The promise of escape and transformation is an essential element of glamour and the subject of chapter three of my book. The connection between glamour and escape is one reason transportation vehicles figure so prominently in its iconography.
In the 20th century, particularly during the period between the World Wars, glamour, escape, speed, modernity, and “the future” were all connected in the public imagination. I argue in chapter seven that, in fact, glamour provided a way for people to figure out what modernity meant and how they felt about it.
In the 1950s and ’60s, glamorous visions of transportation technology offered a more speculative version of “futuristic” escape that still sparks longings today.
No discussion of futuristic glamour and escapism is complete without a little Star Trek. (See this Bloomberg View column for more on the nature of Star Trek's glamour.)
All photos and quotes are from The Power of Glamour, to be published November 5 by Simon & Schuster. If you pre-order the book and email me your info at [email protected] (be sure to use this address not my DeepGlamour address), I'll send you a signed book plate.
Somehow, Halloween has become controversial. We now have rending public debates about costumes that are too risqué, trashy, insinuating, or politically incorrect. Just last week, Walmart pulled off the shelf a (disappointingly tame) "Naughty Leopard" costume for little girls just because the word "naughty" (not the costume itself) was deemed too sexualized. And UK supermarket chains Asda and Tesco have just yanked a grotesquely deranged "mental patient" costume that supposedly disparaged the mentally ill.
But I think all the easily offended critics out there fail to appreciate Halloween as a sort of one-off, wildly fantastic carnival. It's perhaps the one day of the year when everyone—not just the cosplayers or the goths or the fetishists or pick-your-subculture—gets a free pass to dress up in an insane get-up, purely for fun. Even a costume-averse frat boy can be a campy prisoner for one night. Whatever it is, you get to re-imagine yourself as something or someone else, and it's actually acceptable to walk around in that ridiculous get-up just about anywhere—in broad daylight, at night, on a train, on a plane, in a house, with a mouse....
One of my all-favorites was a Robot Vampire Dracula costume from a 2011 Halloween event I attended. Made mostly from cardboard, reflectors, and hardware store supplies! (Won the costume contest, btw.)
I, myself, did a sort of robot costume for that event. Was it too trashy/politically incorrect/dare I say, naughty? Perhaps? I don't know. (The gal next to me in the costume contest wore a suggestively arranged latex bacon-and-eggs costume.) But it was definitely FUN. And, be forewarned, I might have something questionably appropriate and certainly cheesy planned for Halloween this year. (Hint: I'll venture to guess it will bring back chagrined memories for my fellow DeepGlamour blogger, Paige Phelps. See: The Rise and Fall of Sexy Halloween)
Am I offended by overly, ridicuously sexualized costumes like "sexy Bert and Ernie"? I guess so. Do I want to see that parade by me on the street Halloween night? Absolutely. But it seems to me that Halloween costumes have long had an element of the risqué or campy politically incorrect. A quick perusal of the Internet reveals skimpy pin-up costumes, "incredibly bizarre" ones, or the simply inspired of bygone years. Semi-nude, his-n-her ... popcorn & peanuts (?), anyone?
Solanah: Everyone will give you a different answer, but I define it as anything made approximately 20-80 years from now. Antique is anything older than 80 years old, and newer than 20 is second hand.
DG: Who does wearing vintage appeal to?
Solanah: A variety of different people, whether they are interested in alternative fashion or want to outwardly express their interest in nostalgia.
DG: What do you think of mixing vintage and contemporary pieces? Do you ever wear contemporary outfits?
Solanah: I love it, and yes, I do! Though the farther I get into vintage fashion, the more difficult it is for me to mix decades. I admire it on other people, but often find myself feeling a bit “off”. Lately I’ve been trying for a more classic look by mixing vintage and modern garments. And I do wear modern jeans and cozy sweaters pretty regularly. I’ve been loving some classic/modern fashions lately and hope to balance some with my vintage wear.
DG: Beyond the character of any specific garment, is there something glamorous about the idea of “vintage”?
Solanah: There is something glamorous about vintage, and I think it reaches back to the image women used to live up to. It was very glam, very ideal, especially if you’re talking about the mid-century. Even in camping gear women were supposed to be perfectly coiffed and pretty. At that time it was oppressive, but I think women are starting to own glamorization again. They choose it because it makes them feel good, not because they are expected to be glamorous 24/7.
DG: You’ve said that you “love to be authentic” in your style. What makes your style authentic?
Solanah: For me it means “real.” Not so much about having all the items in an outfit perfect, right down to the correct dates, but more of wearing things the way women wore them originally. And wearing what they really wore, not what Hollywood portrayed. I love slacks, and sweaters with the sleeves rolled up, and comfortable shoes like loafers and flat boots. For me, that’s authentic, because I feel more connected to the everyday woman.
DG: Some people treat vintage as an overall fashion look, some as a lifestyle, and some as simply the characteristic of a given piece. What’s your approach?
Solanah: I would say a little of each! For me it can and often does take over my entire outfit, and others it’s and accent, or a nod to yesteryear. As far as lifestyle goes, I have adapted some old fashioned ways of life into the modern world.
DG: What does dressing in vintage mean to different groups of people? To you?
Solanah: It can mean very different and often opposing things to different people. Some people, mostly those in western religious communities, view it as a traditional, and modest form of dress. It re-enforces traditional gender rolls. This situation seems like a minority.
For the most part vintage is a rebellion against the negative aspects of modern society. Not to be confused with completely turning back the clock, but rather bringing forward the attractive, and leaving the negative behind. Lately fashion had quite a few hiccups, when viewed objectively it’s so confusing and really has no collective foundation. I think people crave clarity and originality, and vintage fulfills that. It’s also something that is obtainable for all social classes, it can be found in high end boutiques, or discount thrift stores.
DG: What are some of your favorite vintage garments?
Solanah: Casual wear is my favorite find. Slacks, denim, sweaters, and coat. Though I have a huge and never ending collection of 1940s hats, I just can’t say no to them.
DG: In 20 years, today’s clothes will be vintage, at least by some definitions. Can you imagine yourself wearing any of them in 2033?
Solanah: This is a really tough question, because on one hand we have so much in terms of clothing, it’s difficult to imagine it being treated the same way we treat vintage clothing today. Right now much of our decades of clothing is rare. It was made of natural fibers, which can decay and be recycled, these garments have an expiration date. But clothing today is completely different. The fibers are so synthesized or combined with natural fibers, there really is no organic circle of life for these garments. We’ll have them for much longer than what we’ve been previously accustomed to, and I think they may come back into our wardrobes as necessity more than anything. What else are we going to do with all these garments? They won’t die.
DG: Is wearing vintage more popular among younger people (however you want to define “younger”)? If so, why?
Solanah: I think simply because people don’t want to look like they’re still wearing fashions from their heyday. It can be difficult to pull off, but honestly I think the older you get, the better you can wear vintage! I’ll always remember an elderly woman I saw walking down the street who was dressed to the nines in a 60s suit, pillbox hat, and matching gloves, pumps, and purse. She was the best!
DG: What’s your favorite era? Is that because of the styles, the history, the culture, or some combination?
Solanah: My favorite era can be defined as the years controlled by the second world war. It appeals to me for so many reasons, much of it not being fashion related. Mostly to do with the short taste of liberation women experienced, and the strength they showcased before being forced back into the home. I admire what they did with what little they had, and how they dealt with the hardships and tragedies. This was reflected in the styles adapted, I really love the make do and mend and DIY aspect of the war era, as it’s something I can be creative with.
DG: You’re well known not only for writing about vintage fashion but for modeling it in fashion shoots on your own site and also for the store you used to work for (that’s actually how I first became aware of you). What’s the secret to a good vintage fashion picture? How important are the poses you strike to how you feel about the outfit?
Solanah: In our shoots we tried to emulate a lot of original fashion portraits from magazines and ads. They really showcased the garments well, and I think there’s a certain strength in “striking a pose”, rather than the very casual, candid poses we see a lot of today.
DG: What do people who wear vintage fashion have in common (if anything)?
Solanah: The most obvious is a love for the past, but I have found many vintage enthusiasts are very involved in various forms of fantasy, fiction, and escapism. Or “geeky” interests, if I could put it simply. Fantastical television shows and movies, comic books, anything that diverts away from the confines of the modern world. I think it has to do with how different people deal with the pressures of modern living, there are those who adapt well and embrace it, and those who need to step back and slow down.
DG: Wearing vintage every day seems like a lot of work--just for the hair styling alone. What’s the most challenging part? Time-consuming? Satisfying?
Solanah: It can look as though that’s the case, but compared to a modern woman’s beauty regimen, it probably takes about the same amount of time and effort. Most vintage wearing women do wet sets at night and wake up with curls. Whereas a non-vintage woman might spend most of her morning curling or straightening her hair with a heat device. When I do that it takes me about a minute or two to do my hair in the morning, but looks like it took an hour. It takes the same amount of time to get dressed comparatively, and I keep my makeup simple: tinted moisturizer, eyeliner, powder, lipstick. I do love getting dressed up, in stockings and hats, and heels for lunch with friends or a cocktail party. Feeling that kind of glamorous is nice every now and then, the kind where you really put in effort and it shows.
DG: Who inspires your look?
Solanah: Fellow vintage lovers, WWII women workers, old family photos, really any “real” people. I don’t take much inspiration from the airbrushed publicity shots of movie stars, because that type of style just isn’t a huge part of my lifestyle.
DG: Who do you consider glamorous?
Solanah: The type of women who has a certain something alluring and enchanting. She doesn’t necessarily have to look glamorous, or live a glamorous life, but she does hold her head high and has the confidence of an individual in charge of their own life and loving it.
DG: What’s your most glamorous place?
Solanah: My dressing table is my most glamorous place. It’s where the magic happens.
Burlesque star Dita von Teese (née Heather Sweet) has said that she didn’t wait around to become beautiful – she remade herself to become beautiful. She transforms her facial features with pale foundation that covers never-to-be-seen freckles, red lipstick, winged eyeliner, and a tattooed beauty mark. She wears corsets that artificially constrict her waist. And, as a natural blonde, she dyes her hair an inky black and sculpts it to Veronica Lake perfection. She explicitly embraces artifice, which I deem a welcome alternative to the prevailing notion of natural-as-beautiful. As we discuss makeovers here on Deepglamour.net, I think one type of makeover deserving of attention is temporary, extreme transformation. Often the goal of a makeover is to become a prettier version of oneself, but sometimes the goal is akin to achieving an altogether different persona.
For performers like Dita, the transformation is clearly for professional reasons as much as personal. Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Boy George, Prince Poppycock, and many other celebrities established a distinct public persona through exotic makeup, wigs, hats, and clothing. But extreme makeovers aren’t just for professional performers. In fact, anyone can achieve a dramatic transformation for the sheer enjoyment of it. And there are many subcultures and hobby interests that embrace costuming for special events. Less often, people choose an exotic look for everyday wear.
Consider Aimee Elizabeth, a young lady from the Washington, D.C. area. Currently, Aimee sells cosmetics for a living. But on her own time, she designs and sews elaborate costumes for costume play, or “cosplay,” events. Themes and inspirations include: Gothic Lolita, Disney, cyber and “perky Goth,” FX make-up, Japanese and ancient Egyptian culture, mythology, urban legends, and horror films. (For more on cosplay, see this DG Q&A with photographer Ejen Chuang about his book Cosplay in America.) Naturally a green-eyed, fair-skinned brunette, Aimee Elizabeth created a colorful cosplay persona she calls “Laydee NekoAmi Chan.” She has executed dozens of costume looks that include theatrical makeup effects, colorful horns and grand hair ornaments, doll-like Asian-inspired dresses and petticoats, and enormous platform boots.
In far-away Sweden, another creative lady, a wife and mother, has become something of a Facebook and YouTube sensation. Whatever “Adora Batbrat” might look like sans make up, one can only guess. But the self-described “Martha Stewart of Goth” regularly posts public images of her “make up of the day,” which involves sharply stenciled brows, elaborately swirled and dotted eye make up, false eyelashes, face jewels, and freaky contact lenses. Her light color hair is tinged in colors that vary from cotton candy pink to lilac to light green, and usually topped with a crown or headdress. She also sports tattoos and permanent vampire-like fangs, conjured up by her dentist.
Adora Batbrat seems to have simply decided to embrace an extreme makeover as a matter of daily life rather than profession. “I never could have figured out so many kind people wanted to be part of my life and let me share theirs but I'm very happy about it, and you are all most welcome,” she tells her Facebook fans. “For those who just think I look cute and know nothing about me, I'm a Swedish alternative model, a Goth make up guru at YouTube, loves electro music. I'm a mother of 3 kids.” (She explains her makeover philosophy over on her blog.)
What I admire about people such as Dita von Teese, Aimee Elizabeth, and Adora Batbrat is their glamorous vision for beauty and self-transformation and their will to achieve it. It’s not for everyone, nor even for most of the people most of the time. Yet it’s inspiring to see that anyone who desires to re-imagine themselves can create a delightful, fleeting illusion.
It looks like suburbia, but it still represents escape.
In my new Bloomberg View column, I criticize the trendy denigration of technological progress that doesn't solve "big problems" like going to Mars. Here's an excerpt:
In speeches, interviews and articles, [Peter] Thiel decries what he sees as the country's lack of significant innovations. "When tracked against the admittedly lofty hopes of the 1950s and 1960s, technological progress has fallen short in many domains," he wrote last year in National Review. "Consider the most literal instance of nonacceleration: We are no longer moving faster."
Such warnings serve a useful purpose. Political barriers have in fact made it harder to innovate with atoms than with bits. New technologies as diverse as hydraulic fracturing and direct-to-consumer genetic testing (neither mentioned by Thiel) attract instant and predictable opposition. As Thiel writes, "Progress is neither automatic nor mechanistic; it is rare."
But the current funk says less about economic or technological reality than it does about the power of a certain 20th-century technological glamour: all those images of space flight, elevated highways and flying cars, with their promise of escape from mundane existence into a better, more exciting place called The Future. These visions imprinted themselves so vividly on the public's consciousness that they left some of the smartest, most technologically savvy denizens of the 21st century blind to much of the progress we actually enjoy.
The column draws directly on ideas I developed in The Future and Its Enemies. But, as I was writing it, I also thought about what my forthcoming book The Power of Glamour might suggest about why some old visions of the future are more compelling than others: Why do we miss space travel and flying cars but not robot maids (or robot dogs), "telesense," meals-in-a-pill, or all those jumpsuits? Why don't we appreciate the microwave ovens, synthetic fibers, or artificial hips?
I think it has to do with the promise of escape and transformation, which is essential to all forms of glamour. Glamour always allows the audience to imagine a different, better self in different, better circumstances.
A robot maid might improve your life but it wouldn't fundamentally change it. You'd still be yourself and the world around you would seem more-or-less the same. Except in a harried housewife, the idea of a robot maid does not excite longing. Transportation, by contrast, always implies movement and transcendence, all the more when it's fast and high. That's why space travel—like cars and trains and planes and ships and horses before it—has such potential for glamour.
I've always been fascinated by the images NASA and others used to sell the idea of space colonies in the 1970s. They always remind me of the San Fernando Valley as you come over the Sepulveda Pass from West L.A. (or, to be more accurate, the first time I saw that view it reminded me of the space colony pictures). They're selling real estate, with the same promise that every house stager uses: This could be your new, better life. ("I could be happy here.") All you have to do is move...in this case, to outer space.
Recently I sat in a rental house on the Oregon coast watching the sun set on the Pacific in a magical array of oranges and blues. Adding to the magical aura was a girl of about 15 whom I had first noticed as we were driving back to catch the sunset. She had been running along the road in long easy strides, wearing her track-team colors.
Now, as the sun dropped to the horizon, she was sprinting up the hill on the road beside the house. Shortly past the house she turned and slowly jogged down, taking short, prancing steps to let her heart rate slow down. At the bottom of the hill she turned in a tight circle and once again sprinted up the hill in long powerful strides. I stopped counting after the eighth sprint of her solitary routine.
There was something immensely satisfying about watching this impressive display of self-discipline. Perhaps, thanks to Title IX, she hopes to compete in track all the way through college, maybe even on a scholarship. Perhaps she just loves to run, and running itself provides some kind of harmony and order to her daily routine, perhaps even to her life.
In any case, I was grateful to her for adding to the magic of a September evening. Her routine seemed nothing like some Sisyphean ordeal. Instead, watching her reminded me of seeing the exuberant exertions of a young animal discovering the physical power of its body and simply exulting in feeling that power in motion. I had felt much the same pleasure watching two small children run with their dogs on the beach that morning.
To observe someone exulting in the moment can be almost as pleasurable as feeling such exhilaration yourself. That morning my wife and I (both 60-somethings) had donned full-body wet suits, and, with the help of an expert surfer, had had our first experiences riding waves on a surf board. Making our first runs lying prone on the board, feeling the power of the ocean, even taking a few body-tumbling spills, was joyfully thrilling.
In the 19th-century, in the conclusion to his The Renaissance Walter Pater wrote (to the great displeasure of religious conservatives): “To burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life....Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those about us in the brilliancy of their gifts is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep before evening.”
[Oregon sunset photo by Anne Hornyak. Used under the Flickr Creative Commons License.]
One of the most valuable gifts that writers, composers, and visual artists can receive is an extended stretch of time to focus on their work without the usual daily distractions. I just spent two weeks in a pilot program for a new artist residency created by the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts. These residencies will take place in a lovely area of the 13,000 acre Brush Creek Ranch, located in a fabulously beautiful part of Wyoming.
Most of us are usually so surrounded by instantly available distractions and obligations that we sometimes forget what it is like to work with singular focus for days at a time.
The Brush Creek residency buildings are log structures, some of which were found locally, then dissembled and rebuilt in their new location. They were modernized with new roofs, electricity, and electric heat in the process. Each resident is assigned a work studio, and in a long log building each are assigned a bedroom with a bathroom—all of which were nicely furnished. There was a common library, kitchen, and dining area.
Everything was set up to let us work without distraction. Our meals were provided, with dinner being the only meal we were expected to eat in common. The other residents are not allowed to come to your studio unless invited. There were no televisions anywhere. The location is remote enough so that only one cell phone service worked (in this case AT&T). There was Wi-Fi internet which provided a way to stay in touch when necessary, but not with the blazingly-fast high connection speed many of us have at home.
For me, while at the residency, the distractions of daily life seemed remote and out of sight. Things such as bills, grocery shopping, chores, choosing where and what to eat, attending meetings, being on time—all such problems were temporarily absent. I could go to bed thinking about my project (finishing an opera) and wake up thinking about it, knowing that I could spend as many hours of the day as I wanted working on it.
If as a resident you became mentally exhausted, you could take a walk in a stunningly beautiful landscape—seeing marmots, mule deer, horses, cattle, hummingbirds, goldfinches, swallows, hawks, and vultures. In my case I sometimes took a couple of hours to fly fish in some of the area’s world-class creeks and rivers.
In two weeks at the residency I finished work I had calculated would probably take more than a month. Much of that work efficiency came simply from staying focused. Books on time management sometimes say that in order to do some things, we need to deliberately choose not to do others. In our constantly plugged-in world, sometimes it is valuable to be reminded of what it is like to work when we are unplugged from everything except the one most important project we are trying to accomplish. Being reminded of that might just help us seriously reevaluate the way we spend our time once we get home.
Posted by Randall Shinn on August 31, 2011 in
On a recent visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, I was struck by this painting, Pergola with Oranges by Thomas Fearnley. At first it seems like a basic exercise in perspective--all those lines converging at a vanishing point. But it didn't feel like mere geometry. The golden light, the oranges, the flowers, and the Mediterranean architecture seemed emotionally resonant, and intentionally so. Wouldn't it be great to join the man reading in the sun?
The museum's brief caption suggests I was right. If the date is correct (and it may be based on the assumption that the artist was working from life rather than memory), Fearnley painted this scene during a three-year sojourn in Italy. But he was a Norwegian--someone decidedly not from a land of golden sunshine and oranges so abundant they roll on the ground. He would have appreciated how special the scene was and I think he injected some of that emotion into the painting. But maybe it's in the eye of the beholder.
I don't drink beer, but I occasionally buy it for parties. And when I do, I usually buy Corona, because I like their ads. Corona has long used a images of a tranquil beach to create a distinct brand identity--one that effectively combines gentle humor with the glamour of escape. In the latest campaign, which debuted last fall, Corona ups the glamour quotient further, offering pure projection without even the gentlest silliness to undercut it.
The "Find Your Beach" ads visualize what Corona's ads have always implied (since most beer drinking doesn't take place at the beach): "that the beach is where you make it,” as Marshall Ross, the chief creative officer for Corona's ad agency, Cramer-Krasselt, put it. “We want to give literal, visual permission for people to take the Corona mindset with them. Even to the ski slopes or the big city.” The composition of the images remains similar. The Corona drinkers are shown only from the back or in profile, encouraging identification and projection, and they themselves are gazing at expansive vistas. Grace, mystery, and escape--all the elements of glamour are there.
When I went to the 2009 Anime Expo to talk to cosplayers about the appeal of dressing up as anime and manga characters, I was struck by how important posing for photographs is to that appeal. Yet most of the picture-taking at anime conventions happens with lousy lighting and lots of fans in the way—hardly the ideal way to record the costumes on which players lavish so much time and ingenuity.
Fortunately, L.A. photographer Ejen Chuang, whom I met at that same convention, has now given American cosplayers a worthy visual record: a beautifully produced 272-page book called Cosplay in America. The product of a year spent traveling to conventions around the country (and a maxed-out credit card), plus countless hours of selecting and retouching photos, the book features 270 cosplayers.
Naming it the Best Art Book of 2010, Deb Aoki, About.com’s Manga expert, declared that Cosplay in Ameria “captures the spirit of fun, camaraderie and creativity of the North American cosplay community.” Liz Ohanesian of the LA Weekly praised the “slick and beautiful tome,” which “showcases the diversity and creativity within the anime fandom,” later declaring on BoingBoing that “Chuang did what I hope more people will do in the future, portrayed cosplay as art.”
Ejen is still on the convention circuit, selling his book and giving cosplayers a chance to have their latest handiwork immortalized with professional polish. He’ll next be at Anime Los Angeles January 7-9. In between cons—and his regular work as a production stills photographer—he was kind enough to answer some questions about what he's learned from his experience photographing cosplayers. (To see more of his photos, including new shots and web exclusives, check out the CosplayinAmerica Flickr stream.)
See the end of the interview for information on how you can enter our Cosplay in America giveaway and have a chance to win a free copy of Ejen's book.
DG: Your book is called Cosplay in America. What is cosplay and how is it different in America?
EC: Cosplay is short for “costume-play” which is basically dressing up as characters based off anime, manga, and video games, though the term has become mainstream in the past few years and now applies to any source such as films, American cartoons, music icons, even products—I’ve seen a few Nintendo Wiis running around conventions.
From what I gathered (as I’ve never been to an event in Japan), Americans have a very do-it-yourself attitude. While there are shops in Japan to purchase cosplays, that necessarily isn't so here in the States. You almost have to be MacGyver to pull together many disciplines from sewing to prop making. Some make it from scratch, others purchase parts and put it together. It is the process of creating the outfit that is part of the fun and not necessarily just wearing the outfit.
DG: What inspired you to do a book of cosplayer portraits?
EC: I haven’t really seen a book done specifically done about American cosplay and I thought I'll tackle it myself. The culture has been growing for the past 20 years and is definitely getting larger in thanks to conventions and the internet.
DG: What’s the difference between cosplay and dressing up for Halloween?
EC: Cosplay usually refers to a specific character. For example, dressing as Capt. Jack Sparrow is cosplaying. Dressing up as a pirate is just.... dressing up as a pirate! In the broadest sense, you can say that when your father dresses up as Santa during Christmas, he is in fact, cosplaying.
DG: What’s the relationship between photography (whether professional or amateur) and cosplay?
EC: There’s an interesting relationship between the two. Obviously from a photographer’s perspective, the extravaganza of colorful costumes and makeup of the cosplayer is attractive to the lens, while on the cosplayer side, it is a chance to be in the limelight and have their work appreciated.
DG: How do cosplayers decide what characters to portray?
EC: Cosplayers generally portray characters they feel very strongly about. Talking to many, I understand they felt if they were to put that amount of work into a cosplay, they rather pick characters they feel a strong emotional response to. As many cosplayers tend to be in their teens to mid-20s, my thoughts are in addition to having fun, stretch their creative skills and hanging out with friends at cons, cosplay can be a way for them to try out different “personalities” of their source characters wherever if either male or female. Obviously it is easier for women to dress as male characters than males to dress as female characters.
DG: You took more than 1,600 photos. How did you decide on which ones to publish?
EC: In my youth I was into anime but until I embarked on my project, the last convention I visited was Anime Expo in 2000. In the years between then and 2009 when I started the project, I had been out of the scene so perhaps 90 percent of cosplayers I’ve photographed, I don’t know which series they are from. In a way, it is liberating. I have no bias or preconception about any series or character. I could choose based on their personality and pose. I specifically looked for something about that cosplayer that grabs me. From an edited collection of around 1,000 cosplayers, it took six months to narrow it down to the 260 cosplayers in the book.
DG: One of the cosplayers you interviewed called cosplay “a chance to escape that which binds us, holds us down in our everyday lives, and [it] gives us chance to let our imaginary spirits soar high above all that makes us feel weak. We can shed our everyday lives and feel free to express ourselves.” Another one said it’s “just a dorky little hobby where people play dress up.” What would you say is the appeal of cosplay?
EC: For the younger attendees, it is a chance to let loose and have fun, another layer to add to the convention experience. As a teenager, the need to fit in is strong and so in a way, this allows them to join a community.
For those older ones, it is just a release mechanism. Obviously in life we have our jobs, relationships, school and so forth and to take a vacation from that for one weekend is to take a moment out of the worries of bills, and other adult concerns. I spoke to several cosplayers who have graduated college and move to their working life—and use conventions as a chance to meet up with old friends—similar to a reunion.
For others, it is a chance to test out their abilities to create and personalize to their own individual tastes. For example, at one convention in Florida, I noticed a character whose outfit was filled with beads. The original character’s outfit did not include that large amount of beads but because the cosplayer so loved beads, she weaved her passion into it. In the end it still worked—the character is identifiable and the cosplayer has a chance to personalized the work.
DG: You’re still taking photos as you go to conventions to sell your book. Do you have any favorites to share with our readers?
EC: Truthfully, my favorite photos are the ones where I’m interacting with the cosplayer. So many folks have photos of themselves standing next to a cosplayer. For me, I like it if they point their weapon at me, or they are jabbing me, or something of that nature. Here I am at AnimeFest in Texas getting hammered by the gals of Street Fighter.
This was taken at Otakon, the largest anime con on the East Coast where Bender from Futurama chokes me—I didn’t have any beer with me and you know Bender loves beer!
Despite all the work that goes into the book and the tour, it is definitely a life-changing experience! I plan to be at another 20 conventions next year and after that start working on other books related to cosplay but not necessarily about cosplay. Thanks for the interview!
We're happy to offer a free copy of Cosplay in America to one lucky reader. To enter, please leave a comment telling us a character you'd like to dress up as and why. (Don't worry about practical considerations; we won't make you model the costume.) The contest deadline is midnight Pacific Time on January 10, and the winner will be selected using Random.org. Contest open to U.S. residents only.
[All photos copyright Ejen Chuang and used by permission.]