Photographing the ordinary lives of cosplayers

Thurstan Redding, known best for his work with Chanel and Gucci, turned to a new kind of style for his latest book.

by Douglas Greenwood
04 March 2022, 4:17pm

Jessica Rabbit got the train to London to meet Thurstan Redding in full regalia. Or at least a cosplayer dressed to look just like her did. Thurstan, a photographer used to collaborating with brands like Gucci, Chanel, Miu Miu and Marc Jacobs, had spent years trying to bring a group of cosplayers together for a book project. He was inspired by an encounter he had with a bold commuter on London’s DLR, who sat amongst the mundane passengers dressed like a daring superhero. Work on the book, entitled Kids of Cosplay, started back in 2018 (he even mentioned it to us in his instalment of our Year in Photos series), but is only now seeing the light of day. It turns out that convincing a group of cosplayers to pose for you is easier said than done.

It led Thurstan to Comic Con, which acted as open casting for the book, and for the years that followed, a trickling of these cosplayers would come together: C3POs, old school Batmans, Sailor Moons and Ursulas. Casting director Finlay MacAulay was tasked with finding the right people, while Jean-Baptiste Talbourdet Napoleone and Lolita Jacobs oversaw art direction. “The project is a celebration of cosplay,” Thurstan says, speaking via Zoom call the day before the book’s corresponding exhibition kicks off in Paris. “It’s a tribute to the amount of effort they put into all of this.”

batman cosplayers outside a suburban home by thurstan redding

Thurstan says he was “conscious of making sure they were portrayed in a way that felt empowering.” The result is a series of pictures that sensitively capture the lengths these artists go to to recreate their favourite fictional stars. Each image, be it a sci-fi or a comic book character, contrasts the subject’s meticulous cosplay recreation with a domestic backdrop. Harley Quinn in the kitchen; X-Men’s Mysterio stretched out across the tarmac of a suburban street. “For me, part of the intrigue and beauty of cosplay is that it’s an element of surrealism that exists in the most everyday context,” he says. “That juxtaposition was something I was drawn to. We wanted to reflect that by choosing fairly regular or familiar backdrops, because that's the reality of where cosplay exists most of the time. I didn’t want to do something that felt aesthetically over the top, where we’d create each cosplayer's universe.” The same principle was applied to the lighting too; the skies behind those cosplayers shot outside are wide and cinematic, shaded sherbet orange and lilac.

Thurstan describes the project as as much a fashion project as it is a work of documentary. The two subjects — high fashion, which he’s used to, and cosplay, a comparatively recent discovery — have lots in common. “To me, fashion is also cosplay,” he says. “In fashion, you’re building characters. In an editorial or campaign, you’re creating a narrative. When I was shooting the cosplayers, I realised the parallels. They were the exact same.”

a wonder woman cosplayer standing in a field

The project — time spent with these people who so confidently attracted attention to their outfits and interests — taught Thurstan things about himself.  “It taught me a lot about acceptance and tolerance,” he says. “Everyone is allowed to be a part of it.” This includes Thurstan himself. In one of the images, Thurstan stands in the outfit of a Star Wars storm trooper, surrounded by his battalion. After, as he puts it, “All of us are playing characters in everyday life.”

a group of storm trooper cosplayers
a harley quinn cosplayer in a kitchen
a cosplayer in a suburban street
a cosplayer shot from below with power lines in the background
mysterio from x men cosplayer lies on the street

Thurstan Redding’s Kids of Cosplay is published by Thames & Hudson / Volume and is available to order here. A portion of the proceeds will go to the British Red Cross to support the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. A public exhibition of the images will run at Galerie Au Roi, Paris from 6-9 March.