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The Horrify Me Photo that Stormed the World!

Valak the Demon Nun from The Conjuring 2

Back in November 2016, as part of my “Icons of Horror” photo sets, I created a shoot of Valak the demon nun. At the time, the character had only been in The Conjuring 2 film. Her own film The Nun hadn’t been released yet. Valak was fast becoming a solid favourite, hitting all the right notes with horror movie fans and cosplayers alike and becoming a new icon of horror.

For my own shoot I invited a buddy of mine, Cheryle Yeo, to be the nun because she bore a decent resemblance to the film actress Bonnie Aarons. She’s by no means the spitting image but she does have a close enough resemblance that under the heavy makeup it would be fairly easy to fool the eye.

Cheryle did a great job modelling as Valak, despite all the involuntary drooling and inability to speak thanks to the ridiculous set of teeth I made for her (which now resides in her home, in a little cabinet of curiosities). The shoot went well, the photos looked great, and as usual, I posted them online for people to see. People liked them. People shared them. All the usual stuff happened and everything was good.

Quite often I find that someone has made a “fan art” drawing or painting of my photos, and quite a few of my photos end up as tattoos on people. Personally I always find it incredibly flattering, that someone thinks my images are good enough to reproduce artistically or wear on their skin forever. It’s always a nice little treat for both myself and the model, who usually enjoys this little act of tribute by a total stranger. It wasn’t long before my new Valak was inked onto someone’s skin. It was a very nice tattoo. Cheryle was pleased, and I was pleased that yet another photo was regarded as good enough for a tattoo.

Valak the Demon Nun from The Conjuring 2

Soon, another Valak tattoo appeared based on the same photo. And then another. And another. And they kept appearing. Tattoo studios all over the world were using my Valak photo as the basis for amazing art. Soon, the fan art started, including some stunning paintings, pencil drawings, digital art, and even a sculpture. All the while, more and more tattoos kept showing up.

It eventually became obvious that my photo was going viral in the horror fan and tattoo art communities. The image was gaining a life of its own. I wasn’t sure if the photo was inspiring people, or simply fooling people who mistook it for a real movie still (to be fair, it’s probably a bit of both). The Nun film was released in 2018 to a rather flat response from disappointed horror fans, but despite the poor reception of the movie, the character of Valak stayed in high regard. The film gave a new impetus on the use of my photo too, which was now being used as the thumbnail on countless YouTube videos about the film, and even more fan art and tattoos. The image was being used on a range of other things, including surf boards, novelty knives, drink mats, greeting cards, soft cushions, and T shirts. Several film media websites were using the photo regularly to accompany articles about the film, including Dread Central, The Wrap, MovieWeb, and many others. Recently, my photo was even being used on video tutorials by the Airbrush Academy. My photo was literally everywhere.

Valak the Demon Nun from The Conjuring 2

My Valak photo, which to this date has never earned me a single lonely dime, has been used and abused by everyone. It’s use on commercial websites and apps has been abundant, most of which are professional sites that generate revenue. Artists have created and sold paintings of my photo, and one company sells cushions and prints based on my photo. I know that I haven’t found every instance of the Valak tattoos, but by roughly adding up all the ones that I do know about, I’d estimate that around $40,000 total business has been done (that I know of) using my image. I’ve had to issue a few legal takedown notices on websites that were blatantly selling my photo as poster prints and T shirts. The Valak photo has gone wild out in the world, living a life of its own. As I don’t have huge financial resources, I haven’t been able to legally protect the image. The image now belongs to the world.

Valak the Demon Nun from The Conjuring 2

Thanks for reading folks. Keep loving horror :)

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