Monsters on the Sofa A Photographer's Costume Portraits

Cookie Monster at the kitchen table, a dragon playing the piano: Klaus Pichler likes to photograph people wearing costumes in their homes. In an interview, he talks about the unusual subjects of his work.

Klaus Pichler/ AnzenbergerGallery

By Gesa Mayr

Klaus Pichler has always had an interest in people: What they do, why they do it and especially how they use their spare time. The Vienna-based photographer's latest project, "Just the two of us," focuses on an unusual hobby: the wearing of costumes. As part of the series, he visited dozens of people in their homes, where they dressed in costume and posed for the camera.

It was important for him to depict them in their actual environs and not in some artificial environment. One photograph shows a woman wearing a bear costume on her living room sofa. Another shows a man in medieval a medievan uniform conducting household chores. The subjects of his photography remain anonymous, and only the costume and furnishings betray any details about who the person might be.

SPIEGEL ONLINE sat down for an interview with Pichler about his work.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Pichler, you have photographed a person dressed as Cookie Monster at the kitchen table and men dressed as black knights while ironing. How does one snap the perfect monster still life?

Pichler: People aren't supposed to clean up, but they almost always do. People who get photographed at home tend to clean first. It's a shame though, given that I photograph them anonymously. Only their homes canprovide any clues about the faces behind the masks. Of course, the fact that they have cleaned up also says something about those being photographed.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What kind of person puts him or herself in a dragon costume and sits down in front of a grand piano?

Pichler: People of different ages and from diverse social strata. The medieval costume-wearing people, for example, often tend to be a little older, grown-up men, fathers or carpenters, for example.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So this isn't just about the old cliché of the kinds of people who like fantasy and role-playing games?

Pichler: They're people just like you and me. These aren't the famous nerds. They only represent a very small part. The majority belong to the middle class. You know -- homes, cars and dogs.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did you find the subjects for your photography?

Pichler: The research was the hardest part. I needed almost three years. If someone came up to me and asked if they could take a picture of me in costume at home, I'd think that person was crazy. Many groups have a strong affinity for the Internet and meet in online forums. In some cases, I also went to regular meet-ups and to events where I discussed the idea with people. At times I got the impression people didn't immediately understand what I was I wanted -- I had to explain it to them very precisely.


Pichler: It's a scene that's fighting for its image. Many people are afraid of being made fun of.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But isn't it also a little funny when grown-ups meet to role-play in costumes from the Middle Ages?

Pichler: It is, of course, easy to make fun of it and that means you don't need to think much about it. If you laugh, you are denying yourself. But people who are open to it, and want to find out what's behind it will learn a lot about people's personalities.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: For example?

Pichler: You can extract trends. At the moment you can see influences from a lot of American horror films and orc masks from "Lord of the Rings." It's a mixture of history and pop culture. Cosplayers' costumes are more about Manga characters, furries spend weeks sketching out their costumes and get them expensively tailored. Others have their masks made, at great expense, by traditional mask carvers.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your series is proof that a growing number of people are investing time and money in lavish costumes.

Pichler: Costuming is becoming more important. Overwork, the declining of benefits, the speeding-up of life. People want an alternative world.


Pichler: I would call it more of a switch. They slip into a different identity. In costuming, a lot of personal elements come to the fore.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did you get these people in costumes to show you their more intimate side?

Pichler: I always developed the motifs together with the subjects over coffee. And I'm there when they transform themselves. With every piece they put on, they disappear. When they put on the head of the costume, they have disappeared completely behind it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do people react when they see themselves disguised as a dinosaur next to their geraniums.

Pichler: Many are excited, because, for the most part, they haven't had many photos taken of themselves as their alter egos. These people are proud that their dressing-up is being taken seriously. A lot of people who didn't want to participate in the project at first later contacted me. Soon I'm going to be photographing Batman, who's a drummer in real life.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can you keep a straight face when Batman is sitting at his drum kit?

Pichler: I take these people very seriously. It is very important to me not to make fun of anyone, and that the people and their costumes are shown with respect, even if the photos are often absurd.


Pichler: When I give them stage directions, I always have to yell so they can understand me under their masks. They always answer with a smothered voice, from deep within the costume. It's very absurd.


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