Joey L Explores Halloween in Brooklyn
Halloween traditions vary from culture to culture. Although other places have taken on America's custom of donning costumes and roaming from home to home expecting candy, it is a uniquely American practice. In Mexico, they celebrate El Dia de los Muertos, paying homage to the dead and honoring their own lives. In China, food and water are left in front of photographs of dead relatives while fires and lanterns are lit to light the paths of the dead. For American kids, Trick or Treating is something to look forward to all year, but to an outsider it might seem a strange tradition. Joey L has spent the last four years trying to see this tradition with fresh eyes. “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 homemade and store-bought pop-culture costumes of the year,” Joey explains in his blog. “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.” Americans are used to seeing swarms of kids dressed up as witches, superheroes, and cultural archetypes with their palms wide open expecting processed sugar, so it is a challenge to see it again for the first time.
Every year on Halloween, Joey L reassumes the mantel of his ongoing project, “Halloween in Brooklyn,” traveling back to his old neighborhood, Bushwick, Brooklyn, to document this celebration. With a light crew and mobile equipment, Joey takes stock of costumes on the street as an encyclopedia of terrors and treats.
Costumes are incredibly personal. They can operate as an escape, assuming the identity of a figure more powerful, more in control. They can operate as an enhancement, parading a piece of the wearer’s identity that is normally kept hidden. They reveal secrets about the wearer, and Halloween is the high holiday of costuming. In Joey’s series we see the heart of Brooklyn, even though the concrete landscape is usually hidden behind a black backdrop. We witness the citizens, and their dreams of glory, or expression of the unfamiliar. We understand these people, perhaps deeper than if they were completely exposed.
Joey doesn’t get off scot-free during these shoots. Of course, all the subjects sign model releases, and Joey goes through all the proper channels. But payment is another story: “We give them a handful of candy for their time.” Very appropriate.