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Haunted Air Hardcover – 28 Oct 2010
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"delightfully dreadful."--NPR's "The Picture Show" photo blog
"Creepy." --Rolling Stone
"for those into the history of Halloween and the common-day costumes worn, this book may be necessary inyour collection.""Selectism" blog"
"an exquisite collection of antique vernacular photographs of Halloweens past" Boing Boing"
"recommended for collectors of Americana and those with an interest in the history of Halloween." Library Journal's Xpress Reviews"
"delightfully dreadful." NPR's "The Picture Show" photo blog"
"The emotional triggers of these moments in time have only become more subtle and complex with age." GeekTyrant.com"
"bewitching collection of found American Halloween photographs from 1875-1955." VMANMagazine"
"Creepy." Rolling Stone"
A collection of anonymous Hallowe'en Photographs from America, c.1875 - 1955See all Product description
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The sepia-toned, awkwardly-framed and hazy images convey a nightmarish intensity. Many of these photographs predate the mass production of Halloween masks and costumes, lending the crudely improvised outfits a genuinely sinister aura. Most chillingly of all, these evil clowns, merry demons and hessian-cowled figures inhabit the everyday: they pose on picket-fenced lawns, leaf-strewn porches and in living rooms, nestled comfortably in rocking chairs beside the fireplace.
This beautiful hardback is bound in appropriately sombre black cloth, with each photograph presented uncropped, one per page. David Lynch fittingly contributes the introduction (who better to preface a collection of images conveying the creeping, fantastical dread lurking behind the seemingly everyday?). Geoff Cox's eloquent afterword poetically traces the origins of Halloween, the ancient tradition reinterpreted most wondrously of all in America.
Thanks to Ossian Brown, this long-dead group of disparate amateur photographers and their subjects have created the best photography book of 2010. "Haunted Air" belongs in the library of anyone with an interest in photography and the shadows that lurk within.
Deeply weird and strangely poignant, these anonymous images are strongly redolent of the work of Diane Arbus or Charles Gatewood (minus the body -modification and full-on nudity, of course), naive but at the same time very sinister. It's the homespun quality, both of the photos themselves and of the costumes that imply these qualities. A small child dressed up as a cat appears to be about to take a leak against a gatepost, an older youth (in pantaloons?) wearing a dog's head poses against a rural backdrop, a small boy in carnival mask poses between two older boys - the photo carries the dedication "the one that scares you is Donnie", but which one is Donnie - and what did he get up to?
Almost every image here implies something odd is about to happen, just seconds after the photo was taken. But what? That's up to you. Most of these photos appear to be taken in the 'burbs - what was going on in small town America? Is it any wonder that David Lynch was sufficiently enamoured to write a (typically odd) foreword?
Ossian Brown is a polymath - artist, occultist, collector and musician, most notably with Coil and Cyclobe, and he has put together a memorable collection of images.
Haunted Air is a simple idea: a book of vintage photographs - dating from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries - of people in Halloween costumes. And yet there's something about it that is incredibly eerie, almost disturbing. The people in the pictures, faces concealed behind grotesque, almost invariably homemade, masks, are entirely anonymous; each photograph is reproduced without explanation or caption. Who are they? Are they still alive? Are there really happy, smiling faces behind those blank-eyed, staring papier-mache creations and cobbled-together witches' robes and clown make-up? Some are almost comically creepy, others - particularly when the poverty of those in the pictures is apparent - are strangely sad. But every one has something unsettling about it.
This book is a beautifully-produced compilation of American small-town gothic imagery. I note the foreword is by David Lynch, and there is indeed something very Lynchian about Haunted Air, with echoes too of films like Donnie Darko or even scenes from the UK TV series Psychoville. Fantastic stuff.
So fans of the macabre, weird, dark, fantastical, and wonderful should find something to enjoy here. If you have even a mild interest in the contents of this book, I know you will love it.
(Also, as a Coil fan, I thought it was nice to see this book is dedicated to Jhon Balance.)
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Repeated 'reading' as always spot something new in the photos.