The costumes and masks are amazing. The use of formal poses harkens back to early photographic portraits, heightening the surreal feel evoked by the subjects. While the introduction is rather pompous, the essay "The Wild Man and the Tradition of the Mask in Europe" that follows the photographs is great. The final section contains "description of the characters and groups," which provides more information on the characters depicted in the photos and the groups who hold the festivals in addition to the geographic locations where each festival is held and time of year it takes place. Beautifully shot portraits of European krampuses, perchten, twig bears, ghostly goats and many other creatures of the solstice and harbingers of the spring accompany brief but learned text on the customs and sportive rituals in which they play mysterious roles of sacrifice, rebirth, and fertility. The effect is like a series of lovely windows into a past almost lost beneath the weight of a couple of centuries of globalization, one loud A great Xmas coffee table volume for very pagan living room!
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Click on image to enlarge "Plugged in, neurotically Wi-Fied and 3Ged as we are, we yearn to re-establish contact with the actual, the primal, the old … We languish for the non-mechanical and the pre- or post-industrial.
We are pilgrims seeking the past, the genuine, the individual. McLiam Wilson notes that the more connected we become to the here and now in the hectic push and pull of the online world, the more we seek out the traditional, the ancient, the authentic.
Ancient skills and lores, dilettante survivalism and how-to historicism …" There has also been a general revival of interest recently in the various folk traditions of Britain, Europe and beyond, which has been reflected in contemporary photography. You can keep up with her reflections on her blog, All Hail the Burry Man.
In this, she is following in the footsteps of Homer Sykes, who photographed British traditions and rituals throughout the 70s and 80s. You can see his take on the Burry Man here. He makes his annual appearance at the Ferry fair in Queensferry, Scotland, every August and his name derives from the costume he wears, which is made from burrs taken from the burdock plant.
He symbolises the regeneration of nature and is said to frighten away evil spirits. The Burry Man is always accompanied by a group of children, who collect money from house to house on his behalf. He has two attendants, who carry his flower poles and steady him when he has drunk one too many glasses of whisky, which are offered to him by people who believe the gesture will bring them good luck. Gordon has a great photo of the current Burry Man, John Nichol, in costume and looking rather unsteady at the end of his epic walk.
Today, as he treks through housing estates where once there were fields and villages, the Burry Man cuts an incongruous figure: a surreal reminder of what has been lost, as well as what lingers only in a spectacle that has long since become emptied of its original meaning. For all that, the costumes and masks worn in folk festivals that mark the coming of spring, winter or the new year remain vibrant and even frightening. The Dondolasi and Zvoncari bell ringers of Croatia wear huge horns and animal masks that often have a huge red tongue protruding, while the Romanian wild men, the Urati, easily live up to their name, which translates as "ugly people".
It is the photographs, though, that resonate most. He has photographed the "wild men" in colour in their natural habitats, against mountains and blue skies, in misty fields, and on the shores of still lakes.
Some look strangely forlorn, others otherworldly. A stuffed man from the Basque country seems to hark back to Picasso and the Surrealists rather than any older folk archetype.
This is a strange and beautiful book, then, and one that suggests a near-lost world of myth, ritual and tradition that has — only just — survived into the digital age. That the "wild man" is flickering back into life surely tells us something about our need for myth, ritual and tradition.
Or our need for spectacle, which, increasingly, seems all that remains of the once-powerful symbols conjured up by our collective imagination to keep darkness at bay.
Until 17 August. Booking, general info and full programme here.
Charles Fréger –Wilder Mann
Savage, beautiful and surviving: photos from the wild side
Wilder Mann: The Image of the Savage