Fire and Lights and Wild Nights: Jill Waterman's New Year's Project


In some locales, the period between Christmas and the New Year is known as the "Wild Nights," where mischief reigns in the darkest days of the northern hemisphere. We’re digging into this theme for our last show of 2022 in a chat with photographer and producer of this very podcast, Jill Waterman, who has been documenting New Year’s Eve traditions and exploits around the globe for the past 38 years. We first spoke with Waterman about this project in the two-part show Legacy and Commitment in January 2022. Since she’s now a full-fledged member of the podcast team, we thought we’d investigate some of her more memorable experiences a bit further.

Waterman is still shooting this series primarily with film, so our conversation ranges from the whys and wherefores of making that choice, to how the growth of the Internet became an essential research tool in the lead up to the Millennium and beyond. We also shed light on the elusive Austrian Perchten and Bulgarian Kukeri, and discuss parading Philadelphia Mummers, Bahamian Junkanoo figures, and Cape Town, South Africa’s legendary Minstrel Parade. To learn about the most rewarding aspect of Waterman’s project and find out where she’ll be ringing in New Year’s Eve 2023, pull up a seat, pop some bubbly, and listen in!

Guest: Jill Waterman

Photos © Jill Waterman

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New Year’s Eve 1997 – Berlin, Germany: Fireworks Exploding Near the…
New Year’s Eve 2006 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Man Setting off Smoke…
New Year’s Eve 2012 – Razlog, Bulgaria: Masked Celebrants Parading with…
New Year’s Eve 2012 – Razlog, Bulgaria: Unmasked Kukeri and Celebrants…
New Year’s Eve 2013 – Goldegg, Austria: Masked Creature with Young Girl…
New Year’s Eve 1999 – Edinburgh, Scotland: Ceremonial Burning of Viking…
New Year’s Eve 2008 – Quito, Ecuador: Jumping Over a Burning Pile of…
New Year’s Eve 2014 – Teotitlán del Valle, Mexico: Man Parading with…
New Year’s Eve 2019 – Cape Town, South Africa: Performer with a…
New Year’s Eve 2013 – Lungötz, Austria: Perchten in the Snow Making…
New Year’s Eve 2016 – Vancouver, Canada: Fire Eater with Flaming…
New Year’s Eve 2009 – Nassau, Bahamas: Member of the Fancy Dancers…
New Year’s Eve 2020 – Bologna, Italy: Dapper Man in Creative Costume,…
New Year’s Eve 2020 – Bologna, Italy: The Burning of Il Vecchione at…
New Year’s Eve 2003 – Philadelphia, PA: Comics Division Members Dressed…
New Year’s Eve 2003 – Philadelphia, PA: Crewe Captain Asleep on his…
New Year’s Eve 2021 – New York, NY: Man Jumping into 2021 in Front of…
New Year’s Eve 1985 – London, England: British Bobbies in a Shaving…

Episode Timeline

  • 2:35: The beginnings of the New Year’s Eve Project
  • 4:28: Evolution of the project and approach over time
  • 5:34: Shooting black and white film instead of monochrome digital captures
  • 8:12: Opportunities of the Millennium
  • 9:04: The growth of the Internet as a research tool and discovering locations for New Year’s Eve rituals
  • 10:00: Documenting “Perchtenlaufs” in Austria during the Wild Nights
  • 10:59: Common themes in different cultures: Mummer’s Parade in Philadelphia; Junkanoo in Nassau, Bahamas; and the Minstrel Parade in Cape Town, South Africa
  • 14:48: The spread of oral New Year’s traditions and rituals: Burning Effigies and New Year’s Widows in Quito, Ecuador
  • 16:32: Bulgarian Kukeri and New Year’s parade to scare away evil spirits in Razlog
  • 17:28: Planning before arrival and proceeding with boots on the ground
  • 18:46: The value of spontaneity and capturing action in the moment
  • 19:58: Working through anxiety, emotional spikes, and physical challenges
  • 21:09: Assessing coverage and reviewing images after the fact
  • 22:12: Underwhelming celebrations, and New Year’s Eve during COVID lockdown
  • 25:50: Episode break
  • 26:35: Jill’s analog camera kit: Nikon F3 HP, a 35-70 mm f/2.8 zoom and 24 mm f/2.8 prime lenses
  • 27:45: Black and white films used—Ilford HP5, Delta 400, FP4, Delta 100—and diluted development to minimize contrast
  • 29:23: The most rewarding aspect of the New Year’s Eve Project
  • 30:41: Working through language differences and being open to communication
  • 32:15: Experiencing the “Pied Piper” syndrome
  • 32:45: Big crowds and safety issues on New Year’s Eve
  • 35:36: This year’s destination, recent New York Foundation for the Arts award, and project links

Guest Bio

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Jill Waterman has been based in New York since 1985. Her personal work is centered in long-term photo projects, such as the ongoing New Year’s Eve Project, and other aspects of her focus on night photography. Her photographs have been exhibited internationally and featured widely in press and media. Highlights include a 1997 arts documentary for Deutsche Welle TV in Berlin, Germany; a 2003 Today Show interview with Katie Couric; and a 2015 documentary for the web TV show Culture Connect. Waterman’s first book, the technical volume Night and Low Light Photography, was released by Amphoto books in August 2008. Her professional background includes a past career in image licensing, editorial positions in custom publishing, and her current role as creative producer for the B&H Photography Podcast.

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Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: Jill Waterman
Senior Producer: Mike Weinstein
Executive Producer: Shawn C Steiner