My Halloween in Brooklyn photography series began about 3 years ago on October 31st, 2010. Since that time I’ve been prowling the streets of my old neighborhood in Bushwick, Brooklyn every Halloween to create dynamic portraits of people whom I believe capture the spirit of the community.
Above: Javier and Jordan Ramos as “Batman,” 5:07pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn
ARTSY FARTSY TALK
I’ve written about this project in previous blog posts, but it all began as an exploration of the festivals I grew up with in North America.
After spending years photographing distant cultures, I wanted to take the time to shoot something closer to home. Photographing that which you are already familiar with has its own challenges. The things that would normally be exciting to an outsider become mundane to you, so as a photographer – you have to force yourself to look at all these elements with new eyes. I vividly remember the first time I traveled to India as a young pup and being entranced with all the new sights and sounds of the country’s festivals. Surely, a guy in India who is accustomed with throwing multi-colored powder on someone every year during the Holi festival would find Halloween to be an extremely strange event. He might ponder how this odd night, rooted in Paganism, transformed over time into what it is today. Like most holidays, our modern-day version of Halloween has very little to do with its original roots. The way in which it has changed over time, however, can say a vast amount about the modern era. No culture is stationary- all traditional customs of a group of people are infinitely in a state of transition.
My goal for Halloween in Brooklyn is to view this local annual tradition through the eyes of a foreigner, lost in a childish sugar rush of both home-made and store-bought pop-culture costumes of the year.
Above: John Carlos as “Skeleton,” 5:35pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn
Above: Our portable photography studio. Photo by Caleb Adams
PHOTO NERD TALK
In terms of photography gear, little has changed since my first outing in 2010. A small group of friends and I patrol the streets on foot with a makeshift studio in hand- a black piece of foamcore for a background, one Elinchrom 39″ Rotalux Deep OctaBox with a flash head attached to a battery pack inside of a backpack. Nothing is locked to the ground and can be folded up and carried away.
Lens: 80mm f/2.8 lens
Light Head: One Profoto ProB Head
Main Light: One Elinchrom 39″ Rotalux Deep OctaBox
Power source: One Profoto 7b Power Packs (Discontinued, but improved with the Profoto Pro-B4)
One Manfrotto pole
One piece of black foamcore
One iPad with Release Me model release app
Above: Jefferson Rocha as “Werewolf,” 5:23pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn
Above: Jefferson being very patient as I take his portrait. Photo by Caleb Adams
Above: I can’t wear my hat forwards when I look through my camera’s viewfinder. Photo by Caleb Adams
Above: Waiting for our next subject. Photo by Caleb Adams
Although not much has changed technically, I do believe I have gotten a lot more critical in my approach, and a lot more particular about each image. I am often seeking out subjects or locations which depict a greater connection to the neighborhood itself. I often ask myself, “What does this subject say about the era in which this photo was taken?” or “What does this contribute to the series?”.
Certain concepts are thought out beforehand, such as isolating telephone booths or parking meters with the black background, but there is still a lot of room for improvisation. Some costumes work better in certain locations, but you can’t always control who you happen to come across. After hanging out around a certain location and trying to spot a suitable subject, it’s up to me to wade through a crowd of kids towards someone who caught my eye and explain the project to them and their parents.
Approaching people on the street is a great exercise in confidence. I find when I start something like this, I’m anxious with the first couple of subjects I approach. Then, with each new person who agrees to be photographed, I become more and more at ease. By the end of the night, I will run up to the most intimidating father to plead my case. It’s actually a lot easier than you might expect. Most people I photograph are proud to have their photos taken for the series and like the attention their costume brings. I’ve only been turned down a couple times, mostly when people are in a rush to get to a Halloween party or from parents who think my “photo booth” costs money.
After the project is explained the the subject and/or their parents, model releases are handled via the iPad app Release Me before taking any images. I make sure I get their e-mail address or physical address so I can send them a copy of the photo. Often times, I run into familiar faces from the previous years.
One more extremely important note- we give them a handful of candy for their time, (as is Halloween tradition.)
(Left): Matthew Salick as “Killer Clown,” 4:55pm (Right): Andrea Ochoa as “Día de los Muertos,” 5:53pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn
Above: Sandra Basilio as “Bat Girl,” 4:41pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn
Above: Mathew Laboy as “Barak Obama,” 4:34pm October 31st, 2011 – Bushwick, Brooklyn
Above: Janyia Figeroa as “Zombie Patient,” 3:18pm October 31st, 2011 – Bushwick, Brooklyn
Above: Julio Valentin as “Clown,” 5:00pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brooklyn
Above: Julio makes a quick photoshoot pitstop after I flagged him down at a red light. Photo by Caleb Adams
Two great friends who helped me out a lot on this project… While in costume: (Left) Sam Spratt as “Vincent van Gogh” and (Right) Steph as “Pocahontas”
Above: Ivan as “Indian Bride,” 12:19am November 1st, 2013 – Long Island City, Queens
Above: Fifi and Estelle, 1:18am November 1st, 2013 – Long Island City, Queens
Above: Marcus Castro and son as “Vampires,” 4:59pm October 31st, 2011 – Bushwick, Brooklyn
Above: Catalogue wall at “Party City” store, 2:28pm October 31st, 2013 – Bushwick, Brookly
Above: Celso Castro as “Captain America,” 5:09pm October 31st, 2011 – Bushwick, Brooklyn
Above: Unknown Subway Passengers, 7:18pm October 31st, 2011 – Bushwick, Brooklyn
I know next year, I will have to come up with a game plan to expand on this series and do something a little different. Whatever I come up with, I know it has to be cohesive enough to fit into the series, but feel new and fresh. Thankfully I have until next Halloween to think about it.