Between January and March in Christian communities around the world, incredible personas emerge for Carnival in the form of mythological creatures, folkloric emblems, and historical figures. Donning elaborate masks and costumes, people obscure their identities, indulge in abundant fare, and gather together in parades and street parties before Lent. In his forthcoming book, We the Spirits, photographer Jason Gardner explores the remarkable diversity of Carnival and its traditions. “‘Winter and spring; barren and fertile; life and death; beauty and ugliness; light and dark; ritual and reality; chaos and order—the annual Carnival is much more than a party and parade in the streets,” he says.
Gardner traveled to 15 countries to document the festivities, capturing vibrant portraits of local revelers in elaborate, handmade costumes. He says, “In a time of screens, computers and A.I. simulations, there’s a movement back to the analog and gritty experience of Carnival, back to tradition and to feeling something more primal, animal, and pagan.” The annual ritual, which traces its origins to ancient European festivals like the Greek Dionysian or Roman Saturnalia, is rooted in a subversion of hierarchies and social norms, releasing people from typical roles and obligations in a symbolic period of renewal, after which chaos is then restored to order.
We the Spirits will be released by GOST Books this month in the U.K., coinciding with the exhibition Costume and Masquerade: Photographs by Suzanne Jongmans and Jason Gardner at Stadhaus Ulm in Germany. The title will be released in the U.S. in February, and you can pre-order a copy now on GOST’s website. Follow along with Gardner’s work and travels on Instagram.
You might also enjoy Robert de la Torre’s photos of the Entroidos celebrations in Spain.
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