The Argus’ Aliah Murillo interviews photographer Klaus Pichler about his photo book series ‘Just the Two of Us’ based on the costume community, giving an insider look on the person behind that mask through the juxtaposition between being in costume while at home.
What drives you to photograph, and has your politic changed throughout your photographic journey?
My main motivation is to explore the world, to find out new things and to experiment with the things I have found out, all through the lens. Photography is a way of seeing the world and taking part in it. This is the essence of what I have found out in the past years. Therefore, I have learned to take my voice more seriously, to dare to be critical and to be more open-minded in order to create projects with more depth.
Your series “Just the Two of Us” is captivating in regards to the strong contrast between dressing up in costume while being at home. What was your initial reasoning towards creating this series?
I think that alter egos are getting important more and more and that there are different ways to create one – and creating a costume is probably the both most simple and most visual way to step into a new personality. I wanted to illustrate that by creating a concept which would involve both – the ‘civil’ person and the alter ego.
Since there is a large group of people within the cosplay community, what was the process in choosing your subjects? Did their costumes need to speak out to you, or did you need to learn more about the person?
Of course, when doing research, I firstly tried to find elaborate costumes because I knew that they would make the images more spectacular. Nevertheless, there was one element I could not plan in advance: the question how the homes of the people, which were the backdrop for the images, would look like. This made the whole working process quite thrilling since I was not able to foresee how the final image would look like. My main goal was to unite the two persons – the ‘civil’ person and the alter ego, on one photo, therefore it was the main interest to find out as much as possible about the person(s) in order to be able to create the photo in the best way.
You found it complicated to find people to photograph as they felt uncomfortable with the series. Did you have to change your approach with your subjects to make them feel at ease with your intentions?
They did not feel uncomfortable with the series itself, they just did not want to have the photos taken in their homes out of different reasons: some were not too happy about their flats, some considered their flats as private and some did not know how to think about my intentions and therefore were a little shy and preferred to say no. It would have been much easier if the concept had been to photograph them somewhere else because being photographed is also part of the game when creating a costumed alter ego and taking part in related activities, but in the own flat? Difficult.
Since the concept was fixed from the beginning I did not change the approach, I just needed a long breath until I found enough people who were willing to take part in the project.
You photographed your subjects in their own flats. Was the room they were photographed in chosen by yourself, or the subject? Did the specific room have any significance?
In most of the cases I visited their homes for the first time when I did the photos, therefore everything was quite spontaneous. All the time it started the same: I asked the people not to wear the costume in the beginning and to have a drink and a chat in order to find out more about them and their personalities. During these talks, in most of the cases we developed an idea of how and where to take the photos – so it was some kind of a cooperation between the portrayed persons and myself. I like the idea that planning, staging and taking a photo is an act of cooperation between the portrayed person and the photographer because this way of doing things enables the person to bring in his or her personality to a high amount. So my mindset was to let things happen and to be open towards suggestions, so the room itself did not have any significance, it was more the idea and the process which has lead to the images.
How did you plan out each photograph? Did the subjects personality reflect the way it was taken?
Oh yes, but not out of my perspective, but out of the perspective of the photographed persons. I did not feel like being the person who gives commands, it was more the other way round, so I am sure the photos do reflect the personalities.
Did this series make change your perspective on cosplayers from how people stereotypically view them?
I can’t answer this question properly because I simply don’t know the stereotypical way of how cosplayers are viewed by other people. If you mean that they are ridiculed by some people, I can just say that sometimes laughing is the short track to ignorance and by that one can easily ignore all the meta layers, the self-understanding of the peers, the effort it takes to create and alter ego and so on – all things I really respect and I really find crucial if one wants to develop a reflected view upon society.
In the process of the series, was there any particular outcome that you wanted to achieve for your audience other than looking beyond the costume itself?
Yes, it was the combination of the ‘civil’ person, sensible through the design of the flat, and the alter ego, represented by the costumed entity, that I wanted to combine on one image in a balanced way. This has been a quite difficult task since some costumes were that dominant in their look so we had to find ways in how to stage the images in order to break this dominance and to get a balance between the two elements.
Your series of work is incredibly diverse from one project to the other. Which body of work was the most challenging for you in the process of creation, and which one has stuck close to you?
This question is really impossible to answer since I have worked on all the projects for long times and faced different challenges throughout the periods I have been working on them, depending on the subject. I want to put it the other way round: If a project does not bring up any challenges, any frustrating moments and any little dramas, it is possibly shallow and therefore not really satisfying when it is finished. I don’t want to miss all the little and huge efforts it needed to finish the different projects, and it is also my main interest to do them all quite differently in order to learn something new with each and every one of them. According to that, the dearest project is always the one which either just exists as a plan or which I am in the middle of doing it – it’s the constant hunger for creating new stuff I like best about my work.
Are there any new projects, or plans for them in the near future?
Yes, I have a new series ready to be published in early 2017, it will be a book and it will – as always – look quite different from the others. It’s a little bit too early to reveal details, but one thing I can already say: it will probably be the strangest project I have done so far.
Images courtesy of the artist http://kpic.at/