Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Costume and Character: Vintage Halloween Photos

It's a couple of days after Halloween already, but I've just found some really creepy and fascinating old photographs of Halloween costumes and masks from the first half of 20th century America.  These are all courtesy of a book by Ossian Brown called 'Haunted Air' (see here for details). 

The handmade, amateur quality of these costumes and masks has a real aesthetic of its own.  They're infinitely more disturbing than most mass-produced popular-culture plastic Halloween masks.  Somehow they seem to connect more strongly with the liminal moment of Halloween.  Halloween was originally called Samhein, celebrated by the Celts who lived in Britain, Ireland and France 2000 years ago, before the Roman invasion.  It was the original New Year's Eve - the new year beginning, for the Celts, on November 1st - and it was believed that the membrane separating the living and the dead became more permeable on this night, that the dead could return to the Earth.

It all puts me in mind of Leatherface, from Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'


  1. Love these, Chris! These images remind me strongly of the photos of Ralph Eugene Meatyard...

  2. Thanks Phil - the Meatyard photos are similarly disturbing. Someone else mentioned Joel Peter Witkin as a reference, but that's another story..