Photo project

Who Hides Behind the Masks of Superheroes on Times Square

New York City photographer comes to Times Square and photographs superheroes — people who earn their living by wearing costumes of Disney and Marvel characters.
Frank Marshal Age 56

American photographer. Born in Paris. Lives and works in New York City. Is inspired by the works of Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.

— The superhero and Disney characters have been in Times Square for years. But with the popularity of the Marvel and Disney movies there have been more and more of these characters. Needless to say that Times Square has also become more and more popular with tourists from all parts of the world. The tourists want to take iPhone snaps with the characters and the characters want to be paid, about $5.00 for a photo. Now, with money comes the problem, when I was there I saw that some tourists did not want to pay the characters and there were fights that broke out on a regular basis.

To add to the problem, there is a law in NY that you can be topless if your chest is painted. So you now have topless girls painted red, white and blue to get around the law walking around Times Square, and of course this is going to upset some of the people who bring children there.

All of this brought so much news coverage to Times Square that I thought it was time for me to look at the problem from a more human perspective. So this project is about the people who are under the masks just trying to make a buck.

Even long before the controversy I wanted to try and photograph the people under the masks. I keep saying to my wife, also a photographer, that I should go take those photos. Finally, she kicked me out the door and said, “go do it”. I’m glad she did. I got a project about the people who put on these costumes day after day and ride the subway from outside Manhattan to make a living.


I shot the portraits on large format film because I’m not a fan of digital photography. One shot as the character, another as them without the mask. They didn’t want to take off their masks and for good reason, many of them are not legal residents. But for $10.00 I gained their trust. Day after day I would photograph a few characters until I photographed everyone who would let me. I did show them the photos as they were finished on my iPad. This helped a lot and the characters loved it. They did not feel exploited.

They didn’t want to take off their masks, but for $10.00 I gained their trust.

For me, these photographs are about seeing behind the scenes. Showing real people with real lives with a different way of making money. I’m not trying to impose my will on the image, rather let the image speak for itself. I want the viewer to see the image and then make their own thoughts on what they see. I would like to consider myself a modern day August Sander.

I would like to go to Las Vegas next to photograph the famous impersonators out there, but that is for another time.

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