Korn’s self-titled debut album had a profound impact on popular music at large and changed the world as we know it. Their uniquely devastating down-tuned guitars, gut-punch rhythms, and autobiographical lyrics cried out with desperate, frantic aplomb not only spearheaded the nü-metal movement but upped the emotional bar for extreme artists everywhere.
For a visual accompaniment to this sonic wrecking ball, Korn needed to tap into a visual vocabulary that eschewed all sense of comfort and safety.
The front cover of the album features a picture of a little girl on a swing set at dusk. Looming over her is the long, ominous black shadow of a man. Another picture of the swingset adorns the back side. This time, the girl and the shadow are gone.
With two pictures, Korn clearly defines the emotional mission statement of the record. In no uncertain terms, these are songs about the lifelong effects of childhood abuse. Never before had trauma been articulated so clearly in metal, and nothing would be the same ever again.The image was the conceptual brainchild of guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer. In a video interview with Canadian television from 1995, Munky said the intention was to show “the darkside of everything that’s innocent.”
The child on the cover was 8-year-old Justine Ferrara, niece of Immortal Records executive Paul Pontius. In an interview with Revolver many years later, Ferrara said: “I just remember being at a park with this guy Dante, who’s really nice.” The Dante that Ferrara is referring to is co-art director Dante Ariola, the man who cast the shadow. The seemingly innocent shoot was supervised by Pontius and Ferrara’s mother.
Even though Ferrara’s mother was present and seemingly knew what was going on, the final product sent shockwaves through Pontius’ family. “I heard my parents weren’t too happy, and my mom wasn’t keen on punk kids recognizing her little girl in the supermarket,” recalls Ferrara, who was paid $300 for her troubles. “But I think it’s cool. I got some modeling under my belt.” Part of the issue was fear that the album would cause problems with her school, as she was wearing her uniform in the photo.
Photographer Steven Stickler recalls, “When the album came out, Paul was in the doghouse with his family.” Jay Papke, art director of the shoot, offers additional insight, “Paul might have got some shit, but he realized it was just a cover. Fortunately, the girl had no idea it was this disturbing, molester deal.”
As for the rest of the graphic design, the Korn logo was positioned in such a way as to create the effect of the girl’s shadow hanging from it. The photo was then desaturated in order to make it look old. The exaggerated length of the male shadow was done without effect, as the shoot happened late in the day.
A lot has happened in the nearly three decades since Korn’s debut hit the shelves. The meteoric rise of the boys from Bakersfield transcended anyone’s wildest dreams, and they have long since become one of the biggest metal bands in history. As for Justine Ferrara, she graduated from New York University with a degree in public relations. Although she holds no regrets or animosity about the album cover, she’s not a Korn fan.