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We the Spirits

We the Spirits

by Jason Gardner

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Photographer Jason Gardner travelled across 15 countries to document traditional Carnival in its myriad of manifestations. Seeking out villages and towns where festivals are at their most folkloric or least visited by outsiders, Gardner collaborated with ethnographers and local experts to engage with and understand each festival. A selection of his vast archive of photographs made over a period of 15 years will be published in We the Spirits. Collectively, his images dispel stereotypes of Carnival and illustrate the complex diversity of local customs united by universal themes.

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‘In the middle of the night, or at the break of dawn, these youngsters turn into spirits, wearing the spirits’ clothes and handling their paraphernalia. This gives them authority and power since the spirits are eternal; they never change, defying the passage of time and, at least in principle, even death itself. Spirits are immortal and so become those who are wearing their robes.’  - Giovanni Kezich

Dating from pre-Christian times, called entroido, pust, mas, fasnacht, courir, or Mardi Gras, these winter masquerades are held from January to March in the grey area of the Christian calendar between Christmas and Lent, sometimes referred to as
the ‘fifth season’. At each Carnival, the characters,
traditions, masks and costumes connect participants to their ancestors and allow them to transcend their
daily life. The traditions originated in Europe and spread further afield, where winter masquerades continue with the same spirits, themes, and sequence. The photographs in We the Spirits were made across Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Trinidad and the US. Gardner immerses himself in each celebration, photographing characters incostume where he finds them, often recording their testimony and reflections on the ongoing rituals, working as a ‘visual anthropologist’.

‘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…. Profound in meaning, it reinforces regional and national identity, marks the cycle of seasons, and provides an
opportunity for the suspension of social norms, the inversion of typical roles. 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.’  - 
Jason Gardner 

‘Clad in their official robes and paraphernalia—bells, headpieces, sticks of various description—these characters seem to be replete with magic, the magic of the spirits.’ - Giovanni Kezich

A selection of forty photographs from We the Spirits will be on display in the exhibition Costume and
Masquerade: Photographs by Suzanne Jongmans and Jason Gardner
at Stadhaus Ulm from 11 November 2023 – 18 February 2024.

Published December 2023
Essay by Giovanni Kezich
Field Notes and all other text by Jason Gardner
220 x 265 mm portrait
232pp, 127 images
The cover comes in three colours.
A random colour will be allocated to your order.
ISBN 978-1-915423-14-6

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  • Jason Gardner is an American photographer, based in Paris and New York. His first monograph A Flower in the Mouth, focusing on Carnival in Pernambuco, Brazil was published in 2013 (Visual Anthropology Press, USA). Gardner’s ‘We the Spirits’ was selected as a Top 50 portfolio by Photolucida’s Critical Mass in 2022 and has been exhibited in Paris, New York, New Orleans, Toronto, Geneva, Malmesbury (UK), São Paulo, Belgrade, and San Francisco. Gardner’s work has been published in GEO Magazine France, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Le Parisien,, and New York Magazine.