The debut book by London-based photographer Thurstan Redding is an exploration into the world of cosplay like you’ve never seen before. Extraordinary outfits are photographed in the most ordinary of places creating a series that blurs the lines between fiction and fashion. Kids of Cosplay is the accumulation of three years of work, which all started by a chance encounter.
Cosplay is the practice of dressing up as a character from a book, film or videogame. It’s hugely popular all over the world, and every year comic conventions (or "cons") attract hundreds if not thousands of fans, all keen to show off their detailed, often handmade outfits. Popular cosplay characters include the Incredible Hulk, Stormtroopers, Deadpool and Superwoman, but the list of who you could go as is pretty much endless.
Redding was first introduced to cosplay on the streets of LA, and then a few months later on the DLR in London. Intrigued by the attention to detail and the sense of community surrounding cosplay, in 2018 he attended ComicCon in London with casting director Finlay MacAulay.
Reddings recalls how much harder it was to get people involved Kids of Cosplay in the beginning. "We would approach dozens of cosplayers to get contact details. We would contact them and only a handful would get back to us. And then another handful of those would actually turn up to the shoots. The more we were progressing the easier it got, however, cosplayers would also mention it to their friends which helped with the casting process."
Wanting to set his cosplay photography apart from other photographers, Redding used everyday backgrounds such as urban wastelands, bedrooms and bus stop to shoot the project. He combined the extraordinary and the ordinary, the fantasy and the fiction with environments you wouldn't normally associate with fantasy characters.
Front cover of Kids of Cosplay
Redding’s background in fashion photography inspired the way the images in Kids of Cosplay images were staged and lit. Despite originally wanting to take a “purely documentary approach to the project”, he found a considered approach from a fashion perspective to be more original. When asked if he has a favorite image from the project he responded, “I really love the image of Spider-Man in the kitchen, drinking milk from the fridge” which goes to show the juxtaposition between reality and fantasy.
The world of cosplay was completely alien to Redding before this project began and what surprised him most about the cosplayer community is how accepting everyone was. Going into the project, he had an open heart and mind and few expectations of what to expect. “As cosplay is often quite a difficult subculture to enter – due to its very esoteric nature – I wasn’t expecting to be welcomed with such open arms. The acceptance and tolerance cosplayers also carry for each other was very inspiring to see.”
Picking a favorite film, color or book is never easy, but when asked about one particular costume that stood out to Redding, the reply was definite. “I really loved Ursula, who features on the cover. She painted herself in the kitchen of the location we were shooting in, which took about three hours, and she came along to the shoot with her mother, who also features in the book as the Wicked Witch of the West. There was something really moving about watching Ursula do all her makeup herself, with such good results."
Cosplay is nothing new, but Redding’s alternative take on this much-loved form of fancy dress is incredibly refreshing. It boasts integrity and insight into a world that is often depicted with highly edited composites and far-fetched backgrounds.
Like all projects, Kids of Cosplay has had its challenges. “I went into the project expecting to finish the entire thing within a year, but it ended up taking three. I think as you progress on a project, your opinion and point of view also evolve which means you often need to re-adapt to that.” Having now learned more about the crucial stages of the publishing progress, model release forms and how rewarding the journey was, Redding is already thinking about his net photo book
Kids of Cosplay will be available in a 144-page hardback book, housed in a beautiful pastel lilac clamshell case. The book is now available to pre-order in two different versions, a signed copy of the book by itself will cost £60 (approximately $79 / AU$105) or for £95 ($125 / AU$166) you will also receive a signed copy of the Mystique print.