These days we call it cosplay, but whether it was parents embracing Krampus to punish children during Yule or trick-or-treaters donning masks to score candy on Halloween, people from different cultures have long found an excuse to dress up in a way that would be absurd in any other context.
Photographer Klaus Pichler finds the cross-cultural phenomenon fascinating, which is why he’s spent the last two years tracking down costumed enthusiasts in his series Just the Two of Us–that’s cosplayers, LARPers, Krampusers, and even furries who he’s asked permission to photograph, dressed to the nines, in their domestic dwellings.
“Almost every costume is meant to take part in an action, be it a game, a parade, a duel or anything else,” Pichler tells Co.Design. “If you take the action and surroundings off every costume and depict them in relatively calm poses in their apartments, the whole thing gets an absurd touch. I loved playing with this idea.” Put another way: a hooded warlock running an iron is hilarious no matter how open-minded you may be.
But that doesn’t mean Pichler looks down on his subjects. Rather, he wants to create an earnest portrait of his subject, using the environment as a means to unmask a masked character.
“For me, the crucial question when working with costumed people is: who is the person beyond the costume?” Pichler says. “The design of the apartment is a highly personal decision and reveals a lot of information about the person who is living there, so taking portraits of them at home was the perfect opportunity to unite both entities on one pictures: the costume itself and the person beyond (via his or her dwelling).
“To be able to plan the picture, I always try to sense the costumed person as their costume itself, so I always have the feeling that I’m working/talking with an actual knight, stormtrooper, or teddy bear. This is quite absurd, especially, when that knight, stormtrooper, or teddy bear responds with a human voice.”
It’s a funny idea, that Pichler can actually convince himself that his subject is a giant teddy bear for the length of a shoot. One moment, he’s having coffee in someone’s kitchen, making small talk. The next moment, they return in their fully garbed alter ego. Where did that perfectly typical person disappear to? He’ll have to look through his finished photos to find them again.