Photographer and photojournalist Adam Reynolds, who is based in Columbus, Indiana, has traveled the world capturing images of ordinary people and of places embroiled in extraordinary conflicts. He’s visited the Gaza Strip, where his photos of picturesque, everyday life provide a jarring contrast to images of bombed-out city blocks. In a series called “Architecture of an Existential Threat,” he photographed the interiors of some of Israel’s thousands of bomb shelters. And his heartbreaking portraits of refugees, displaced by Yemen’s civil war, put a shockingly human face on a conflict largely unknown to Americans.
One of Reynolds’ latest projects, however, is a departure into the realms of fantasy — and centuries-old holiday-season lore. “Gruss vom Krampus” is a series of tintype images depicting different iterations of Krampus — the furry, horned “anti-Santa” demon that, according to legend, punishes naughty children on the night before the Feast of St. Nicholas each December.
Krampus, of course, is well known in Bloomington thanks to the annual Krampus Night celebration and parade, taking place this year on Saturday, December 3. Kel McBride is the founder and organizer of Krampus Night and says this year’s event, the fifth annual, is going to be bigger and better. The 2015 parade attracted more than 3,000 people, and McBride is expecting 4,500 this year.
McBride enjoys event production and was looking for a new project a few years ago when a friend sent her a video of a Krampus Night parade in Graz, Austria. “As soon as I saw that, I knew I had to bring it to Bloomington,” she says. “It’s a long-held tradition in Austria, but different regions celebrate Krampus in so many different ways. I like to think of Krampus as being the sidekick of St. Nicholas — not Santa Claus. St. Nicholas makes a list of naughty and nice kids, and then he tells Krampus about the naughty kids. Krampus frightens and swats the kids with switches and sometimes touches them on the head, leaving an ashen mark that causes bad dreams.
“We’ve found things that work for our community,” she continues. “Our crew walks through the audience before the parade begins and hands out ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ stickers. People can self-designate whether they are naughty or nice. Then the angels give out candy to the nice kids and adults, and, well, the naughty ones should fear Krampus.”
Reynolds, who grew up in Bloomington and graduated from Indiana University with a master of fine arts degree, cited his fondness for horror and monster movies as a motivation for the project. “I always liked the Krampus Night in Bloomington,” he says. “I took those pictures when I was an MFA student at IU.” Krampus was also the subject of Krampus, a big-budget horror film released last year. “I kind of liked it,” Reynolds says of the creature’s big-screen debut.
While at IU, Reynolds — who now works as a photography instructor at Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus — took a course that focused on alternative and antique printing technologies. In class, he created prints using tintype, a photography method that produces images on sheets of metal. Tintype photography was popular in the latter half of the 1800s but eventually fell out of use as more advanced printmaking methods were developed.
Reynolds, however, did employ some 21st century technology. “It’s part digital, part emulsion on a metal plate,” he says. “I took the portraits in-studio with my digital camera. Then I made a transparency and used that as the positive for the tintype. I’d work in a darkroom. I would pour this light-sensitive emulsion on the tin plates. The idea was to use that older, retro look to portray the monsters.”
The same Krampus creatures in Reynolds’ images will be on parade during Krampus Night, of which the photographer is a fan. “It’s become a fun anti-Christmas Christmas tradition,” he says. “It’s kind of a Halloween hangover event. People aren’t ready to put away their costumes yet.”
Krampus Night kicks off at 5 p.m. with the Krampus Bazaar at Showers Plaza, where there will be chalk art, mask making, the Gauntlet (a chance to run through a crowd of Krampus), food trucks, and Krampus merchandise. The parade begins at 6 p.m. at West 3rd and South Madison streets and will proceed northward, concluding at Showers Plaza.
Because organizers are expecting more people than ever before, they’ve made several additions to this year’s free event. “We’re going to have a new handicap-accessible viewing area, new food trucks, new activities for kids in the bazaar area, and public restrooms available in Bloomington City Hall at Showers Plaza,” McBride says. “We’ll also have patio heaters in the bazaar area.”
Even though there will be activities for children at the Krampus Bazaar, McBride cautions parents that the devilish creatures can cause a fright.
“I don’t call this a kid-friendly event,” she says. “Krampus can be really scary and some kids are even scared of the Easter Bunny. We like to encourage parents to consider their own children and make the best decision for their family.”
For more information about Krampus and Krampus Legend and Arts Workshop (a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization) and to donate, visit the Bloomington Krampus Facebook page.