Share Your Photos of Halloween

The following is a post I wrote jointly with Trevor Owens of the Library’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, with input from many colleagues throughout the Library of Congress.

Share your photos of Halloween, Día de los Muertos, and related holidays with AFC and the World!

#FolklifeHalloween2014

Three boys on porch steps cutting faces in pumpkins.  Copyright deposit 1917 (Copyright not renewed).

Three boys on porch steps cutting faces in pumpkins. Copyright deposit 1917 (Copyright not renewed).

Halloween, All Souls Day, All Saints Day, Día de los Muertos, La Toussaint: all across the country people participate in traditions and celebrations at the end of October and beginning of November. The American Folklife Center is interested in looking at photos taken by a diverse cross-section of Americans.  We’re even interested in considering some of them for inclusion in the collections of the Library of Congress.  Whether you just want to share your photos with the world, or would like us to look at them for the collection, please read on to find out how to participate!

Halloween and other October/November festivals

If you read Folklife Today, you know that Halloween is an enchanted time, marked by observances both solemn and fun.  Some of us create and dress up in costumes, some decorate our houses or visit haunted places, and some adorn graves and places of worship. Some of us tell stories that explore the great mysteries of life, and the even greater mysteries of death.  These practices are folklife and they evolve and change over time. In the past, folklorists and photographers have created documentation of American folklife that is both historically important and beautiful in its own right.  Photographers for the Farm Services Administration and the Office of War Information captured the spirit and color of America in the Depression, including Halloween celebrations. Folklorists have collected stories and songs of ghosts and witches since the beginnings of folklife scholarship.  In the spirit of John and Alan Lomax, Sidney Robertson Cowell, Arthur Rothstein, and the great documentary collections of the Library of Congress, AFC is interested in capturing this year’s celebrations, across the country and beyond. So we’re excited to announce an experimental documentation project at the American Folklife Center, focused on these holidays.

Document and share your experience of the holiday

The Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, CA, on 11.01.10.

The Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, CA, on 11.01.10. Photo by Rob Sheridan. Shared on Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

Between October 22 and November 5, 2014, AFC invites you to document in photographs how you, your friends, your family, and your community celebrate, perform, and experience traditions of the season. To participate in this event, take photos of traditional festive, religious, spiritual, and social practices related to these holidays. Then share them online with a description, using the tag #FolklifeHalloween2014. During the event you can search for the tag across the web, and particularly on photo sharing sites like Flickr, to see what this time of the year looks like for others around the country. (If you want to be considered for the collection, make sure you also license the photos under a Creative Commons license–see more on this, including a link to instructions, below!)

Halloween house decorations in Port Norfolk, 2008.  Photo by Michael Tefft.

Halloween house decorations in Port Norfolk, Virginia, 2008. Photo by Michael Tefft.
Shared on Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

Show us how you do the holiday and what it means to you

So, what makes for a good photo for this project? There is much room for creativity in this, but consider some of these points.

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Ariel, Bumblebee & Stripe. Photo by Bart Everson. October 31, 2013. Shared on Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

The focus of the project is on what we do around these holidays. Think through how to show the world how you enact the holiday. What kinds of practices, observances, and traditions do you engage in? Do you go to a Halloween parade?  Enjoy a haunted hayride? Dress your kids up for “trick or treat?”  Build and decorate an altar for your ancestors? Adorn your grandparents’ grave with flowers?  How can you capture those moments in photographs?

We are particularly excited to see documentation of the diversity of practices, peoples, perspectives, and places. So if you think you represent a particular niche in our society that is underrepresented, we would really love to have you participate.

We are mostly interested in images of practices that are distinctive in their association with these holidays.  People gather together for a meal, light candles, shoot off fireworks, or go to church on many different holidays.  Although we welcome photos of all these activities, we hope you’ll try to capture what is distinctive about them on these particular days. Photos of a festive meal are good, but photos of a festive meal with a distinctive holiday centerpiece are better. Does your church have a special decoration at the altar or elsewhere?  Are the candles burned in October and November unusual, or placed in an unusual environment?  Are there specific components to your festive meal for this holiday?  Those are the details we’re most interested in learning about.

Lastly, the objective is to explore contemporary practices. We understand that you may have snapshots of many Halloweens gone by, but we’re primarily hoping to see documentation and reflection around this year’s holidays.

November 1, 2009 - Burien celebrates the "Day of the Dead" with "Night of 1,000 Pumpkins" at the Burien Interim Art Site.   Photo by John B.  Shared on Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

November 1, 2009 – Burien celebrates the “Day of the Dead” with “Night of 1,000 Pumpkins” at the Burien Interim Art Site. Photo by John B. Shared on Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

If you are looking for examples and inspiration, take a look at the photos included in this blog post. These are by no means exhaustive, but they suggest ways that people have tried to capture the moments, experiences, and meanings of some of these traditions in images.

Don’t just show, tell!

While the photos are compelling in their own right, we also need folks to tell us a bit about what they depict and illustrate. Imagine people from a hundred years from now were seeing your photo. What would you need to tell them about it for them to understand what that photo says about you and your world? Please include a description with your photos, including the name of the photographer!

As the holiday rolls around this year, we are eagerly looking forward to seeing the range of holiday performances and enactments common in this country and beyond.

All Saints Day in Challain la Pothérie (Maine et Loire). Tombs are decorated.  November 1, 2007. La Toussaint à Challain la Pothérie (Maine et Loire). Les tombes sont fleuries.   Photo by Michael.  Shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

All Saints Day in Challain la Pothérie (Maine et Loire). Tombs are decorated. November 1, 2007.
La Toussaint à Challain la Pothérie (Maine et Loire). Les tombes sont fleuries.
Photo by Michael. Shared on Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

Selecting photos for a Library of Congress Collection

As people from around the country join in to share photographs, staff at the American Folklife Center, along with some guest curators, will watch how the event develops. In particular, we will explore the stream of photographs shared on Flickr with the tag #FolklifeHalloween2014 that are licensed under Creative Commons for potential inclusion in a collection of photos illustrating the diversity of contemporary practices around these seasonal holidays. We’ll consider photos licensed under any of the Creative Commons licenses, but we prefer one of the licenses that permit derivatives. (We foresee that it might be useful for ethnographers to crop the photos to call attention to specific details, and a license that permits derivatives will allow them to do this.)

While we encourage you to share and tag photos as #FolklifeHalloween2014 anywhere online and with or without a license, practicality dictates that AFC primarily consider Creative Commons licensed photos on Flickr for inclusion in this year’s collection. If time and resources allow, we’ll also review licensed photos submitted on other forms of social media.  Here’s how to add a tag on Flickr, and here is how you add a Creative Commons license.

Geek Office Halloween 2009.  Photo by Arthur Caranta.

Geek Office Halloween 2009. Photo by Arthur Caranta. Shared on Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

This is not a competition: we can’t promise to review all of the photographs shared on social media for potential inclusion in a collection, especially if the event really takes off and there are thousands of photos shared. However, AFC plans to archive at least a small collection of interesting and illustrative photos that are shared during the event.

Sewing:Robot Costume Control Panels, October 2009.  By Flickr User OnTheWander.  Shared on Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

Sewing:Robot Costume Control Panels, October 2009. By Flickr User OnTheWander. Shared on Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

If you wish your photos to be considered, also please include AT LEAST the following information with the photos you share.

  1. Halloween - Dia De Los Muertos style.  Photo by Giovanna Borgna, Oct. 31, 2009.

    Halloween – Dia De Los Muertos style. Photo by Giovanna Borgna, Oct. 31, 2009. Shared on Flickr with a Creative Commons License.

    Title: Give your photo a title

  2. Short Description including photographer and location: Include a brief description. What is significant about the image? Where was it taken? Who is the photographer?
  3. License: For a photograph to be eligible for potential inclusion in the collection, it must be licensed under a Creative Commons license.

To recap:

  • Take and share photos showing how you celebrate Halloween and related holidays between October 22 and November 5
  • Upload your photos to Flickr and add a Creative Commons license for potential consideration for the collection. (AFC may also include other tagged and licensed photos, but will primarily look on Flickr.)
  • Be sure to title and describe your photos and include information on where they were taken and who took them.

We welcome any questions you might have about the process: please leave them in the comments below!

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