WILDER MANN: Europe, Gone Feral

The wild manifestations of your childhood explorations into that dark, mystical forest are real, and they’re simultaneously horrifying and titillating in a way you can’t quite explain. At least, that’s what came to mind when I first saw Charles Fréger’s photography of the traditional cast of characters at pagan celebrations across Europe.

His series Wilder Mann is at once unnerving, playful, intimidating, and intriguing. You want more. You need more. The characters are faceless, the form is everything. The colors are wild, the craftsmanship precise and imprecise – intricately carved masks and carefully woven shirts contrast with a dress that is made of your Romanian grandmother’s best throw rug.  

© Charles Fréger

What are you seeing, exactly? The culmination of two years of traveling through 19 European countries, sitting around fires, drinking ales, celebrating solstices, and doing whatever it is pagans do – at least, I imagine that’s how Fréger spent his time (the first part is true).

The characters Fréger photographed represent many different animals, plants, and other folklore important to European pagans, such as Krampus, the punishing foil to jolly St. Nicholas. Many times he encountered the same costumes countries apart, in rural areas with no knowledge of each other’s traditions.

© Charles Fréger

The photographs are incredibly alluring, but underneath, there lies some ambiguous, veiled threat. A carryover from pagan traditions, dismissable as it stands, or something else entirely, some odd uncomfortableness to be found with a tradition so old and connected to the earth that, in our modernity, we can only feel taken aback? Who can say? It’s a revel and a sacrifice, a joyful dance and a coordinated attack – or so it may seem, to us, so far removed.

© Charles Fréger

In reality, the pagans were almost always celebrating - the costumes are an expression of lightheartedness and respect, the festival no doubt to mark a positive occasion.

Step away from the enclave of comfort for a moment. Listen carefully as you glance through Fréger’s series.

Wilderness is calling – the only question is whether or not the call will be answered.

Want more? Enter, pagans, and feast.   

Kathryn Flowers joins Elephant Gun to write about photography in all possible ways - photoessays, interviews with photographers and curators, tips, tidbits, and interesting ephemera from all corners, as long as it has something to do with that ever-changing construct, "the image." Flowers is a writer, artist, innovator, educator, conservationist, policy professional, adventurer, distance runner, advocate, and entertainer. She has a passion for the odd and exceptional.