Charles Freger – Wilder Mann (2010) – A Series Exploring Human Fascination with Myth, Ritual and Tradition

Charles Fréger visited 18 European countries in search of the mythological figure of the Wild Man. His strange and beautiful photobook, Wilder Mann: the Image of the Savage, explores human fascination with myth, ritual and tradition.

Charles Fréger was fascinated by what the human race lost over the millenniums when it evolved from hunter-gather to farmer and, eventually, urban dweller. After learning that there were Europeans who continued ancient pagan rites of celebrating the winter solstice and the beginning of spring, he set out to examine what traditions faded as people became more civilized.

In 2010, Mr. Fréger began to photograph the few small farming communities, in mountainous areas, that still follow the customs that for the most part were precursors to Christmas, New Year’s and Easter. He found that many dressed like animals.

“When I saw the costumes and spent time with these people,” he said, “I realized that I have always felt like a bear.”

These traditions come from Neolithic times — from shamanism — and they have never stopped,” said Mr. Fréger, 38. “For a few nights you can behave like a goat, drink a lot and forget about being civilized. You can be a wild animal for three days and then you go back to controlling your wildness.”

About 10,000 years ago, humans began domesticating wild animals for both food and companionship. Over the course of centuries, animal species were bred for traits that made them docile and more useful to their masters. But as humans changed and fenced in animals, they were also domesticating themselves. The skills needed to survive in the wild were different than those needed to succeed in more complex social arrangements.

Mr Fréger was intrigued by the transformations of human being to beast that he witnessed in 18 European countries. They were, he said, celebrations of fertility, life and death and symbolized the complicated relationship between mankind and nature.

His sculptural portraits are featured in the April issue of National Geographic and are collected in his book “Wilder Mann,” published in four languages including an English edition from Dewi Lewis. The work will also be exhibited simultaneously at the Yossi Milo Gallery, from April 11 to May 18, and at the Gallery at Hermès on Madison Avenue.

As strange and exotic as the costumes and traditions might seem, Mr. Fréger said, they felt somewhat natural for him. His father was a farmer, in the center of France, as were his grandfather and great-grandfather. Mr. Fréger grew up milking cows and studied agriculture in college intending to join the family farm.

“I learned to be a farmer before I went to art school,” he said. “I was not so different from the people I photographed.”

He chose photography over raising animals. Though his recent ancestors, as far as he knows, did not wear primitive costumes of wild animals, Mr. Fréger said, he has never felt domesticated.

FRANCE Spring festivals in the Pyrenees feature local men playing the role of bears awakening from hibernation.

FRANCE
Spring festivals in the Pyrenees feature local men playing the role of bears awakening from hibernation.

PORTUGAL During Carnival in Lazarim characters called “caretos” parade through the village in hand-carved masks to a bonfire where effigies known as the comadre and compadre are burned.

PORTUGAL
During Carnival in Lazarim characters called “caretos” parade through the village in hand-carved masks to a bonfire where effigies known as the comadre and compadre are burned.

AUSTRIA Every five years the men of Telfs collect lichen to create Wilder Mann, or Wild Man, costumes for the town’s Carnival festival. Tradition dictates that they nibble on a piece of this lichen before the festivities.

AUSTRIA
Every five years the men of Telfs collect lichen to create Wilder Mann, or Wild Man, costumes for the town’s Carnival festival. Tradition dictates that they nibble on a piece of this lichen before the festivities.

ITALY Schnappviecher (snapping beast) on Shrove Tuesday

ITALY
Schnappviecher (snapping beast) on Shrove Tuesday

CZECH REPUBLIC When jolly St. Nicholas visits the villages of Vysočina, he is joined by someone dressed as Smrt, or Death, whose scythe catches sinners.

CZECH REPUBLIC
When jolly St. Nicholas visits the villages of Vysočina, he is joined by someone dressed as Smrt, or Death, whose scythe catches sinners.

ROMANIA Stag on New Year’s Day

ROMANIA
Stag on New Year’s Day

FRANCE Bear at the Festival of the Bears

FRANCE
Bear at the Festival of the Bears

POLAND Macidulas on New Year’s Day

POLAND
Macidulas on New Year’s Day

SPAIN Zezengorri at Carnival

SPAIN
Zezengorri at Carnival

SWITZERLAND Sauvage at Carnival

SWITZERLAND
Sauvage at Carnival

GERMANY Strohmann at Carnival

GERMANY
Strohmann at Carnival

ITALY Boes on the Eve of St. Anthony

ITALY
Boes on the Eve of St. Anthony

AUSTRIA Krampus on St. Nicholas’s Eve

AUSTRIA
Krampus on St. Nicholas’s Eve

CZECH REPUBLIC In the village of Nedašov, devils join the retinue of St. Nicholas to frighten children into being good.

CZECH REPUBLIC
In the village of Nedašov, devils join the retinue of St. Nicholas to frighten children into being good.

SCOTLAND Thousands of burrs adorn the Burryman. The man who plays the role at the Ferry Fair in Queensferry must collect all the burrs himself. Once dressed, he walks the town, accepting offers of money and whiskey and bestowing good luck.

SCOTLAND
Thousands of burrs adorn the Burryman. The man who plays the role at the Ferry Fair in Queensferry must collect all the burrs himself. Once dressed, he walks the town, accepting offers of money and whiskey and bestowing good luck.

GERMANY On Christmas Eve Pelzmärtle appears in the village of Bad Herrenalb with the Christkind (Baby Jesus) to scold naughty children and rap them with a stick. The straw costume is sewn on to the wearer.

GERMANY
On Christmas Eve Pelzmärtle appears in the village of Bad Herrenalb with the Christkind (Baby Jesus) to scold naughty children and rap them with a stick. The straw costume is sewn on to the wearer.

BULGARIA On New Year’s Day men cover themselves with goatskins to impersonate the Kukeri, who both embody and chase away evil spirits. In the past they’d brush against women to bestow fertility.

BULGARIA
On New Year’s Day men cover themselves with goatskins to impersonate the Kukeri, who both embody and chase away evil spirits. In the past they’d brush against women to bestow fertility.

SPAIN Juantramposo, a mischief-maker, appears on Mardi Gras in Alsasua. The festival ends with all the participants taking part in a celebratory dance.

SPAIN
Juantramposo, a mischief-maker, appears on Mardi Gras in Alsasua. The festival ends with all the participants taking part in a celebratory dance.

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