For his new book Conventional Wisdom, published this week by Glitterati, Arthur Drooker traveled around the country to photograph large-scale gatherings of specialized enthusiasts, at events ranging from the wholesome International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas to the more lurid Fetishcon. For the book, which began as a series of assignments for the website Cool Hunting, Drooker photographed participants in and out of their clown costumes and furry costumes, in convention center hallways and hotel ballrooms. In his pictures, conventioneers take part in workshops where Santas learn to bleach their beards white and mermaids practice holding their breath, or compete at the World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championships for titles such as Best of Category, Reptile, Amphibian, Invertebrate. And they get down—a military history buff in full armor dances with a lady in a bonnet, while elsewhere, a furry red fox shake its tale, framed by theatrical fog and lasers. The charm of many of Drooker’s images comes from the tension between the outrageously expressive convention participants and the anonymous, corporate hospitality spaces where they are found—clown shoes are framed by swirling, multicolor carpeting; a woman in spiked pasties and bare feet rides a bland elevator while talking on her phone.
Along with the images, Drooker writes about his experiences at each convention, some of which he returned to several times. “These reports form a journal of one photographer’s exploration deep into the heart of American popular culture,” he writes in the book’s introduction. Drooker provides information about the history and significance of Broycon and Merfest, and reflects on the feeling of kinship he found at these events, even as an outsider. The Abraham Lincoln presenters (as they prefer to be called) suggest he might make a good young Abe, and, he writes, “the taxidermists accepted me as one of their own. Perhaps that’s because photographers and taxidermists share a kinship based on our mutual desire to shoot our subjects (legally, of course!) in order to preserve them.” At all these events, Drooker found temporary societies made up of people who, in the rest of their lives, often don’t fit in. Here, as James Wolcott writes in the foreword, “No longer an outsider, you are, for a jolly day or two, a Lincoln among Lincolns, a Santa among Santas, a furry among furries high-fiving each other’s paws.”
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Shooting on Location: Jay L. Clendenin’s Sundance Portraits (For PDN subscribers; Log in required)