Halloween has always been the best holiday. Especially when I was a kid. It’s the perfect combination of magical, weird, and creepy all mixed together in all the right ways. There’s something about how the air feels in the fall too, it’s perfect. It was an especially amazing time being a kid in the 70’s and 80’s. And not just any kid, but a monster kid. I loved monster movies, special effects makeup, and the scary stories my grandmother used to tell me. It was all so creative and fun. When the hallways at school were adorned with craft paper jack-o-lanterns and tattered cardboard witches appeared on your classroom door, all felt right with the world. What were you going to be this year? Let’s grab a grape Nehi from the pop machine, make some chili, and drop by Backstreet Video for a scary movie. Maybe I would find inspiration there. My friend April worked at the video store after school and she’d save the good stuff for me. This is when you were lucky if you nabbed the one copy of whatever it was you wanted to watch on VHS before someone else did. It was finally fall again, and Halloween was right around the corner.
Going to Ben Franklin with Mom was exciting. It was an opportunity to come home with an action figure or a comic book from there or the pharmacy up the street. But with Halloween quickly approaching that excitement leveled-up. What did Ben Cooper and his plastic workshop have in-store for me? Would they have Topstone monster masks again? Would Mom help me be a werewolf this year? How could I possible make a decision about this? It was all too much for my brain and made my little head want to explode. I loved all of it. Hunting for Halloween costumes was the best. I could be anything! Grab my satin little league jacket, we’re going to town.
I’m now a thousand miles away from my hometown where that Ben Franklin used to be, but still remember how exciting it was. I also still can’t decide what to be for Halloween. Back then, you had to put in the time and be patient. These were the times when there was only one shot at Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D, and it was Friday at 8pm. You don’t miss that. In fact, you make sure that you stop at the KFC two towns over weeks in advance to get your official 3D glasses. You really had to put in some work. The thrill of the Halloween hunt is different these days. Banging away at a keyboard with the world at your fingertips is certainly different than waiting weeks and months for the smallest bit of satisfaction. But really, I’m not complaining… just maybe a little nostalgic.
I’ve always identified with monsters… those that are different, the weirdos. I’ve been called the “W” word many times myself by people who can’t seem to fit me and my array of interests into a box. Thankfully my parents always supported me, my eclectic endeavors, and never balked at the stacks of monster magazines all over the floor.
A couple years ago, my friend and fellow image-maker Todd Kapke asked if I knew Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s work. “Hmmm, I don’t think so.” I responded. “MEAT-YARD? That’s an interesting name.” I was not only once a photography and art student at the very university in the very town where he once lived and worked, but the majority of his photos were shot in the Red River Gorge where I grew up. Unbelievable, really. “You’ll love this guy.” my friend said. Man, was he right. How had I spent so much time in the gallery and photo lab at the University of Kentucky and around so many photo professors and students there and never heard of this guy?! Turns out, his work was the stuff my dreams were made of. Halloween masks, photography, the woods where I climbed trees as a kid… How could this be a coincidence? I had even used monster masks in my work as a student at UK. Wow. I read that Meatyard said once, the masks in his work erased the differences between people. What a beautiful way to express that idea. My mind was truly blown by Meatyard’s work and the things we had in common. I am in no way comparing my work to Meatyard’s by the way. Suddenly, all the “weird” things I’ve been interested in and doing my entire life came together and made a little bit more sense somehow. Monsters, art, and photography.
I had already been snatching up vintage monster masks alongside other horror and sci-fi stuff at yard sales and thrift stores prior to my friend opening my eyes to Meatyard. But suddenly there was more of a reason to keep doing it. And, it made me happy. I’ve always appreciated halloween masks as works of art. Each is hand sculpted, molded, poured, and painted. No two are exactly alike. They were fascinating to me as a kid and still are. I was empowered knowing that someone else had seen them as art too.
There’s a small window every year when these long-forgotten monsters appear out of the darkness. If I’m diligent, I might just catch a few. Halloween is in the air again and that makes this monster kid happy. I’ll settle for my trips to the thrift store, but oh how I miss going to Ben Franklin with Mom, Nehi in hand, looking for this year’s costume. Grab my BB gun, we’re going monster hunting.
I often create random projects to keep some semblance of sanity outside the confines of work. The following is one such project. These are portraits of my growing collection of monster hunting trophies. Enjoy.
Photos by Kevin Powell /
More to come…