GUISER, n. “in modern times one of a party of children who go in disguise from door to door at various festivals, esp. Halloween”
– from a Dictionary of the Scots Language.
In Scotland, Guisers go round neighbours’ doors on Halloween during a night of community and sharing. This centuries old tradition was taken to America by emigrants from various Celtic origins and with other cultural influences became the American ‘trick or treat’.
Over three Halloweens (2015-7), Margaret Mitchell photographed children who visited her home as Guisers. Their highly individual costumes displayed not only their originality but also conveyed aspects of the inner world of the child.
Some children offered information on who they were and why they chose to dress as such – a Victorian gentleman who liked to speak 18th Century English. Others kept their motivations to themselves – I am ‘Untitled’ said one boy with a bloody skeleton arm hanging off and bandages from injuries.
“The Guisers began in 2015 in reaction to what I observed as a parent living in a community where the tradition of guising is very strong in childrens’ lives here in Glasgow.”
“The work looks at the complexity of being a child as presented through their chosen costume – their disguise – at Halloween. It is a portrait of these children at this time, within this ongoing tradition in Scotland. It presents not only the varied disguises but also offers us the viewer a little entry point into their world and their minds; to their experiences of being a child – a guiser – in Glasgow, in Scotland in our present time.”
Some children took their influences from popular culture whilst others created mash ups of fantasy play. Costumes ranged from the elaborate to the expected and this multiplicity of choices in selecting their disguise offers insight into the complexity of the childhood world. The Guisers allow us briefly back into a child’s mind as they roam the streets on Halloween, dressed as someone else, being someone else.
You can see the full series of 60 images on Margeret’s website where you can also purchase a newsprint publication.
For more insight into the project see the interview that Margaret recently gave on the Document Scotland website.