Boing Boing special feature

Haunted Air: Halloween Photos 1875-1955

Click the thumbnails above to see images and captions.

Ossian Brown was a member of the dark, magical electronic music group Coil and is currently in Cyclobe, a duo with his partner Stephen Thrower. Ossian is a strange attractor. Weird things find him. Like his exquisite collection of antique vernacular photographs of Halloweens past. Brown compiled his favorites of the freaky found photos, all dating between 1875 and 1955, into a lovely book titled Haunted Air. David Lynch wrote the introduction and Geoff Cox the afterword. Here is a glimpse of how the old, weird America celebrated All-Hallows Eve.

— David Pescovitz

"I like to experience each photograph as a magical event, frozen in front of me. I'm drawn to pictures with a mood that 'oozes' into the normality of the moment, and changes it. It's important to me that there's nothing to disturb this, no detail in the composition or in the models posture that could interfere with that magic."

— Ossian Brown

"I'm excited by pictures where I can see a natural mutation has occurred, not just in the condition of the photograph, with mould spots and tears creating new and unimagined landscapes, but also from the passing down and inheritance of a costume, perhaps over many years."

— Ossian Brown

"The perishing of fabrics and the rotting of early rubber, due to chemical instabilities and damp conditions, create new and sinister, puzzling abnormalities. Time and repeated wear have caused a beautiful metamorphosis, never intended or imagined by the maker."

— Ossian Brown

"All the clocks had stopped. A void out of time. And here they are - looking out and holding themselves still - holding still at that point where two worlds join - the familiar - and the other."

— David Lynch

"These are pictures of the dead: family portraits, mementoes of the treasured, the held-dear-in-heart, now unrecognisable, other. Torn from album pages, sold piecemeal for pennies and scattered, abandoned to melancholy chance and the hands of strangers."

— Geoff Cox

"Death masks reanimate, the once-living frozen whilst aping the ravages of their own demise. Life and death is clowned and puppeted, conjoined in the conjured bodies and faces of carnival mannequins..."

— Geoff Cox

"Wolf-Man, child-wraith, witch-wife, ghoul. Playful monsters. Familiar familiars, all strangely innocent, they caper, amuse, reassure. But as the eye is drawn closer, as the eye is set to wander - thorns in the cloth; ticks in the fur; weevils in the flour. A child's frantic distress."

— Geoff Cox

"Human creatures with the feeling of being turned strange and open to falling. And glee -- they seemed to have a glee for somehow stitching a laugh to darkness."

—— David Lynch

"I was somewhere else. I thought I was someplace but now I didn't know what place. I seemed to be inside foreign worlds where there was some kind of troubling camaraderie -- as if a haunting joke was known to everyone but me and yet faintly I knew it too."

—— David Lynch

"Seance pictures wound round in a mad cat's cradle of knotted light, each sitter wearing the simulacrum of his own end."

— Geoff Cox

LATELY at BB: TSA Perverts - Radiation exposure - Made by Hand

13 Responses to “Haunted Air: Halloween Photos 1875-1955”

  1. I think this one creeps me out the most.

  2. c4seyj0nes says:

    The one 3rd from the last one with the child will their hands on their knees is dressed as a football player.  The child is wearing an old school football nose guard from the pre-helmet era.

  3. OtherMichael says:

    Home-made costumes are often inordinately more creepy that store-bought mass-produced cookie-cutter boredom.

    So many of these costumes are not trying to be a specific thing, but more to set a mood. Or idea. The other.

  4. Mitch says:

    I wish the approx years were stated under each image… verrryyy creepy!

  5. RhondaMarie says:

    These really creep me out! I would hate to these on the streets-they would scare the booboo out of kids!

  6. rose says:

    So much creepier than the mass produced stuff you can buy at Walmart. I guess we should thank the Chinese for taking the scariness out of the Halloween.

  7. Those are some of the creepiest images I have ever seen. The 4th picture looks like something from a Slipknot video.

  8. Pickleschlitz says:

    Has anyone seen the book? Are the photos swimming in an ocean of white page or do they fill the pages? I love books like this, but I hate the way most of them are designed. I want clear pictures as big as they can be reproduced.

  9. tuigim says:

    As kids we tried to dress like beings that did not conform to “normal” as something grotesque or deformed. It broke fear. We felt respect for a world we did not know and that for one night we were part of it. It was fun.
    Miyazaki in Spirited Away got it right as did Cuerda en La lengua de las mariposas. Here’s a great Galician fiesta scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Df_TZK8L9KI&feature=related Fascism tried to wipe this out.
    The creepiest thing is not passing on the tradition or explaining the context.

  10. penguinchris says:

    Truly creepy stuff… I wonder, though, how much the photography and the condition of the photographs is contributing. Would these look creepy if the photos were taken today, with a point and shoot digital camera with direct flash… or would they look like silly things thrown together?

  11. Terry Border says:

    People should check out the genius work of the late Ralph Eugene Meatyard. http://bit.ly/tW8Gz7 Gallery- http://bit.ly/fcXes
    Where these are great found photos, Mr. Meatyard was taking photographs of people with masks for other reasons.

  12. this is how things should be. when Halloween was genuinely terrifying

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