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BOOKS IN THE MEDIA

CHLOE FOUSSIANES | DATE 7/31/2015

Axel Hoedt

“In this strange place, one can get quite close to being faceless. One has many masks that one changes according to rules unknown to me. Quite a few of the masks are repeated. I sometimes can’t tell if I’m the only one who is denied the sight of the faces. Are there faces? Are there faceless people? Or could it simply be that, even if faceless, one would still have that missing, absent, expected face?”

Axel Hoedt
"Fledermaus," Sigmaringen, from "Once a Year."

For her opening essay in Axel Hoedt’s photobook, Once a Year, German writer Heike Geissler illustrates a maybe-imaginary world into which she often drifts. In the subsequent pages—image after image of masked and veiled subjects—Geissler’s strange, faceless world feels far less distant.

Axel Hoedt
"Storch," Endingen, from "Once a Year."

Once a Year compiles Hoedt’s photographs of costumes in an annual folk carnival. Located in southwestern Germany, the Swabian-Alemannic carnival (called the Fasnacht) dates back to the Middle Ages. Where Once a Year leaves off, its sort-of-sequel Dusk takes over; Dusk follows the carnival beyond Germany, to Austria and Switzerland. Both volumes contain a mixture of studio portraits, candid shots, and atmospheric snowscapes. Together, the pair delivers an aesthetic both stoic and alluring.

Axel Hoedt
"Altnarr/Jokili," Endingen, from "Once a Year."

The Fasnacht costumes themselves are both elaborate and unfamiliar, at least for an American audience. Aesthetically, they lie somewhere between artist Nick Cave's Soundsuits and traditional Japanese Noh costumes. While characters vary from a traditional jester to an abstract animal, the wearer’s face is always covered—and almost always by a mask. By replacing the wearer’s eyes with paint or leaving shadowed holes in their place, these masks forbid eye contact with the camera. The masked figures seem to flicker between human and inhuman; for all we know, there may be nothing at all behind those painted pupils.

Axel Hoedt
"Butz," Grosselfingen, from "Dusk."

Hoedt photographs his subjects in isolation: either against a studio background or in a bleak, indeterminate European village. The carnival players are removed from the joyous atmosphere they were built to inhabit. The result is an elegant—if haunting—picture of ancient European custom in our contemporary world.

Axel Hoedt
"Schlappmaul," Weisbach, from "Dusk."
Axel Hoedt
Axel Hoedt
Axel Hoedt

Axel Hoedt: Dusk

Axel Hoedt: Dusk

Steidl
Hbk, 7 x 8.75 in. / 96 pgs / illustrated throughout.