“THERE IS NOT A BIG DIFFERENCE TO WHEN SOMEONE HAS A MASK ON, TO WHEN SOMEONE CLOSES THEIR EYES, TURNS THEIR HEAD AWAY OR HAS THEIR HEAD CHOPPED OFF. IT TOOK ME 30 YEARS TO REALISE THIS.”
What is immediately apparent about Axel’s work is the strangeness of his portraits; “The portfolio I worked on to get accepted at school had hardly any people in there. I think there were only two portraits and their heads were cropped and shot from the back.” Fast forward twenty years and Axel is now capturing the faces (or part of the faces) of the likes of Kristen McMenamy to Sinead O’Connor, creating images that recognisably draw parallels with the distorted figures from his earliest work. For the non-seasonal fashion publication Archivist Editions, Axel was given full rein of the Hussein Chalayan archive. The series of images show Kristen McMenamy in a pillar-box red sculptural dress, her face sliced down the middle by a shard fabric, obscuring her right eye. But what about those startling carnival goers, where do they come in? “You can see it with Dusk and my previous book, there is not a big difference to when someone has a mask on, to when someone closes their eyes, turns their head away or has their head chopped off. It took me 30 years to realise this.”
Obscuring or concealing parts of the figure is more seriously explored in Axel’s two books, ‘Once a Year’ and ‘Dusk’, both of which document carnival goers. Coming from Staufen, a farm town in rural Germany, one might think that Axel would have been exposed to European carnival activity, and it’s true, he was indeed, but apparently not the right one. “I grew up with carnival, but I never thought it was exciting, because in the village where I come from the masks are completely boring and uninteresting,” he tells me, meaning no offense to Staufen. It wasn’t until Axel really started delving into the carnival underworld that he found a whole realm of mystifying costumes and creatures.