On March of 2010, I tried desperately to get to the Maha Shivratri festival in India, a Hindu festival celebrating the god Shiva. It only happens once a year- Indian holy men parade around naked with only rudraksha seed's around their neck as they march toward the Ganges river to take a sacred swim. I had a commissioned advertising shoot booked in Dubai and the plan was to complete that job via India. To make a long story short, the Dubai shoot was postponed, I stayed there in limbo, and never made it to the festival. Plane and train tickets booked from Delhi to Varanasi sat unused and nonrefundable. There's always next year, I thought to myself...
Around that same time, I began to think about the strange festivals that I grew up around, such as halloween. Although I obviously observe that Halloween and Maha Shivratri are completely different, I realized what seems perfectly normal to me would appear bizarre to outsiders. Halloween was happening just outside my doorstep all along. I wanted to photograph this series from the perspective of a foreigner looking in, as if I were making an ethnographic study of all the costumes I found. The main challenge was that I grew up around Halloween my entire life in Lindsay, Ontario, and I had to keep my vision clear and unaffected.
Now I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, (a completely different world than my home town all together), but the festival remains similar- dress up as the dead, your favorite scary creature, pop culture icon, or fictional character and go door to door asking for candy. In this series, every subject was photographed within a few blocks of my apartment.
Bushwick is a predominately Puerto Rican / Dominican neighborhood full of life. It boasts a certain cultural flavor which I love. Although it is said to be the 7th most impoverished neighborhood in New York City, the costumes remain elaborate and creative. Parents watch carefully over their children as they walk door to door seeking the next trick or treat. It’s Halloween in Brooklyn, and it only happens once a year.
I wanted to play the anthropologist, and make a field report on this very interesting festival happening in America. I chose to photograph most of my subjects on a black background to focus on my subjects and their costumes. Only a few environmental shots are in the series to place the subject in Brooklyn. Perhaps the viewer sees the sidewalk or the pathway of Maria Hernandez Park.
Behind the Scenes Information
The lighting was generated with a Profoto 7B 1200 battery pack
The pack is then stuffed inside a Kata Hiker backpack and worn by my other assistant, Jesse, who exclaimed “I feel like a ghostbuster!” This is the same ol’ faithful backpack I’ve taken with me to Ethiopia and Indonesia. The Profoto 7B generator fits nicely inside and and I run the light head & cord out of the top zipper hole of the pack.
There are no annoying tripods- Jesse holds the light head out and tweaks it by hand on a Manfrotto pole… Think voice-activated light stand.
Now, because this “studio” is 100% portable and nothing touches the ground, you do not require a permit. (Not that any one would care in Bushwick, anyway.) The only rule is to just to be courteous and move out of peoples way on the sidewalk. Every subject signed a model release, just in case… This doubled as a way of knowing where to mail copies of the pictures.
The background is a simple $20 piece of black foam core from a paint store. I rigged a Telescopic Litedisc Holder to the back with an absurd amount of gaffers tape so that an assistant could hold it. Jazmine would walk behind the subject, and personally hold the background upright while keeping herself hidden behind it. This proved to be quite the challenge as October 31st was pretty windy. Poor Jazzy, she nearly blew away
My camera was medium format digital – a Phase One P65+ DIGI back with Phase One / Mamiya 645 camera.
When you step back and perceive the world around you as an outsider, you discover new things that were right in front of your face all along. Put yourself in the position of an observer.
This blog only has a preview of the series. To view all the photographs, go to the Halloween in Brooklyn Gallery.