Festivals, Carnivals and Masks

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The people of the World love to dress up, cross-dress, wear masks and costumes, perform flamboyant rituals and act out the mysteries of existence.  This could be seen as a natural human and primal inclination for surrealism. The meaning and purpose of these celebrations,  carnivals and festivals often runs very deep within a culture. Absurdities abound as political, religious, historical and social issues rise to the surface. People are adorned with the most amazing, elaborate and beautiful costumes and masks. Reality is suspended. Normality is subverted. . .and it all happens while they are having a big party. This is a small selection of recent publications that explore that phenomenon.



Kanaval : Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the streets of Hiati
Leah Gordon

9780955481734
Soul Jazz Records Publishing, 2010
Festivals, Carnivals and masks from the street theatre carnival of Jacmel from the photographer Leah Gordon who spent 15 years documenting the Hiatian carnival. Featuring men in drag, black up, people dancing with snakes in their mouths and the disturbing grotesque of genuine street theatre often infused with audacious humour and political satire.  The surreal Hiatian carnival is a venue for political satire and vodou imagery as a community responds to its local and national politics, as well as it’s history and ancestry. This spiral bound book of black and whites images also features oral histories from the carnival participants.


Parking Lot Hydra.
Photographs by Estelle Hanania
9780955492372 Decathlon Books, 2009. 50 pp., Color on white and green newsprint

Estelle Hanania’s documents a Bulgarian winter masquerade, in which men wear elaborate feathered masks and long yak fur costumes.  Estelle is bringing us an ancient eastern European festival in the setting of a modern parking lot. Traditional images of costumes that are both mysterious and bizarre yet firmly rooted in a carnival atmosphere of the present. The colour images in this book showing the sometimes bored and always outrageous costumed participants are printed on wonderfully soft newsprint. The pages at the center of the book which depict more of the crowds and the musicians of the festivals are printed black & white on green newsprint.  At the beginning of the book there is an interview with Estelle Hanania and Decathlon Books explaining some of the background of the project and the history of the festival.

Myriorama.
Photographs by Estelle Hanania.
Gottlund Verlag, 2010. 48 pp., Color illustrations throughout, 9×10″.

Produced on the occasion of the exhibition Myriorama at FAT Galerie, Paris. This books has a Letterpress printed softcover and hand-sewn binding and includes essays by Sebastien Gindre and Lara Sarcevic.


Maske Phyllis Galembo
978-1905712175
Chris Boot, 2010

Phyllis Galembo has been photographing the characters and costumes of African masquerade in Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Zambia and Haiti since 1985. These carnival participants are grounded in African religion and spirituality and Galembo presents them in chapters organized by tribal or carnival tradition.  Galembo includes personal commentary of this experience as well as shedding light on the characters portrayed and the context of the events. This is a truly awesome ethnographic study as well as being a photo-essay exploring fashion and art with an assembly of superb images. The images gathered here are totally compelling and I have a two year old who is absolutely obsessed with Galembo’s book.

Aperture Magazine 201
Aperture Foundation 2010
Axel Hoedt: Fastnacht By Magdalene Keaney

Axel Hoedt explores and photographs an age-old Lenten tradition in Germany’s southern villages. These images were taken by Hoedt  in Southern Germany during pre-Lenten carnival festivities in 2008. Fastnacht, literally meaning ‘the night before fasting,’ is an annual carnival held in Germany, which is also celebrated in Switzerland and Austria. With its roots in Catholic and Pagan traditions this is a carnival of amazing masks and costumes.

About matthew carson

Librarian & Archivist at the International Center of Photography
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