Photographer Thurstan Redding was primarily working as a fashion photographer when he had two memorable encounters with cosplayers in the wild. For the first time, people dressed in costumes of popular culture characters appeared on his radar. Previously, he was aware of the practice, but he “never fully committed to it”. That changed as he worked on his three-year project cosplay kidswhich is now a book to be published by Volume in the winter of 2022.
cosplay kids has a different take on the hobby than we are used to. Typically, cosplay costumes are reserved for comic conventions, the places where many cosplayers get their start. But Redding decided to change the context in which we see these people. Their ingenuity is admired outside of convention centers and in the everyday world. Harley Quinn (from the Batman universe) is seen stepping out of a kitchen window while a group of C-3PO (from star wars franchise) pose on the side of the road next to an empty field.
The decision to photograph cosplayers in unassuming locations adds a weird layer to the work as we don’t expect to see people dressed in full costume in everyday life. It also works as a way to pay homage to amazing costumes. Redding selected the cosplayers because of their amazing outfits and wanted the effort they put into their costumes to match the sets he put them in. The results tell a story while putting cosplay front and center.
cosplay kids is now available for pre-order on the Volume website. We had the pleasure of speaking with Redding about his project, including what he thinks we can learn from cosplayers. Scroll down to read his exclusive interview with My Modern Met.
In his series cosplay kidsphotographer Thurstan Redding captures portraits of cosplayers in everyday situations.
When did you start getting interested in cosplay?
I first became interested in cosplay after meeting a cosplayer in Los Angeles while on a mission there, then again on DLR [train] in London – until then I was aware of cosplay but had never fully committed to it.
How did you cosplay kids become?
I always knew I wanted to work on a book, ever since I started photography. I also knew that I wasn’t particularly interested in working on a retrospective of my previous work, as I really wanted to use the opportunity to work on a book to do something very focused and community-specific. I found the idea of doing something that almost looked like a sociological study very appealing.
When I started getting more into cosplay, it really became an obsession, to the point where I felt very comfortable putting a huge amount of time and effort into it, which is very important when starting a book because the time commitment is enormous.
What kind of research and preparation went into the book?
Once I was on the subject, I began a process of visual research into the look I wanted for the project, as well as extensive historical and sociological research into the meaning and origins of cosplay. There was also a long casting process, and all the cosplayers had to be shot in specific locations, which is why it ended up taking three years.
What interests you, in general, in cosplay?
I think the effort the cosplayers put into their costumes was initially what I found so interesting – coming from a fashion background, it was amazing to see such attention to detail in the clothing existed outside of the fashion industry. The approach cosplayers had to their costumes was also interesting: unlike something that’s disposable, costumes are constantly being improved and changed over time, and continually improved. I also loved seeing how characters so famous and so familiar to so many people were interpreted in completely new ways.
The choice of setting – placing the cosplayers in everyday locations – is different from the countless images taken while they’re at conventions. What inspired this choice?
This mainly came from the fact that I was really interested in seeing cosplayers in the real world – this juxtaposition is something that I found so compelling but got completely lost when photographing cosplayers at conventions. I also felt that the cosplayers put so much effort into their costumes, and so you really had to put equal effort into choosing the locations. I originally wanted to film the whole project at a convention, but then realized that I really didn’t feel like it was doing the cosplayers justice. The suburb is also something I feel deeply attached to, as it’s how I grew up, so including it in the book made sense to me.
What do you want readers to take away from cosplay kids? Is there a particular message that you hope it inspires?
It’s interesting because the main response was really a feeling of melancholy. I think cosplay really confronts all of us with the fact that just dressing up for entertainment really goes away as we get older. Sure, we still dress up for special occasions, but the feeling of escapism it gives isn’t the same – I think that’s what’s so touching about cosplay. It really is a pure form of escapism.
What can non-cosplayers learn from those who dress up?
That we’re never too old to keep having fun.
And finally, what are you working on now? Something exciting you can tell us about?
There are a lot of new projects this year as I have been able to focus on my other work again since the book was finalized. However, I’m probably more excited about my second book! I don’t plan to really start for a while, but I have started the research process for this.
cosplay kids will be published later this year by Volume.