Mothmeister: The Dark World of Postmortem Fairy Tale Photography

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Each of their pieces is completely unique and has its own personality, back story, and theme. An incredible amount of effort goes into the creation of each character, their outfit, mask, and pet. When you combine this with the breathtakingly stark shooting locations in each photograph it adds a whole new level of depth and meaning. The duo then creates a story behind each picture, tying them into themed collections that transport the viewer to a dark surreal reality, half in this world and half in a fantasy world.

In our current cultural landscape death is considered a taboo or morbid topic of discussion, something to be avoided or only discussed when it has to. Mothmeister‘s work ignores these cultural norms and approaches death as a thing of beauty, or at the very least as something that can be perceived in a beautiful way. By adding in fairy tale elements, it shifts things in a fantastical direction, one where death is no longer bleak but rather it becomes intriguing and exciting. When one looks at death objectively, they realise that it is one thing that truly unites all of us in the human experience. This is made very clear through the duo’s work as this common theme strings together vastly different settings, cultures and entirely different worlds of lore and mythology.

While I could try to tell you more about their work, I feel that the artists would be able to do a far better job explaining it themselves. I took a chance and reached out to Mothmeister to see if they would be interested in answering a few questions. Not only were they interested but their willingness to contribute and the depth of detail in their answers was truly humbling and insipiring.

Below I present my interview with the incredibly talented Mothmeister with photos throughout and more at the end of the piece:

When did you start Mothmeister?

After slumbering like a dormant volcano for many years, Mothmeister came to life in 2014. If we remember well that is. Cause our grey matter probably looks more like lumpy potato mash due to the significant lack of oxygen. That’s the downside of wearing masks for years, we guess.

What inspired the name Mothmeister?

As our characters are morphing non-stop we wanted our alter ego to embody this endless metamorphosis. When it comes to animals, moths undergo drastic changes throughout their life-cycle so we thought that would fit our creative dna like a glove. Moths are also the unloved night version of butterflies.

We’ve always been fascinated by folklore and urban myths. Stories like the Mothman certainly inspired us and partly gave Mothmeister its name. We love these kind of half human, half animal creatures. They’ve been around since the beginning of times. It is quite striking that the Mothman is seen all around the world, just before a major disaster strikes, like he’s some kind of messenger or omen.

We decided to give it a little twist by adding ‘Meister’. Because we’ve also been inspired by the german fairy tales stories (which were originally quite dark and had no happy ‘Disney’ endings) of the Grimm Brothers. Mothmeister just feels and sounds great. And as the German word ‘Meister’ means ‘master’ we’re the master of moths. Masters of the metamorphosis, so to say.

How many members are involved with the project in one form or another?
Is it solely just the two of you?

Basically Mothmeister is a two-headed alter ego. We do everything ourselves: styling, modelling and shooting. On top of that we praise ourselves lucky to be inspired by a truly exciting range of artists from all over the world that are happy to collaborate with us. Costume designers, masks sculptors, taxidermists, headpiece designers, music bands, you name it. Their magic is like oxygen to a fire.

How did you get into the world of photography and design?

Since our childhood we’ve always been the creative kind: drawing, writing, fooling around. As late teens we did art school. That’s where we bumped into eachother. From day one we felt like a conjoined twin with one head sharing the same ideas. At art school photography became our favourite modus operandi.

What were your primary sources of inspiration for your unique aesthetic? What inspired the fusion of post-mortem photography, taxidermy and fairytales in particular?

We guess it all started with our childhood dreams and the dark fairytales that we were told as kids. Many years ago we started collecting taxidermy, costumes, masks and other curiosa. The universe of Mothmeister turned out to be the perfect fictional realm where all these things from the past came together in a rather spontaneous way. Even though all our characters look different, they all belong to this same quirky and distorted family. They all flirt with the darker and macaber things in life.

At times several of your works have felt like they have almost a religious or at the very least ritualistic undertone/aesthetic to them, what is the inspiration there?

Even though we are both die hard atheists we do think religion is an interesting universe to plunge into. There are a lot of legendary and iconic codes and imagery to play around with. It’s larger than life, regardless the culture. Religion celebrates many themes that fascinate and inspire us.

How do/did you decide on locations and themes for your work?

The themes, well, they just happen. We do put tons of energy in location hunting. For us, the setting is a character which tells a story on its own. We are always attracted to desolate and often scarred landscapes, that bare traces of manmade or natural disasters. It’s often the spirit of a place that ‘talks’ to us. One scorched dead tree, one crack in a bleak bone-dry dessert or one spot with purple heath can add so much drama. Just like the weather gods, no matter how violent they can behave. Can’t imagine a more beautiful backdrop than a heavy clouded stormy sky.The weather plays a narrative role. As well as the setting.

What does the creative process look like for the two of you?

We have a weak spot for curiosities. Our wunderkammer-like collection is a result of hoarding for many years. We live in our own muse. Our Post-Mortem Fairy Tales are stories that are told by our guts. We create in a very associative way.

When the weather feels right – gloomy or cloudy that is – we head out to our location. As our backdrops are often to be found in vast nature reserves, it takes a while to get where we actually want to be. We are always packed like an obese donkey with stuff all over the place. We always shoot with natural light and battle the atmospheric conditions.

Apart from color editing there’s no photoshopping. No retouches. It is what it is.

Do you feel a connection or a sense of relatability to the characters you create?

We do feel connected to both the character and animal. The characters as such mirror our psyche. They will never face the camera. But rather look humble. Introvert. Not showing off. But in their own inner world or bubble so to say. They might look ugly, evil or grotesque, but they hide a lot of emotion.

Hiding behind a mask is like our comfort zone. You could either consider masks as ‘dead’ objects to hide what’s behind, or you could see masks as a living expression of the inner human. Sometimes a mask can express better the feelings within then the actual pokerface some people wear their whole life.

Masks give you this carte blanche to be whoever you like. No matter how you feel inside. Masks can give you power. They express or even magnify one identity while hiding the real one which is pretty interesting. We always love to play with this juxtaposition.

But we also feel strongly connected with the animal. Our characters will always look after their animal. There’s this comforting relation towards to their precious pet.

Do you have a favourite theme, piece or location that you’ve worked on or do you love each one equally?

Every shot comes with a story. A place. A smell. For us of course that’s more intense than just the picture on its own. But as you might have noticed, we do have a weak spot for the Victorian era.

People were not only obsessed with death, they also had intriguing costumes, fascinating funeral rituals and the whimsical taxidermist Walter Potter created hauntingly beautiful diorama’s at that time. It was a conservative society, because they had quite strict moral and sexual standards. But at the same time they had double standards: there were obscene theaters, prostitution, … It’s the era of serial killer Jack the Ripper, Alice In Wonderland, ghosts, gothic horror tales (DR Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Oscar Wilde) and dark romanticism. Interesting period to say the least.

We are also hooked on Iceland. We love to shoot there, but it’s always a battle against mother nature, who always seems to be in a frenzy over there. We adore the uncomfortable scenery, the vast glaciers and volcanoes, the black lava beaches. The unpredictable weather gods. The remoteness. The dangers that lurk behind every corner.

We’ve escaped a few terrifying moments on the road, driving through blinding blizzard whiteouts, into the eerie void or being blasted off the road by hurricane force winds that made waterfalls even go upwards. We once did a shoot at Reynisfjara, the black lava beach on the South Coast of Iceland during another storm. We were sandblasted, could barely stand up straight in the torturing wind and it was freezing cold. And then suddenly out of nowhere came this killer wave… that sucked our camera gear into the ice cold ocean. We barely managed to escape. Our memory lane is a dangerous road.

What has the general reception to your work been like, both from industry critics and the general public?

We evoke mixed emotions, which is a good thing. Regardless whether it’s love or hate. That as such is not of any importance. Art should stir emotions. Period. And in our case makes most people uncomfortable because they can’t make sense of it, which is a helluva compliment. We don’t want people to understand what we do. We just throw it out there they way it errupted from our boiling belly. There’s no manual to go with it. No title. It’s open for interpretation.

We do have quite an extensive fanbase. But haters as well. People thinking we kill animals for art which is bullshit. We just collect taxidermy. If you can’t cope with that, that’s fine. We do get death treats as well. But thank heavens there are also people out there that pray for us, hoping Satan will leave the house. 🙂

You have several incredible works and publications under your belt, but I would like to talk specifically about Dark and Dystopian Post-Mortem Fairy Tales (which I’m lucky enough to own a copy of). Tell me a little bit about what inspired this particular collection of works.

‘Dark and Dystopian Post-Mortem Fairy Tales’ is our second brainchild that had been simmering for a couple of years. And flirts with the more morbid part of our alter ego. We both have this natural and slightly untameable curiosity for death in common that draws us to the darker side of life. Hence why we love the Victorian era and this incredibly fascinating Victorian obsession with death. That’s something that has always been there. Our characters spontaneously became darker, more intense and intruiging. And therefore evoke a wide range of emotions.

For our second book we were inspired by the Palermo Crypt mummies and the ‘adorned saints’, human remains of so-called saints that were dressed up and decorated with jewels to be exposed as relics in Catholic churches during a specific time period.

But we are also die-hard thanatourists. Exploring places that are associated with death (cemeteries, cryptes), tragedy (war memorials, abandoned prisons, hospitals, etc.) or disasters (Chernobyl, Aral Sea) is very intoxicating. It triggers a bunch of things: our adrenaline rush, our lust for life, and last but not least, our inspiration. The masks we work with often are ghastly, grotesque and macabre. We love death masks, skulls and frantic sad clowns. We carefully pick the artists we work with. They share the same dark interest. In that sense, the masks reflect our inner side. Of course, taxidermy is also a way of portraying and celebrating death.

Order the book HERE

I know that you’ve also branched into other mediums on several occasions, but I want to ask about a specific partnership of yours. I’m aware that you’ve formed a working relationship with Zach Wager and his band Dead Animal Assembly Plant. How did that partnership come to be and what have the two of you been collaborating on?

Actually we ‘met’ through Instagram. Just came across eachothers’ feed. One day, Zach reached out to us. It took one nanosecond to know we were on the same wavelength.

The badass vibe and looks of Dead Animal Assembly Plant is second to none. Zach proposed to create soundscapes based on our universe back in 2017. Over the past years DAAP created dozens of tracks for both our first and second book. And they nailed every single one.

There are many underlying layers in each track that refer to pictures/places in our book. E.G: From the actual evacuation message from Chernobyl to the letter that cannibal Albert Fish wrote to the mother of one of his victims Grace Budd. DAAP did a stellar job.

It’s so fucking rare to come across people you never met and immediately feel as if you knew them for ages. We actually never met until our first show in House of Wax in New York. Zach and Eric Zero Bergen (also member of DAAP) flew in from LA/Portland to perform live soundscapes during the opening night of our show. Epic. Still today we are amazed and truly grateful for what they did. A couple of years later they performed live again for a show we did in LA. Then we joined them on Wasteland Weekend. And did album artwork for their album ‘Bring Out The Dead’.

We owe and love them tons. They mean the world to us.

Check out Dead Animal Assembly Plant:

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