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Costumes and masks take many forms and serve all sorts of purposes. They have been used for centuries not only to conceal the identity of the wearer but also to project the image of another person, animal or unearthly being. In Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania elaborate and exotic creations are still widely used to entertain, exercise power and maintain tribal identities.

Subjects dressed in unusual costumes adopt roles or disguises. If the costumes are exotic it is obvious that they are overstated and unreal, and the wearers are released from the constraints of normal behaviour. Masks that cover the face take matters a step further. They conceal and dehumanize the subject by removing the feedback of moods and expressions. This blocks communication and leaves the viewer unsure of how to relate to the masked person. Free reign is then given to the imaginations of the artists, and extravagant poses and actions are encouraged.

This is a liberating experience for a photographer. No longer is it necessary for subjects to appear normal or real. Anything is possible. Look at the shapes and colours of the costumes and masks and experiment with wild behaviour, exaggerated gestures, unusual camera angles and so on. Dramatic, selective or coloured lighting also works well, particularly with masks, so this is a subject that might be transferred to the controlled environment of the studio.


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