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Love the old horror look of these home made masks.
Haunted Air is a beautiful new book of photographs from SA pal Ossian Brown, compiled from his own collection of American Hallowe’en snaps taken (not by Mr Brown) between 1875 and 1955.
By this time the festival, imported into the United States during previous decades by predominantly Irish Catholic immigrants, had insinuated itself firmly into the ritual year and was celebrated, as these pictures show, by both rich and poor in towns, cities and rural communities all over the country.
The images in Haunted Air reveal some of the earliest expressions of fear and play captured on film; some are as sharp as if they were taken yesterday; most, however, are atmospherically warped and misted by time. Here are clowns, skeletons, goblins, scarecrows, pumpkins, ghosts, devils, angels, myriad strange hybrid beasts and even what looks like an anachronistic extraterrestrial.
Some of these images will make you smile; others, either through the costumes themselves, their settings or due to an accidental, intangible something in the composition or the image itself, provoke a delicious, involuntary chill, evoking an uncanniness sadly missing from today’s mechanically-reproduced festivities.
Perhaps the key difference to emerge from the Hallowe’en depicted here and Hallowe’en now is that, while there are similarities in the themes and masks on display, most of these costumes were made by the children who wore them, or by their families. Similarly the figures they depict were, with a few exceptions – is that a demonic Donald Duck lurking in there? – more likely to be drawn from the imagination, if admittedly a shared folk imagination, than from today’s library of copyrighted film, television, or comic strip ghouls.
Haunted Air’s ghost boys and girls are also revenants of a time when the horrors parading through your neighbourhood still maintained a dim spectral hold on reality, living on in the memories and superstitions of their parents and grandparents. Perhaps it’s not overly romantic to suggest that those who lurched, pranced and spooked at Hallowe’en were, as they mocked, also paying their respects to the denizens of an unseen, demon-haunted world that is all but lost to us.
Sumptuously produced, with a foreword by David Lynch and text by Geoff Cox, Haunted Air is available now from Jonathan Cape.