Vienna-based photographer Klaus Pichler has gained a reputation in recent years for taking photos of items or scenes – like cosplayers sitting at home or a bunch of museum artefacts in a stock room – and drawing out their hidden aspects or stories. We interviewed him about his creative process, his light bulb moment for his famous series Just the Two of Us¸ and how he managed to find all those cosplayers. [Read our original post about these Cosplayers]
Can you recall your “light bulb moment” when you realized you wanted to take photos of cosplayers at home for your series Just the Two of Us?
There have been many small “light bulb moments,” if you want to call them that, which led to the final outcome of the series. Basically, I am always interested in the somehow awkward aspects of society and everyday life, in the things that do not necessarily have something to do with ‘logic of life’ and are therefore very intricate.
Costumes are exactly that, they are not ‘necessary’ to survive, and that’s the cause why a lot of people are really into dressing up, just because it is a step aside the necessities of life.
But back to your question: Carnival is a quite huge thing in Austria, and initially I was planning to just work with members of the countless carnival communities in Austria. But I found out quickly that there are much more traditions linked to costumes and that the carnival costumes, compared with the other traditions’ costumes, are not that elaborate.
Therefore, I broadened the approach and tried to cover as much traditions as possible. The basic principle stays the same: a costume is always a step out of everyday life, an alter ego that enables other ways of behaviour and self-understanding.
The most important “light bulb moment” was when I realized that by staging the costumed persons in their own flats it is possible to combine aspects of the series: the costumed alter ego and (via the style and design of the flat) the ‘civil’ person beyond the costume. From that moment on, the basic concept was finished and I began searching for people who probably wanted to take part in the series.
We’re just curious, how did you go approaching the cosplayers and ask them to participate in your series? Did you go to a convention and randomly ask, or do you have cosplayer friends to begin with?
Finding persons with elaborate costumes has definitely been the most tricky part of the series. As I wanted to cover a wide range of different costume traditions (LARP, Furries, Carnival, Krampus etc.), I had to start from zero with every tradition. Every tradition has different ways of connecting, therefore I had to find a way which was suitable in every particular case.
The Furries/Fursuiters, for example, anthropomorphic animal impersonators, are a phenomenon closely linked to internet culture, they are very active in web forums and chat rooms and it is nearly impossible to get in contact when they are wearing their suits in public, because they strictly separate their civil persons from their alter egos. Therefore, I had to log in to their forums and get in contact with them via private messages.
Contrary, to pick other traditions, the members of the Austrian carnival communities are of older age and therefore are not that internet- affine and I had to go to their parades and meetings to get in contact. The rate of persons who were willing to take part in the project quite sucked, I asked around 5 times more people that finally taking part, and I got a lot of refusals.
Some of them did not want to get photographed, some did not like or understand the concept and some liked the idea but did not want to let me in their flats. But in the end, I managed to find a quite nice array of costumed people who were taking part, and we had great fun making the pictures.
You have a wide range of subjects in your different series, ranging from cosplay costumes, to 19th century gardens, to food spoilage still lives. What’s your creative process when it comes to choosing a subject or a theme for a project?
Although the topics of my series maybe seem quite diverse and the visual outcome is different, I think there is a red line between them all: it’s all about the hidden aspects of everyday life, manifesting in either small elements which are easily overseen, or in closed social groups which live their lives with their own rules, codes and clichés.
It’s some kind of ‘Pichler universe’ my subjects or topics are coming from. Therefore, there is not really a process behind choosing a particular topic, it is more like working on topics I have been planning to work on for a long time, one after the other.
It’s comparable to bubbles rising from muddy waters – one after the other is rising and suddenly comes to the surface – that’s how my creative mind works. Sometimes it is like a little shock when a new topic or concept is hitting me, because it seems so obvious and I am wondering why I had not had the idea much earlier
You’ve said you have a new series you’re working on that will come out late 2014. Can you fill us in on what we can expect?
It sounds bitchy, but, as you say in Austria, ‘a hen does not chat about her unlaid eggs’. I do not really like to talk about unfinished projects, not to make a secret out of it, but simply because of superstition.
In a corner of my mind (which definitely is not the area for logic) I fear that my plans never will work out as desired if I talk about if before everything is finished. Therefore, I am sorry, I won’t tell too much. Except that the new body of work will definitely be polarizing, it will be quite straight forward documentary work, and I am working on the project together with a journalist.
Oh, and it will be released as a book.