Vampire weekend: photographer Gavin Burnett's portraits of the Whitby Goths

Gavin Burnett's been developing a photo series featuring evocative portraits from the Whitby Goth Weekend. Now they're being available via Kickstarter in a crowdsourced photobook.

Dracula may be set in Transylvania, Romania, but it was actually Whitby Abbey in North Yorkshire that provided much of Bram Stoker's inspiration for his famed 1897 novel.

To celebrate that fact, the biannual Whitby Goth Weekends attract people from goth and alternative subcultures to gather in the coastal town for music, specialist markets and more. The October event is held on or around Halloween and welcomes people from all over the UK. Festival goers dress up in outfits over the three days, and many have a change of dress: one for each day.

Now Manchester-based photographer and graphic designer Gavin Burnett has released a photo book featuring portraits from the weekend, in a Kickstarter campaign which ends on Saturday 26 November. Titled Peculiar Portraits: A Whitby Goth Photo Project, it features over 120 portraits from the event.

"The Whitby Goth Weekend (WGW) was started in 1994 and has now grown to be one of the world's premier goth events," says Gavin, whose clients include Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Wanderlust, National Geographic, Telegraph Travel and The Independent.

"This sub-culture has naturally been drawn to Whitby with its spooky gothic abbey ruins and its links to Bram Stoker. Stoker stayed in Whitby while writing the novel Dracula. He writes that the dark lord shipwrecks off the coast of Whitby manifests himself as a dog and climbs the 199 steps that lead up to the abbey and graveyard."

The shoot

Gavin explains how he went about shooting this unique event. "I set up a makeshift studio in a vacant shop and literally plucked people from the streets outside to sit for me," he says. "I wanted to create images that echoed the period of the late 1900s: dark, moody, sombre, Victorian-style portraits. However, the subjects were too colourful to be shot in black and white."

During this process, Gavin would hear about where people had travelled from for the festival and the incredible detail and hours they'd put into their outfits.

"Many were hand-sewn and made from scratch," he explains. "Many were very talented prop makers, some incorporated lights; some added dental fangs and horror contact lenses to their look. And that's not to mention the hours and hours of make-up. Puppets were used as props, and some even dressed up their dogs to match their own attire. A lot of help from mums and grandmas was definitely a theme in the making of outfits."

Gavin was also startled by the variation in styles and subgenres, which ranged from goth and vampire to steampunk, Victoriana, cyberpunks, pirates, mermaids, plague doctors, day of the dead, ghouls and other spooky attire. "Whole families, including children, came to sit for me," he adds, "with the youngest subject being around eight and the oldest person well into their seventies.

"It was quite surreal at times in the darkened studio, having normal conversations with vampires and asking ghouls about where they live," he continues. "But it's all really great fun. It's been an incredible journey, and now it's time to enter the next phase and turn this project into a photo book. The outfits are an extension of these festival goers' personalities, and I felt they deserved to be captured. If you love portraiture, alternative culture, the weird and absurd, goth fashion, or are just purely into photography. I think you'll be excited about this book."

The book is an A5, 142-page hardback with around 120 studio portraits and more than 15 images from the streets of Whitby. You can buy it through Kickstarter here.


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