Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Haunted Air

If you're one of those people who get a frisson from the sequence in The Wicker Man where the islanders don animal masks for the May Day sacrifice, then this book is for you. Haunted Air - A Collection of Anonymous Halloween Photographs America c. 1875 - 1955, is a wonderful compendium of found photographs of people dressing up to celebrate Halloween. That the photographs are from a bygone era of early 20th century rural America, lends the book a very special quality - the masks and costumes seen throughout the book are almost entirely homemade, with children, adults and whole families appearing as ghosts and ghouls, witches and warlocks, horned devils, sad faced Lon Chaney style harlequins, scary monsters and the odd figure in the then traditional blackface.

Leafing through the pictures in the book, one gets the impression that Halloween for these people had far more significance than it does in today's over commercialized culture, that for these Southern farming-belt communities, it was an important festival to remember the dead, ward off bad luck, and the signifying of the arrival of the hard winter chill. The photographs are faithfully reproduced throughout with no discernible digital manipulation. Some of the photographs are fresh, while others show the ravages of time, and the book is all the better for it - one imagines this collection was culled from the dark recesses of wardrobes and cupboards, and dusty photo albums; forgotten, neglected, the identity of the masked and anonymous participants having long since drifted into the ether like the spirits of the dead they are depicting.

Haunted Air opens with a forward by David Lynch, a poetic afterword by Geoff Cox and a short historical note by the book's author and curator Ossian Brown. The book comes as a sturdy cloth cover hard back and is available from Amazon and the usual places. Essential viewing for lovers of weird and macabre Americana.