I have spent the bulk of my lengthening life blithely unconcerned with Halloween. Even in my childhood years, the day’s significance was slight. For me, its annual occurrence was as much about raking the leaves as about putting on a mask and begging for a bag of unwanted candy. By the age of 13, I was done with the costumes and the candy — though my leaf raking duties continued for another four years.
As an adult, I have been (and continue to be) a devout city dweller — sheltered from the suburban demands of rotting leaves and sugar-fueled trick-or-treaters. For several years, I would have been completely unaware of Halloween had I not needed to pass through mountains of candy, costumes and artificial cobwebs on my way to the local druggist’s cold & flu aisle.
As more years passed, I began to notice an increasingly large number of adults ‘dressing up’ for Halloween. Costumed adults always struck me as somewhat ‘unseemly’ — an idea I likely formed in High School when my classmates would all dress as hobos, hop in their cars, and drive to the rich neighborhoods in hopes of scoring ‘higher quality’ candy. And seriously, does anyone visiting their proctologist feel any less trepidation when a blood-drenched zombie asks for your insurance card?
But that was then. And this is now. And I’ve got a whole new take on Halloween.
I first softened to the day when my wife, a woman of seemingly endless talent, began to carve an annual Halloween pumpkin. I used to equate pumpkin carving with butchery. Essentially, using the biggest and sharpest knife in my kitchen, I would hack out a couple of triangular eyes and a grotesquely toothy grin — all the while hoping the handful of butterfly bandages in my medicine cabinet would effectively close my inevitable gaping knife wound.
So that first year, when she informed me that she would carve a pumpkin, I made certain to pick up a fresh box of bandages during my annual late-October druggist run. I needn’t have bothered. In her hands, pumpkin carving became an art form rather than an act of savage ritualism. And with each passing year, I found myself actually looking forward to Halloween and to her pumpkin carvings.
My wife’s pumpkin carvings cracked open the door to my potential Halloween re-indoctrination. But it was “street” photography that kicked it off its hinges.
Those of us who photograph the human experience spend 364 days a year trying to be ‘the invisible man.’ But for one glorious day each calendar year, we street photographers can drop our disguise, emerge from the shadows, and proudly hold our cameras aloft. All Hallows Eve is our night. It’s the night when man’s silliness bubbles to the surface and begs to be photographed. It’s a night when bashfulness is banished and even the werewolves carry cameras. It’s a night when a demure damsel can throw caution to the wind and dare be photographed on the arm of a superhero.
Halloween is night when the guardians of the velvet rope relax their nightclub’s homogenous patron policies, and accept all types: hillbillies, post-apocalyptic warriors, spacemen, Roman Goddesses, and masked avengers. Halloween is, quite frankly, the easiest pickins a street photographer can get. It’s our Labor Day, Christmas, and Thanksgiving all rolled into one.
Decades removed from childish notions that equate Halloween with candy, I’ve come full circle. Halloween is, once again, all about the candy — but this time, it’s candy for the eye. And, like a child with a bucketful of treats, I’ll spend the next several weeks rummaging through the disk full of photographs I scored on Halloween night. Halloween is no longer just another date on my calendar — it’s a date circled in red. And all the other dates are just days ‘tween the ‘weens.
©2009 grEGORy simpson
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