Photographer: Jason Gardner

Return to Carnaval: Rituals, Roots, Rebels

Carnaval is more than just a party and parade in the streets. Democratic and folkloric, it reveals a complex diversity of local customs intersecting with universal themes.

From the Austrian Alps to Spanish Basque Country to the Cajun prairie in Louisiana, and from the shores of Northern France to the remote islands off of Guinea-Bissau: in each of these Carnavals, the masks and costumes contribute to centuries-old traditions, connecting the people deeply to their roots while enabling them to transcend and even rebel against their daily life and surroundings.

Through this ritualistic performance, embodying animals and spirits, mythical beasts, and a wide cast of perennial characters with local significance, the participants retrace their ancestors’ enactment of rites of the season, evoking cyclical transitions and opposing faces of the human condition: winter and spring, barren and fertile, life and death, light and dark, chaos and order.

No matter the country, traditions echo across continents, with similar themes emerging:

  • Rituals of song and dance, parading through villages, the ringing of bells, noisemaking to stave off the winter and bring on good luck and bountiful harvest; going from house to house to partake in neighbors’ food and drink; lighting fires to ward off evil spirits;

  • Harkening back to cultural and religious roots, blending symbols of both paganism—monsters, beasts of burden, wild animals, and various mythical creatures—and Catholicism—crosses, priests, the Three Kings, the enactment of the ceremony of marriage, resurrection, and redemption;

  • The rebellion manifested through the personification of devils and destruction; transvestism and other subversive disguises; tricksterism and improvised chaos; and by the clash between modern and ancient, between ritual and reality, where the current world peeks out, interacting with the roots of the past.

Having published A Flower in the Mouth (Visual Anthropology Press), showing the culture, music and rituals of the folkloric Carnaval in Pernambuco, Brazil, Jason has continued the project by photographing versions of the festival in 12 countries over four continents. In 2018, Jason’s presented selections from this series in his exhibit “Portraits de Carnaval” at BY-Chatel Gallery in Paris. His work has also been exhibited in New York, Vienna, Toronto, São Paulo, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Jason Gardner tells stories, using photography and video within the framework of Visual Anthropology. He is passionate about music, culture, and ritual, and how they impact human expression. Jason published A Flower in the Mouth, a book of photography and writing about the culture, music and rituals of Carnaval in Pernambuco, Brazil. 

Jason has continued developing the project “Retour au Carnaval: Rituals, Roots and Rebels,” photographing other Carnaval celebrations in Bulgaria; Slovenia; Poland; Basque country, Spain; Dunkerque, France; Guinea-Bissau; Sardinia; the Tyrol mountains of Italy and Austria; Trinidad; Bahamas; New Orleans; and Cajun country in Louisiana.

He is a founder of Visual Anthropology Press, a book packager dedicated to helping independent authors, photographers, and organizations realize and communicate their vision to their audience. VAP recently produced Scattered Among the Nations, a photography book on remote Jewish communities throughout the world.

Jason’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Photo District News, New York Magazine,, and SPIN Magazine.  Clients include Con Edison, HBO, Samsung Corporation, N-Y Historical Society, Ogilvy & Mather, Direct TV, Pfizer, and Human Rights Watch.

Au Retour de Carnaval: Rites, Racines, Rebels” was recently selected to be exhibited at the Mois de la Photo OFF Photography festival in Paris. Lincoln Center hosted an exhibition of Jason’s work at the Out of Doors Festival. New Orleans Jazz Fest has hosted an exhibition and presentation of his work. The Brazilian Consulate General Los Angeles sponsored an exhibition of his work in as well as exhibits in San Francisco and NY. Other exhibitions include BY Chatel Galerie Paris, Mairie XVème Paris, Vienna Photo Book Fair, Rayko Gallery (San Francisco, CA), Photoville, PhotoPlace Gallery, Uma Nota Festival Toronto, Art From the Heart, and the Brazilian Endowment for the Arts (BEA) New York. 

He is a board member at-large, NY Chapter, of The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), and co-founder of creative networking community Toasted Almonds, having launched a Paris chapter of Toasted Almonds (Amandes Grillées).

Jason divides his time between New York and Paris. 

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