Capturing Cosplay: The Photographs of Brian Berman (Part Two)

Editor's note: this is my last post for 2008. I will be back after the start of the new year.

Last time, I shared with you a series of photographs of Furry fans taken by Brian Berman and encouraged us to reflect a bit on what they show or fail to show us about this particular subcultural community. To me, these photographs speak to a core issue in fan studies: the question of how we position ourselves vis-a-vis the subjects of our research. Put in its broadest terms, we see different things and say different things if we are writing about a community which we are a member of than when we are dealing with that same community as an outsider.

Brian is very explicit in his artistic statement and in his bio that while he is fascinated by these fan communities, he looks at them as an outsider, a non-participant. This does not mean that his photographs are necessarily hostile to the communities being depicted, but they do, to some degree, hold these fans at a distance. This is the strength of the images in many ways, but it is also what may make them more than a little disturbing to some of us who claim a much closer set of social and emotional ties to fan communities.

By way of contrast, I thought we might look at some of the videos we've been producing about Cosplay for Project New Media Literacies's learning library project. These videos, filmed at an anime convention in Ohio, reflect a perspective much more sympathetic to the fan experience. Indeed, many of the students who worked with us on these videos were themselves anime fans and some of them had a long history of cosplay. Our goal was precisely to escape the outsider perspective of many commercial documentaries about fans, to treat cosplay as a normal and valued mode of cultural expression, and to hopefully introduce these practices to young people who may not have found their way into the cosplay community before.

These photographs were taken by Brian Berman at Onnafest, Newark Gateway Hilton, Newark, NJ 2005.


Anime Family




Mark and Holly


Rebekah as Avian Firefly


Patricia, Callie & Sonya

Brian Berman was born in New York City in 1971 and grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey. After graduating from both the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the School of Visual Arts in NYC he started shooting professionally in New York in 1996. He shoots for, and has been featured in, publications such as the New York Times, Esquire, Ojo de Pez, and Capricious Magazine. He has also been featured in shows at the Houston Photo Festival and Wallspace Gallery. The project featured here is part of larger project about how people fulfill a basic human need to fit in by creating their own subcultures. He does not watch anime or own a fursuit.