I love photos. I always have. Oh sure, I had my grumpy teenage moments when it came to posing for awkward family portraits but overall I still loved photos.
My mum took a lot of photos when I was little and honestly I’m glad she did. I think I got my sentimentality and sense of nostalgia from her (she sort of stopped for a while when I gave her a digital camera because it was still very new to her but since getting a smartphone she’s been snapping pics like she used to).
My love of photos has to do with how I value them. They capture memories and moments in our lives, they record and preserve our history.
I recently went through stacks of old photo albums in search of shots to help me illustrate a few of my past write-ups. Of course they covered the gamut of usual family photos: wedding photos, photos of me at every stage of my development, parties and other events, relatives visiting from overseas, building our house, school events, it goes on…
While going through these albums I began remembering moments from my past.
My earliest memory of a camera is of a clunky silver and black, point-and-shoot we had back in the 80’s. I distinctly remember the gentle high-pitch whine it made every time the flash was ready for the next shot and the manual crank for winding the film back once the roll had finished.
The first time I was given free-reign of a camera (which eventually became my very first camera) was when I was about 12, in the last week of primary school. We had a year 7 formal dinner and party (in South Australia, primary school finishes after seventh grade) and on the Friday we went on an end of year activity to the Ice Arena (I can’t skate so I fell over quite a bit. The indoor tobogganing was more my speed).
It was a standard 35mm film camera and so I had to be sparing with my shots but it was fun.
The first time I genuinely understood the “preservation” aspect of photos was when I was about 14. My parents had decided to sell their Thai restaurant of almost 20 years because they could no longer keep up with trying to run it. Being young I took things in my stride but deep down I knew I was going to miss the place.
I pretty much grew up in that restaurant. As far back as I could remember I went there every day after school, sat in the bar area at my little desk, doing my homework, playing with my toys or drawing picture after picture, comic after comic, in front of the TV. Sometimes I’d help out with service out front or in the kitchen.
I took photos of every inch of that restaurant wanting to remember every little bit because it was such a huge, regular part of my life. It was always there. It was my “normal”.
Aside from school photos (including graduation and formal), I noticed that a large chunk of my late teen years went largely undocumented. As I said, I sometimes did the usual “annoyed teen thing” when it came to family photos (and there are plenty of those from that time) but I never hated photos in general. Looking back, I can only gather that I stopped or slowed down taking them myself because of the way people reacted to having photos taken of them (that was almost 20 years ago… things seem a little different now).
Back in the saddle
When I began university in 2002 (actually I began 2001 but I dropped that degree and started a different one the following year) I picked up a camera again continuing that love of photos and it helped to have my very own this time.
It was my very first digital camera, an Olympus Camedia like the one pictured (I still have all my different cameras from over the years except this one). I remember taking it everywhere with me because I had begun a bachelors degree in “Visual Communication” (a wanky way of saying “graphic design”).
Around the same time as part of our course we also had to buy our own SLR camera. Many assignments involved this camera and because it was more about creating interesting compositions we would learn only the technical basics. It was part-and-parcel of the creative process to capture as many potentially interesting images as possible, looking at things in a different way.
I have a shoe box full of random scenery, street art, and bizarre abstract shots of textures and objects from all manner of angles.
At the same time I began taking more and more photos of events, parties, nights out drinking and hanging with mates. And they hated it… sort of. They (sort of) hated it even more when I bought my very first video camera!
Some people (mainly hipsters) lament that digital storage means you don’t have to be selective with your shots like you do with film but honestly I loved that. I was all about capturing the silly little moments so I didn’t have time to be selective!
I’m a graphic designer, not a photographer. I simply take a lot of photos. I try not to refer to myself as a photographer out of respect to those who actually are photographers whether it be professionally or even as a hobby.
Being a designer, of course I dealt with a lot of photos and images as part of my job. The actual process of photography, on the other hand, only became a necessity because some gigs didn’t have money in the budget for someone else (or my boss was too cheap). My boss at that time had all this equipment (probably from one of his many hair-brained business ideas) and so I had to remember and relearn all the basic stuff from Uni and work with what I had. I was taking photos of people, products, and objects all for the many different projects I worked on.
To beef up my portfolio, I once volunteered at the South Australian Bureau of Meteorology for their book project all about the recorded history of floods in our state. I designed their cover and layout as well as the overall look and feel of related materials (which included a DVD and its contents). I had the opportunity to sift through almost 150 years worth of photos, which was rather extensive.
Going through these images and seeing some of them on a daily basis really took me to another time and place. There were plenty of striking tableaux with people, families, emergency workers, that made me wonder about them: What were these people feeling? What was going through their minds? How did they overcome the disaster? Are some of them still around?
Having a full-time job made it easier to upgrade to the latest thing but I’m not a camera-phile so I was just happy to have something compact to take everywhere with me. Even though phones at that time had cameras they just weren’t good enough. I decided on a waterproof and shockproof Olympus because I was taking it with me to all sorts of situations where a sturdy unit like that would be most appropriate.
After a few years and many drops and dips into the drink (actual drinks, mostly beer) I had to replace it with another waterproof and shockproof camera from Olympus (it wasn’t a brand thing, it’s just back then they were the only ones doing that type of camera).
It was during this waterproof camera era that I began making costumes and attending conventions. Believe me, with such cumbersome outfits and gloves, a shockproof camera was most handy!
Cosplay and Conventions
As I’ve mentioned many times before, my very first convention was AVCon 2009 and of course I had my camera with me.
In fact I took a camera with me to every single convention and cosplay-related event (it’s why I wore a bumbag if my costume didn’t have pockets). I took photos of almost everything: the cosplays, the crowds, the stalls, the rooms, the panels, the stupid moments, the undeniably memorable moments, the off-guard moments, and the mundane moments.
There were certainly plenty of blurry shots, grainy images, random photos, and shots that just don’t make any sense but there were also plenty of great photos, which captured the perfect moment. I used a lot of photos to help illustrate my previous sermon and going back through those images was rather difficult because they held so many memories, good and bad.
Taking so many photos at so many events helped me improve my skills even if it was limited to straight-forward location shots. But of course being a simple snapshot kind of camera what I could do was rather limited.
Don’t blame the tools…
Early 2013 (I’m guessing March, going by my archive) I saw a JB Hi-Fi catalogue that had a Samsung compact system camera on sale and was heavily reduced. Not only did it have a standard 20-50mm lens but the special included a second 50-200mm zoom lens for free as part of the promotion. I couldn’t pass this up.
Sure, there are much better interchangeable lens cameras out there but this was too good of an opportunity. I had only ever bought and used one SLR camera and that was only for university. This mirrorless camera was much more compact than a standard DLSR but more or less worked like one. And even before the sale this was cheaper than its counterparts.
While I do sometimes agree that people should never blame their tools for sub-par work there are times when a high-quality one will definitely help improve things and this one bloody did! Once I got a handle of it I was taking much better photos than I had previously. I’m still nowhere near as good as a proper photographer but I was very pleased with the leap in quality.
After only two years I would upgrade again to another Samsung camera a model up from what I had. JB Hi-Fi were having another sale to get rid of this end-of-line model and sent out a discount voucher.
I continue to make an effort to take as many photos as I can at conventions for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, I just love the variety of cosplays I see at every event. I enjoy and appreciate all the work people put into making and just wearing their heart on their sleeve, showing their fandom. Not just the big and elaborate outfits or the characters I’m into but also the obscure and esoteric, the novel, the fun, the well-crafted, anything that catches my eye.
When it comes to cosplay competitions I also make a conscious effort to take photos of every single contestant that steps up on that stage even if I’m busy judging (in fact this is where that free zoom lens often comes in handy and the judges table is perhaps the best seat in the house). This came about because of my dissatisfaction at the photos being uploaded in earlier years. Some photogs (emphasis on “some”) were only showcasing the large or the elaborate, or even just the attractive ones. I must point out that things have gotten better since those early days but at the time I was not happy about this.
Every contestant that steps up on that stage has poured a lot of time and effort into their work as well as mustering up the courage to stand in front of a big audience. They deserve to be highlighted and showcased for their efforts.
When I began my cosplay page, the event photos I uploaded were a much more cut down cross-section of the sets I uploaded to my personal account. These days the difference would only be less than a dozen photos (which are more personal shots). That change came about because I wanted to show as much of the cosplayers and the event as possible as well as make it public for everyone to access (without having to go to my personal profile).
I’ve been attending the local Riot City Wrestling over the last couple of years and every so often I take my camera along to their monthly shows.
I suck at action shots (there are more than capable official photogs there that capture fantastic actions shots) and so I tend to focus on character moments. It’s very much like cosplay in that all the wrestlers are performing as characters, with stories and personalities. It’s just as theatrical and bombastic as any cosplay and is a perfect fit for what I do.
I do the best I can and I enjoy my own work but I especially am grateful that people like my photos enough to share and use (which is why the watermark became necessary). It’s a nice motivator to keep taking and making them accessible for everyone to appreciate.
I’m going to reveal something I said in private that will make a few people angry but it’s important that I own it and provide context for my next point: On the Sunday afternoon of AVCon 2016, I was standing downstairs watching about half a dozen photographers and their equipment set up around the place, with cosplayers waiting patiently for their turn. Exhausted and a delightfully amused at the sight, I half jokingly said to the person next to me, “This is a bit much.”
I elaborated by expressing my mild concern with the “slippery slope” of just how far will this go? What else will they bring and how many others will do same before the con floor is crowded with light boxes and reflectors?
Having said that, in all fairness I can’t argue with the results.
Adelaide has a terrific group of skilled photographers who not only offer up their services for free at events but also produce amazing work. Work that stands alongside any other from the rest of the country and around the world. And we all benefit from the beautiful images these folks produce.
I can’t compete with that nor should I. My photography isn’t on that level and I’m appreciative that people take notice of my work at all. I’m surprised that many of my photos even turn out clear considering I’m in a cumbersome costume at every event but I guess that’s the advantage of having a good camera (albeit on the “noob” settings for convenience).
I do minimal post-processing on my photos when needed. Sometimes I exaggerate the depth-of-field, occasionally I remove blemishes and unsightly tags or threads but mainly I’m just cropping and adjusting the exposure.
I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I stuff up the post-processing, sometimes I try and salvage a great composition ruined by my own incompetence or laziness. But for the most part I’m still impressed that I can get any shots that people enjoy.
I love spontaneity, I love the goofy, the big spectacles, the quiet moments. I try to capture it all.
I think the major difference between what I do and what the pros at conventions do is intent and result: they’re creating an artistic image. I’m preserving a moment (which goes back to my earliest motivations for picking up a camera).
Usually, a cosplay photographer is photographing a character, I’m photographing a fan.
Think of it this way: that’s not Chris Evans on the movie poster, that’s Captain America who just so happens to be played by Chris Evans. Does that make sense?
When I’m taking photos of cosplayers on the con floor, I love and want the context of the surrounding convention, the people or scenery behind them even if it’s out of focus. What I’m trying to convey with each image is “here in this moment is a fan expressing their love and creativity.”
There’s not always a lot in the background but there’s a depth and a context to the person (not the character) I am showcasing.
Yes, it’s pedantic and presumptive and neither is better or more important than the other, it simply determines the direction and final result. I’m not saying I do this on purpose, and of course I would like to do more specific-themed cosplay shoots eventually. It’s just that I’ve become more appreciative of the situation I find myself in as a cosplayer who also happens to take photos.
In the era of social media, people bitch and moan about selfies, photos of food, too many photos of children and pets, and how they don’t care about other people’s lives, etc. Hilariously, many of these people do exactly those things.
In any case, I can’t get my head around this way of thinking.
Smartphones may have made it easier to take photos of any old nonsense in our lives but honestly we’re recording more and more of who we are than ever before. We’re keeping a record of our culture and way of life no matter how mundane and stupid it may be (and there is some truly stupid shit being shared out there). There is a line and limit to everything but it’s certainly not what people are declaring it should be.
We sometimes take the good with the bad: New parents sharing photos of their newborn to relatives half a world away. A striking image from a violent protest. A couple expressing their love for one another. The devastating effects of Mother Nature. Photos are moments in time.
I want to smack people who chastise others for taking photos and barking “live in the moment”. Because moments can be fleeting and one day you may not even remember it. I watched my grandfather slowly lose his memories, succumbing to his dementia before his passing 10 years ago. I still remember the moment he didn’t recognise his own family.
I don’t fear getting older (I turn 34 this week). While my friends cringed at the big three-oh I fully embraced it with drinks in both hands! I think what I fear is forgetting all that was important to me, all that helped shape me. The events I enjoyed and the people who have walked through my life. I don’t ever want to forget… or maybe I just don’t want to be forgotten?
The preservation of memories alone is enough to keep me taking photos for as long as I’m capable.
I love photos. I always have. As a designer I enjoy the imagery presented in each shot but most importantly, as a sentimental person, I appreciate the story being told in a single image.
This is why I take photos.
Here endeth the sermon.
Next week will be the third and final part of this journey into nostalgia. While we’re here though, I found this photo… it’s from mid-2000 and I’m preparing to go to my year 12 formal. It’s the only full shot of the namesake: the original “Old Trenchy” I used to wear.
If you enjoyed that reheated twaddle as well as my other work then please consider contributing to my tip jar at http://ko-fi.com/oldtrenchy so I can spend more time turning out brand new word spews.