Photography at Comic Conventions

There’s definitely something mind-blowing about walking past a cat-eyed woman with snow-white hair.

Of course, as human beings surrounded by many doubtful human beings we feel the need to obtain some kind of evidence to prove that we did in fact witness a blonde haired, green clad, pointy-eared elf eat some candy.

The Internet plays at being a double-edged sword for niche communities. On the one hand misinterpretation of anything can lead to swaths of negative reactions and niche cultures are particularly vulnerable to misunderstandings.

However, while it can chop your head off, it can just as easily fire a beam of light into the sky alerting people to the greatness that wields the sword…

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Pardon me my geek-speak got away from me there.

Translation:

Internet + people who don’t have a clue + photo with no caption

= blunt criticism.

Internet + people who don’t have a clue + explanations

= ok now they’re possibly going to refrain from tearing the idea apart.

Game On

Today, for all of you who haven’t guessed yet, I’ll be looking at cosplayers and their photogenic nature.

Cosplaying, by the way, is where people dress up as their favourite characters from comics, manga books, anime, video game or films. The most frequent characters mimicked by cosplayers are those from sic-fi movies and Japanese-style comic books called manga in my experience.

It’s absolutely, fabulously insane how much effort some individuals put into their cosplay costumes, but freaky how some people on the Internet choose to tear those efforts apart.

To The New Players

If you are interested in comic convention culture and want to have fun discovering it I recommend:

a) leaving your prejudice at home and attending a comic convention or

b) if you want to hang back a bit before diving in, I recommend snuggling up on the couch and reading Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova.

Forget the teens. This is a manual for any first time or even frequent convention guest. It’s a really interesting and humorous graphic novel from Tokyopop. Svetlana is amazing at keeping the plot light while also highlighting issues about women’s safety, the prejudice of the public, cosplaying ups and downs and the stress of a graphic artist/author’s lifestyle.

If you do, however decide you want to dwell briefly within the geekdom that is comic conventions read on. I have some words from Cambridge cosplayers about how you can respectfully and artfully document your adventure into the world of the awesomely bizarre.

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Or familiar in this case.

 A Word From Some Veterans

Sidling up to the woman in a red dress at a cosplaying event running up to the Cambridge Comic Convention (CamCon) I immediately noted and categorized the symbol on her shirt.

I was definitely standing beside a Star Trek Engineer mimicking Montgomery Scott.

“It’s good fun,” said Alex Kyek, a first time cosplayer, moments later.

Attending a comic convention was on her bucket list so she’s excited to be going to CamCon, if a touch nervous about showing off her home-made costume (made simply, but rather ingeniously out of t-shirts I might add).

“Be nice when you critique. It can hurt considering how much work people put into the costumes,” she said when I asked for advice for new convention attendees.

Despite being a freshie cosplayer she has some tips for potential photographers too.

“If you try to sneak a picture it can be a bit awkward. It’s all about asking politely,” she said with a bright smile.

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The next man would put the problem of rogue photos into perspective rather eloquently.

“The costume isn’t all of it. How you hold yourself is part of the performance,” said Andrew Watton-Davies, a member of the committee which organized the CamCon event.

“If you have Princess Leia picking her nose that’s not right.”

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The judges from the later CamCon Masquerade event where cosplayers showed off their costumes to the audience.

Some younger folk attending the event told me they don’t mind people taking pictures of them—they would just prefer relaying permission first.

“It’s better to be asked because sometimes people take the picture the wrong way,” said one twelve-year-old named Malissa.

“As long as someone doesn’t use it for something dodgy,” said another twelve-year-old named Rose.

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Can you differentiate the cosplayer from the girl dressed in Lolita? What about the girl in traditional clothes and the one who’s just dressed up for fun?

Aside from sketchy individuals taking awkward photos of schoolgirl characters and superhero women’s bottoms, another issue—though rare—is potential legal problems from the exposure of someone’s identity. Some individuals simply cannot have their images displayed online—such as adopted children.

One girl, dressed as Sebastian from the anime series Black Butler, said she couldn’t show her face or name online until she’s 18 years old.

“They’ll [people who ask for a photo] will get consent for photos, but not consent for showing them online,” she said of those who ask to take her photo.

Dodging photos can be a real problem for the young woman. Naturally it should not be her job to censure her presence from the Internet. She’d have to be a hermit to do that.

The responsibility is on all of us to respect her privacy. As she said, people can take away a souvenir or inspiration photo if they want, but the image should never enter the realm of the Internet. Scrapbook it, frame it, toss it in a pile of photos under your bed, just don’t post it online if you’re asked not to.

Besides, there are plenty of other dashing individuals willing to let their images flood the Internet.

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The next fellow I was drawn to turned out to be an accidental cosplayer. Attending the pre-CamCon event in an Australian cowboy hat and rain trench coat Thomas Pennington was shocked to find people comparing him to Indiana Jones and Captain Reynolds from the sci-fi television series Firefly.

“It’s nice people recognizing me as someone else,” said the 26-year-old. I saw him later at the CamCon event itself sporting the same outfit.

He doesn’t mind photos, in fact he said he welcomes them since he considers them free advertisement for the upcoming event.

“You might have a trender!” he told me grinning broadly under his wide-brim cowboy hat.

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As the conversation began to wind down I spotted a white uniform in the distance over Pennington’s shoulder. The black lines angling down the suit struck a cord in my memories. Shuffling through my selection of anime and manga titles, I tossed the improbable names out of the way before hovering over a pile of memories related to this outfit.

Vampires. Students. Night class. Day class. Love triangle. Committee. Gun. Staff.

Damn what was the name…

Tiptoeing closer to the flashy vampire it suddenly struck me. Vampire Knight. He was a character from Vampire Knight.

I’d tossed the series to the back of my mind because of its rather… odd story plot twist (I won’t give it away. Either Wiki it or read the series).

So what did this Vampire Knight fan think about strangers snapping secret pictures?

He found it amusing.

“Quite often I’ll be walking somewhere and they’ll follow me with the camera, which invariably doesn’t work,” said Kyle Banks.

I couldn’t help but picture elements of scenes from the series merging into real life. An indifferent vampire stood before me, quietly chuckling as shy men and women gawked from the sidelines.

Finishing my conversation with this composed figure clad in white, I set my target on a more brazen fellow.

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Technically for some cosplayers it’s taboo to ask them to “fight” or pose with characters from other series, but I just asked these two to pose as they wished and they jokingly shuffled into this position.

His costume and character choice seemed to reflect his personality, though I’m not terribly familiar with Naruto so I shouldn’t say much.

Bearing a burning orange coat, trimmed with black flames he gave me a toothy grin as I approached and kept it as we slipped into discussion.

His experience as a cosplayer became evident when he said: “At MCM (a massive comic convention in London) one person would ask to take a picture and 50 others would join because they didn’t dare ask.”

It made sense. It took a lot of confidence to wander about in a costume most other people wouldn’t be able to link. The costume coupled with an individual cheerfully bringing it alive would intimidate a lot of people.

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 If you don’t know what this awesome lady’s costume is about, click here and immediately regret it because the song is annoyingly catchy.

 So What Should You Do As A Photographer?

Three tips:

  • If you are the highest level of shy and you can’t bring yourself to ask cosplayers for a photo then attend the local masquerade parade (where the photos of people on stage above come from).Cosplayers happy to show off their costumes often choose to compete in this contest for best costume. In an event mimicking fashion runways they share their best under the spotlights and willingly pose for the cameras!
  • Out in the convention halls strike up a conversation with your target. The person before you dressed up as their character because they love him/her/it and if you recognize the character and like the series too there will be much to talk about! Simply identifying the character’s series is enough to start talking!
  • If you have no idea which character the person is, but you think they are really, really, really, really cool. Just tell them that. The first smile is often enough to shatter any pre-misconceptions you might have about aloof cosplayers.Then ask to take their picture. Nicely.

Easy stuff and it’s fun for everyone!

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