Kids of Cosplay: Thurstan Redding depicts community and sensitivity at the heart of a growing subculture

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All images © Thurstan Redding.

In his debut photobook, the fashion photographer turns his lens on the cosplay community with the planning and detail with which one would approach a fashion editorial

Thurstan Redding developed an interest in photography while studying politics, psychology and sociology at University of Cambridge, but he never considered it a career. He planned to go into finance, until one day – on a whim – he broke into an Alexander McQueen show and shot some photographs backstage. Now, the 29-year-old boasts an impressive client list, including JW Anderson, Gucci, Miu Miu and Chanel.

In his debut photobook, Redding turns his lens to the cosplay community, but with the planning and detail with which one would approach a fashion editorial. Like the world of high fashion, cosplay is a largely inaccessible realm. Despite outward perceptions of the subculture as “playing dress-up”, cosplay is not for the voyeur. Members of the cosplay community dress for themselves. This is reflected in the intimacy of the clothing design, much of which is done personally. Cosplayers labour over their outfits with care; it is an artistic, and deeply personal endeavour. 

Redding saw a cosplayer for the first time on the streets of Los Angeles. “I was so intrigued,” he says. Then, back in London he spotted Rick from the cartoon Rick and Morty, on the city’s DLR. “I was transfixed by it, and eager to find out more. I then did some research and realised Comic-Con was coming up, so I bought a ticket,” he says. “I was blown away by it.”

“The act of putting on clothes is inherently a form of cosplay. We are always building characters: cosplayers just happen to build fictional characters we all know, and with a bit more commitment”

While cosplay exists as a ground for experimentation, it’s also a safe place that helps people deal with identity struggles and trauma. One individual shared how he identified as transgender through cosplaying a male character, for example. Another individual that Redding met said she had been cosplaying as Star Wars characters since her transition. The films reminded her of her father, who stopped speaking to her following the transition. “It’s a way to still feel connected to him,” says Redding. 

Redding’s photography captures, with stark sentimentality, an assortment of open and expressive faces. Set against familiar backdrops, they ground cosplay in everyday life – the intimacy of suburban gardens, childhood bedrooms and hallways lined with family portraits. There’s a juxtaposition here, but one that feels immediate and honest: Harley Quinn’s longing glance out of the kitchen window is natural and genuine. Whatever she is thinking about is hers. 

“If anything it made me realise that the act of putting on clothes – even simply to dress up in the morning – is inherently a form of cosplay. We are always building characters: cosplayers just happen to build fictional characters we all know, and with a bit more commitment.“

Kids of Cosplay by Thurstan Redding is currently available to pre-order via Volume, an imprint of Thames & Hudson. 

Jacob Negus-Hill

Jacob Negus-Hill holds the position of Online Editor at Proper Mag and is the former Senior Writer at Sabukaru Online. He studied Philosophy at the University of Leeds and achieved an MSc in Environmental Policy from the University of Bristol. His words have appeared in The Face, The Basement, The British Journal of Photography, as well as numerous other zines and online publications.