For some maskers it’s very important to look as realistic as possible, whereas others prefer a more bizarre, doll-like appearance. For example, transgender woman Katrina loves to go out on the streets as a “rubber doll” to show people that there is something other than what they know.
For the minority of cisgender women who take part in the scene, it’s an opportunity to slip into another role and is very rooted in the artistic motivation to create an alter ego. As one female masker told me, it enables her to simply let go.
The realization of this project was interesting in its breadth. I’ve been in contact with maskers from all backgrounds and ages, those in their 20s up to 60s. For the majority, what brought them to female masking was rooted in their childhood. Many live quite manly lives. Some are married, some single, some are supported by their partners and others have to keep their second lives secret. Hobbies and occupations range from engineers or IT specialists to metal band players or mountain tour guides.
C: What draws you to photograph counter-cultural movements or groups who exist on the fringes of society?
CK: I’m fascinated by my subjects because they do not adhere to the norm. It is eye-opening and refreshing to discover these facets of human nature, showing how versatile and beautiful life is. Even though I do not associate myself directly with their lifestyles, I relate to them in a way because of their pursuit of something different or their extraordinary characters.
I usually come across my subjects naturally. Especially living in a new country, you become sensitive to what is going on around you, and I think I have a good feel for unconventional lifestyles and interesting personalities. Ultimately, it comes down to my curiosity about life and what drives different people. I want to learn more about these realms, especially subjects with social stigma attached to them. I’m interested in unveiling what lies behind the often-repeated stereotypes society imposes.
C: What do you want to accomplish with your projects?
CK: My aim is to show the humanity in my protagonists’ lives while conveying feelings and emotions, with the intent of helping people relate to them. If my work makes people think or acquire new insights, I’ve accomplished my goal. Even if my photos cause ambiguous or negative reactions, I can appreciate that they still have an affect. I’m not looking to dictate what people think, but I do like to show a side of things that is different than what one might be used to.
C: How did you discover the masking community, and why did you decide to focus on photographing us?
CK: I came across female masking by chance about five years ago, when I saw a female masker walking in Germany. I later learned about the female masking scene and wanted to document it. The scene exists all over the world, yet is still unknown and hidden.
“It was important for me to capture the maskers
in their personal environment in order
to convey the contrast between their regular
lives and their alter egos.”
— Corinna Kern
C: What was it like photographing female maskers? How did you reach out to them? Were they comfortable being photographed right away or did they have to ease into it?
CK: I established first connections via social media and other online platforms where the scene is very connected. Their responses to my project were different: some were open-minded and ready to participate, and with others I first had to build trust. I think many maskers have the urge to reveal more of their alter ego but fear how they are perceived or judged. Others turned me down because they had been portrayed badly in television reports before and were concerned they would be misrepresented again.
The maskers I ended up meeting in person felt comfortable being photographed, and I think that has a lot to do with my approach. I’m genuinely interested in showing the humanity in their choices and in challenging preconceived notions.
Once my subject wore the mask, it felt like there was a different person in front of me. Then, of course, going out in public with them and observing people’s reactions and their interactions was really intriguing and a delightful experience. They received a lot of positive reactions and compliments, which surprised me.