In so much as categories are built by relative opposition, ‘the self’ is defined but that which it is not—the other; just as fantasy is defined by what it is not—reality. The act of masquerade and role or costume playing however, occupies a magical liminal space that lies between fact and fiction, myth and reality. It is an externalisation, in some sense, of the ability of human beings to transform themselves, and become both another, and ‘the other’.
In this project, being shown in India at Delhi Photo Festival 2015, Pichler strikes a playful yet haunting tone, juxtaposing his subjects in complete costumes with the relatively mundane environments of their houses. Although often humorous, merely in terms of the surreal images they present — the cookie monster sitting at the table, deep in thought; the skeleton tucked into his bed; or the stormtrooper sitting stiffly on his well cushioned couch — Pichler’s images are neither mocking nor judgemental. As he notes, it is easy to ridicule adults who practice costuming, as a Peter Pan Syndrome induced form of childish fancy-dress, but to do so is to avoid any real engagement or reflection, and therefore entirely unfruitful. Further, there is a real recognition of the passion that grounds people who actively form part of a cosplay subculture —people who spend a large amount of time, effort and even money on their costumes and the hobby.
Pichler mentions that what was initially surprising was that most of his subjects were not ‘geeks or nerds’ as commonly expected, but entirely regular citizens who held steady jobs, had families, dogs and cars. In other words, part of the value of this project is that it disassembles social ideas of who indulges in cosplay — usually prejudicially considered to be young, introverted adult males who are socially awkward and play video games or are good at science. Breaking the moulds of such stereotypes, its discovery is that people who indulge in the culture are of all ages, genders and professions and certainly, with individual personalities. The only empirically observable difference was, he believes, that most of the Germanic folkloric or carnival characters were adopted by older subjects, while younger subjects drew more from popular cultural icons and fictions.
Through his photographs, Pichler desires to encourage thinking upon who lies behind that mask. On the one hand, the costume itself is a form of expression of who the sitter is; on the other, shooting the portraits in their own homes offers up other clues — and it’s the anachronostic, dissociative experience of seeing the two in conjunction, that is truly riveting. Pichler notes that he also had a choice of photographing his sitters without their costumes, but chose not to do so, since it is the compelling dynamic produced by the unexpected coupling of the fantastical and the ordinary that drives the viewers’ curiosity.
All the photographs in this series were shot on 6×7 film and in natural light, in order to keep as true to the original scene as possible. Pichler believed that using artificial flash for instance, might give a photograph that manufactured-look, something he strived hard to eradicate from his work. The shoots themselves, had a fair measure of give and take — while Pichler made certain decisions as the artist, his subjects provided their own inputs — sometimes leading to particularly striking images. For instance, while Pichler was drawn to the room where the character is ironing because of its mirrors, the iron itself as a prop was a suggestion from the subject, since that was what he usually did in the room.
Just the Two of Us is by turns sunny, spooky and melancholic, but it is also empowering. In many senses, the act of dressing up and transforming character, is one of escapism—but the escape is empowering. By presenting his subjects, with their donned costumes in their everyday habitats, Pilcher pushes us to question if in fact, the two are only one—the self and the assumed other, fantasy and reality—on the flip of a perspective.
JUST THE TWO OF US
– Klaus Pilcher
Who hasn’t had the desire just to be someone else for awhile? Dressing up is a way of creating an alter ego and a second skin which one’s behaviour can be adjusted to. Regardless of the motivating factors which cause somebody to acquire a costume, the main principle remains the same: the civilian steps behind the mask and turns into somebody else. ’Just the Two of Us’ deals with both: the costumes and the people behind them.
Klaus Pichler was born in 1977 and lives in Vienna, Austria. A self taught photographer, he decided to quit his profession as a landscape architect and devote himself entirely to photography in 2005. Since then he has extensively published and been exhibited internationally. His work is particularly driven by the hidden aspects of everyday life in its varying forms, as well as social groups with their own codes and rules.