artist sue de beer is photographing la's spookiest partygoers

We pick the acclaimed photographer, filmmaker, and Salem native’s brain about all things Halloween.

by Emily Manning and i-D Staff
28 October 2015, 1:30pm

Sue de Beer, Untitled (Still from Blue Lenses), 2015

The Massachusetts public school system has a few tried and true field trip destinations. Most of them are Puritan graveyards. Having grown up in Salem, the state's most haunted town, artist Sue de Beer is a something of a Puritan pro. Her hometown's unique architectural codes and campy diorama museums have inspired the super spooky aesthetic rendered in her photographs, films, and installations (like The Blue Lenses, which closed earlier this week at Boesky East Gallery).

Tonight, Sue will share her love for all things ghastly and shoot live portraits at All Souls Eve, the Los Angeles Nomadic Division's annual benefit-cum-Halloween bash. Opening up her process to the public, Sue invites party-goers to step inside her creepy colored set and select handmade costumes ranging from Crimson Peak's homicidal maidens to cuddly cats. Ahead of the party, we caught up with Sue to discuss hanging with Dennis Cooper in a Poltergeist-themed bedroom.

Sue de Beer, Still from Black Sun, Pony (magic light), 2004-2005

How did growing up in Salem impact your interest in mysticism and the occult?
My childhood in New England had a long lasting impact on my aesthetic. We were taken to a lot of witch museums and Puritan museums and Puritan houses and Puritan graveyards…

I grew up two hours from Salem and was constantly being shuttled to Puritan graveyards for field trips. So many graveyards.
There are three different things I took from growing up in that very culturally specific community, and one is definitely the memory of all those trips to low budget diorama museums. They're pretty funny -- none of the mannequins match-- but in a way, they're also very beautiful because they were crafted by hand from local people. They're quite campy, but there's also an historical element. They often have information that you can't normally find from something like The Crucible. The pirate museum is great, too.

Sue de Beer, Untitled (Still from The Blue Lenses), 2014

What else was formative about the area?
The Puritans had a very particular relationship to architecture because it's against their religion to display images, especially in churches. The houses can be quite plain, so the proportion of the rooms becomes the houses' beauty points. If you get in an old enough building, it's all about the shape of the room and the slant of the roof. The way people move into the space can be really quite compelling. So many of these old New England towns, Salem in particular, have that quality, and there must have been some way it made me interested in installation. The funny combination of total campiness and shock horror with a historical overlay, as well as the relationship of the human body to the room, are some of my favorite things to play out in my work.

Tell us about All Souls Eve. How did you become involved with the benefit?
Back in 2008, I did a curatorial project with Delia Gonzalez called Ghost Polaroid Graveyard at the The Forgotten Bar in Berlin. We took the graveyard from one of my sets, brought a lot of the costumes and props I make to the bar, and took Polaroid portraits of anyone that wanted one. For All Souls Eve, the thinking was to combine that event with the work I do on my sets. I'm always shooting still photographs of people that I'm filming. So I'm just going to be sharing my love of spooky portraiture. I'll have different costumes that people can select and I'll shoot them in a sort of a spooky interior landscape space. I'm excited about it!

Sue de Beer, Untitled, 2009/2011

What sorts of costumes can people choose from?
I have a lot of animals, but also some horror stuff. I just saw Crimson Peak, so I'm definitely going to include a bloody nightgown and a knife. I think that's what's so fun about Halloween: it's a night where you get to be a fancy person, witch or piece of sushi -- whatever you want. When I'm shooting, I love that collaborative element; I love working with someone and having them give me information.

Aesthetically, Halloween can be anything from Charlie Brown to Dario Argento. What's been inspiring you lately?
Mostly memories of my own Halloweens. When I was a young artist in my early 20s, I'd go out and stay at Dennis Cooper's house in LA during spooky house season. LA's spooky houses are so imaginative and realistic -- people get really prepared! I remember going to one with Dennis that had the Vietnam maze and a little Poltergeist horror bedroom with girls in old fashioned nightgowns on covered in blood! Those have been some of my favorite Halloweens.

Sue de  Beer, Untitled, 2004/2011 


Text Emily Manning
All images courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York. © Sue de Beer.

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