ton of memorable photo shoots that we haven’t discussed like your fiery session with Ondskapt!
Actually, we went to an abandoned mine maybe 40 kilometers from Uppsala. I had never heard about the place. Some of the guys live in the area, so they knew the place. When I got there, I was like: “This is beautiful!” They were like: “What do you think? Do you have any ideas?” I was just looking around, and I started thinking: “This place is pure concrete, and it’s winter. This is not going to burn to the ground.” I asked the guys: “Do you have fuel or alcohol or something?” They asked: “Why? What do you have in mind?” “Burn this place down! Let’s try.” “So, we are going to shoot with fire?” I was like: “Absolutely! Let’s do it!” Then I just set that place on fire, and it was a living hell! The energy of the photos is so intense that people have asked me: “Is this from a concert?” I was like: “No, it’s not from a concert. It’s a photo session.”
When people book me for a photo session, they really want to hear my creativity and stuff. They are really open to hearing what I have to say and how I want to capture them. Hetroertzen’s drummer has a solo project, and, not long ago, I shot a photo session for him. He told me: “Something that I like about shooting with you is you’re not afraid of taking risks.” So, I was like: “Well, I’ll be honest. I’m a person. I get afraid sometimes, but I live under the motto that life begins where the comfort zone ends! I want that to be reflected in my photos, and I’m going to push the limits. That’s what I did with Darvaza. That’s what I did with Ondskapt. And that’s what we are doing here right now!” We went down to some gravesite to take some photos next to some coffins, so that was fun!
I always tell people: “I’m a photographer, not a graphic designer, so if you want fire, we are going to burn this place.” I am not going to add anything that isn’t in front of my camera. A lot of photographers sit at home listening to music while working in post-production for hours on one photo. That’s probably easier and more relaxing than actually creating a scenario that is risky, where you can get burned, you can fall down, many things could happen… You can get arrested or even get stabbed, but I feel it’s very important to capture moments in that way because then you are able to reproduce reality, rather than creating a fake reality.
(Please learn more about NecrosHorns and explore his art even further here.)
The post Interview: Leading Black Metal Photographer NecrosHorns Discusses His Dark Art appeared first on MetalSucks.