Images of the Secret Self: Chad Hunt’s Neighborhood Halloween Portraits.
When your neighbor’s porch becomes a photography studio for one magical night.
Chad Hunt is one of BROAD STREET’s favorite people, as anyone who has picked up a copy of the magazine can tell.
He’s a prizewinning photo journalist whose work has run in Time and other big glossies, but he’s always been supportive of little guys like us. His work graces two of our most memorable covers, and we featured his photo essay on soldiers’ lives in and after Afghanistan in our very first issue.
And now it’s Halloween, which for years has meant that Chad’s neighbors become his biggest fans.
Six years ago, Chad and his wife, Angela Matusik, decided to set up a one-night-only studio on their front porch. Chad would make free portraits of the kids who came trick-or-treating.
While the front yard was filled with homemade UFOs and alien apparatus (impressive in their own right), the main action was on the porch.
To create a custom studio, Chad mounted a black backdrop from the roof and set up a Dynalight power pack. His other professional-level equipment included an umbrella and a silk screen to keep the lighting appropriately diffuse.
He used the same camera he might have brought to any studio work, a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with (for the technically minded) a 24–70mm f/2.8L lens.
On a kid-practical note, Chad and his family offered a full-sized candy bar to any child willing to pose. That was hardly necessary, as the neighborhood kids and their parents saw the portraits as treats enough.
The results were astounding — showing the kids at their creative best, exploring personas they didn’t have a chance to share the rest of the year.
Whether a costume was wildly inventive or just a bit of makeup and an old shirt, Chad brought a kid’s secret self out of the holiday’s candy shell. The children came alive before the lens, showing emotions that only a really great costume and a sympathetic photographer can produce.
Some get-ups have been much more elaborate. One neighbor is a Broadway costume designer who regularly kits his kids out in very fine (and in one case, very Sendak) form.
In 2016, Chad learned that a good thing can become almost too good. The wild rumpus grew to enormous proportions after Popular Photography published an article about what Chad was doing. Chad’s porch became the busiest spot in town.
“Last year was OUT of control,” he says.
He photographed 325 people in just four hours. “The line was down to the curb, and I hired three teenagers to give out candy so I could focus on pictures.”
With porch portraits all the rage, parents — costumed and plain-clothesed — asked for pictures too. All part of the fun.
A repeat engagement for 2017 is a more than daunting prospect, especially without an assistant. Chad has announced that his Halloween activity this year will be limited to giving out candy.
But he’s wistful about missing the photo session.
“I’ve photographed some of these kids for six years in a row,” he says.
And as he told Popular Photography, “Looking back, I realize that I have seen these kids grow up on my porch. What started as a simple gift to my community has turned into something much bigger.”
Costumed children roared and smiled and stood proud with superpowers. Dreams bloomed in the flash of the camera’s light.
Those kids include his daughter, Isadora, whose costumes have evolved along with her personality and interests.
She was a bee for her very first trick-or-treating (with her parents dressed as beekeepers — see below), and in 2010 she was a cat.
It’s not just a child’s body that grows — self-images, fantasies, and aspirations grow too, and they find expression in the choice of costumes … from kitty cat to powerful psychic adolescent … or maybe Supergirl or a medieval knight.
So a more grown-up Isadora, for example, dressed as Eleven from Stranger Things in 2016.
Not doing the porch photos this year, Chad admits, means he’ll miss the kids’ excitement and what the sessions have meant to him personally.
He points out the portrait of a wee Supergirl as one he simply had to take: “This girl was SO PROUD of her costume … and she was just beaming.*
We’re beaming too, Chad. Thanks for showing us our favorite selves.
Click here to see more porch portraits.
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Chad Hunt’s photographs have appeared in Time, Popular Mechanics, and The New York Times. His Afghanistan photographs received a Military Reporters and Editors Award and are in the permanent collection of the George Eastman House Museum. He lives in a small town in New Jersey.
Find Chad’s photojournalism and contact information on his website.
And don’t miss the family of beekeepers, when Chad and Angela took a baby Isadora around the neighborhood.