We had originally only planned on attending Katsucon on Friday and Saturday. But we heard that some of our friends were doing historical mashup cosplays which are right up our alley to photograph, so we decided to stop by during the morning to meet up with them. I am very glad we did, because we got to see some more excellent cosplays and take several cool photos.Having our morning caffeine before starting our shoots. Continue reading
I am sorry that my blogging has been so inconsistent lately. It is hard to stay motivated on event recaps during the current situation. The bright side, I guess (?), is that I have not fallen any farther behind on recaps, since we have not been to an event since early March.
Anyway, I last left off at Katsucon, which took place back in February. This being our first time there, we were excited to get in and start taking photos of cosplayers. But, as with most cons beyond a certain size, we first had to navigate the long entrance line. Katsucon has switched to a policy of not allowing anyone in the building without a badge. This meant that we had to walk a pretty long way around the convention center to join the line for registration. They also do not mail badges, so having pre-ordered tickets did not make things go any faster. Ah well, it turned out okay. I think we waited for about an hour.
As I mentioned in my last post, Mike and I cosplayed as Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane on Friday of Katsucon. We wanted to do costumes, but we did not have time to make anything elaborate, and we did not want to wear something that would be cumbersome while photographing people. These costumes fit the bill nicely. Plus, we thought it would be cute to cosplay as reporters covering the Met Gala that Friday.
Mike based his costume on the design by Steve Lieber in the current Jimmy Olsen series.
I decided to use art by Jim Lee from Hush as my reference for Lois.
Believe it or not, Mike and I had never been to Katsucon until this year. It is held only about half an hour away from where we live, but somehow the timing never worked out for us to attend. However, when we heard that Cowbutt Cruchies Cosplay and Jedimanda were hosting an event called the Cosplay Met Gala at Katsucon 2020, focused on showcasing designer takes on pop culture characters, we knew we had to see that.
The event was organized as a meetup and runway walk on Friday afternoon. Mike and I were there primarily as photographers (though we did a casual cosplay as Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen–reporters covering the gala!). Before the con, cosplayers had the chance to submit their designs, some of which were then chosen to have featured runway walks. Others that were not chosen were still welcome to come pose in groups for photos before the walk.
I have been thinking a lot about the state of our historical costuming and cosplay communities lately. Specifically, I have been pondering the extent of racism and other forms of bigotry and discrimination. These thoughts were brought forth in part by my friends Christine and Samantha writing, late last year and early this year, about the racism they have experienced as historical costumers of Asian descent. As an Asian American costumer and cosplayer myself, I could relate to a lot of what they were saying. Then the whole Asian American community was thrown into turmoil over racism and attacks stemming from the coronavirus. In addition to being worried about getting sick, I was (and still am) scared of being harassed in public as some sort of foreign disease carrier only because my family was, multiple generations ago, from China. And then came the horrific murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests against police brutality and against the systemic racism that Black Americans face every day.
Cosplay and historical costuming are meant to be hobbies that allow us to be someone other than who we are in our non-costuming lives. By their nature, they should be inclusive and have no prerequisites in terms of a person’s appearance or background. They allow us to express our love for a character or for a period of fashion. However, that ideal is not equally available to everyone. The US power structure and the media that reflects it is very white, and largely Christian and straight. That fact permeates everything, including our hobbies. If you were to form an image in your head of a canonical historical costumer, chances are it would be a white woman. And that default creates conscious or unconscious biases, even for well-meaning cosplayers and costumers.
People who do not fit the standard mold are made to feel lesser, or are singled out as exotic, or or are just plain ignored. Several times at historical costuming events, I have had someone come up and start talking to me as if they had met me before or knew who I was, when I had not met them before. At some point in these conversations, it became clear to me that I had been mistaken for another Asian costumer. And I would wonder, “do we really all look alike to you?” Many other cosplayers and historical costumers have reported similar things happening, if not much, much worse. As a result of experiences like these, many people are discouraged from participating in cosplay or historical costuming, which then perpetuates a lack of diversity going forward. And the cycle continues.
The question becomes, how can we stop this cycle? First, we must each consider whether we have biases that have caused us to act unwelcoming, or worse, bigoted. Some of these things may be unintentional, but still hurtful to others. Identifying these behaviors and making a conscious effort to change them is important. Second, we should increase the visibility of costumers and cosplayers that do not fit the standard mold. For people with large online followings, that means sharing other people’s work and collaborating with diverse creators. For cosplay photographers, that means working with models that are, to put it frankly, not only thin white women. Seeing a portfolio that only features that type of model is discouraging to cosplayers that look different from that, and makes them way less likely to hire or collaborate with you for shoots. I have definitely been turned off from some photographers when I see the lack of diversity on their Instagram feeds. For all members of the community, that means considering ways to foster diversity when doing things like organizing events, attending an event, or interacting online. Reach out and encourage new costumers who are different from you. You already share an interest in common, so that is a great place to start.
Remember, this process is a marathon, not a sprint. Every February, when 28 Days of Black Cosplay (or 29 Days of Black Cosplay for leap years) comes around, I have seen people worry that the shows of support are fleeting or just bandwagon participation for attention. To be blunt, when Black cosplayers see that others only post about them once a year, that behavior comes off as fake or crass. Other times POC costumers are disappointed when the only other people interacting with awareness campaigns are themselves POC. That does not widen the reach of the community. In February and May of this year, I did a series sharing Instagram accounts of Black historical costumers and Asian historical costumers, respectively. I was saddened to see that the vast majority of people engaging and sharing those posts at that time were other POC. It was not until this past couple weeks that I saw major support from white members of our community, sharing my posts and linking directly to POC and LGBTQ accounts. I fervently hope that current momentum will continue. Because if it does not, that is doubly discouraging to those who feel like they were taken advantage of for a fad.
When I first heard about 28 Days of Black Cosplay several years ago, it made me stop and consider what photos I was posting, particularly as a photographer. I saw that Mike and I were photographing some POC models besides me, but also that our work could still be more diverse. Since then, we have made a concerted effort to do better, both in terms of who we work with for pre-arranged photo shoots and who we photograph in hall shots. But we can still improve. Now, each year at the beginning of 28 Days of Black Cosplay, I use that time as an opportunity to take stock of whether we are maintaining our commitment to diversity, in terms of engaging with Black costumers, other POC, and other people from diverse backgrounds. It is a reminder to me that these issues are ones I need to think about year round.
As part of our weekend trip to Colonial Williamsburg last February (which I blogged about in my previous post), I organized a stroll/photo shoot in the Historic Area on Saturday afternoon. Mike and I have hosted these before, but never with this many people at once. I expected fifteen to twenty people, but we ended up having over thirty!
I went with a pretty simple route: start at the Governor’s Palace, walk towards Duke of Gloucester Street, turn down to the Tailor’s Shop, and then head back up DoG Street. Based on past shoots we have done, I already knew several places we could stop along the way for photos. I also knew that if we had harsh winter sun, we could stick to one side of the street and stay in the shade of buildings (although this turned out not to be that big an issue, as it was slightly overcast that day).
The weather was cooperative: clear and not too cold. I am always worried about rain when we do these meetups, but luck was with us that weekend.
We had two photographers come: Mike and Nick. They both were troopers dealing with thirty-plus costumers. Normally I aim for at most 3 to 5 costumers per photographer, and this was way past that. They both tried to get shots of as many people as possible. I ended up supplementing them by shooting photos too when I was not directing traffic.
In early February, Mike, Maggie, and I organized a weekend trip to Colonial Williamsburg to coincide with their “Fashion Days” event and the Mini-Market hosted by Burnley and Trowbridge, Redthreaded, and Dames a la Mode. Maggie had never been to Colonial Williamsburg for a costuming event, and I thought it was time to change that. Maggie brought her husband Doug and daughter Elena along, and it was a great opportunity to spend more time with them too.
For the January D.C. Cosplay Photo Shoots meetup at Blue Valley Vineyard, I decided to wear my 1780s maroon round gown. It is one of my favorite dresses that I have made, but I had not worn it out to an event in a while.
I accessorized with a silk cap from Fashions Revisited, a black beaded necklace that I made (a similar one is available in my Etsy shop), a vintage brooch that used to belong to Mike’s grandmother, and shoes from American Duchess.
There were a lot of photographers relative to cosplayers at the event, which meant I worked with a somewhat larger number of people than normal. I was super impressed with all of the beautiful photos people produced.
I started out working with Alicyn. She took advantage of the soft light available in the main room of the vineyard building.
Mike and I were excited to be able to attend the January D.C. Cosplay Photo Shoots meetup at Blue Valley Vineyard. It is a pretty winery in northern Virginia with a number of different places inside and outside to shoot.
It was a blustery, cold winter day, so Mike opted to stay inside and shoot with a speedlight. I went as a cosplayer. I will share his photos of other cosplayers in this post, and follow up with pictures of me in the next post. There were a lot of photographers relative to cosplayers that day, so Mike only ended up working with four people, including me.
Here is a group shot by Tony Kazmierski.
The first person Mike worked with was Sierra in her Flapper Jasmine costume. She had some lovely details on her cosplay that worked well with grey and blue tones.