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CCM INTERVIEW with Photographer Kevin Q. Gray

In this edition of Creative Cosplays Magazine, we're thrilled to dive into the captivating world of cosplay photography with the talented Kevin Gray, whose lens has captured the essence of pop culture in ways that continue to astound and inspire. As we delve into the lensman behind the lens in this CCM Interview with Kevin Gray, get ready to explore a photography journey that spans decades and has found its groove within the vibrant and dynamic realm of cosplay. Now, let's kick off this conversation with Kevin as he shares more about his background and the fascinating intersection of his life with photography and the world of pop culture.


 

 

Kevin, your journey with photography extends far beyond your four years as a cosplay photographer. From nature and landscape photography to teaching film and digital photography for nearly 15 years, your experience is incredibly diverse. Could you tell our readers more about your early days in photography, what drew you to the medium, and how your background in teaching photography has influenced your approach to capturing cosplays over the years?


Those are two very big questions, and I’ll try to keep my response concise! I was initially drawn to photography because I loved the idea of being able to both accurately and dramatically record what I see. You always hear people say that photographs are “truth,” but they’re not. They’re an abstraction of truth, and in the best cases they are an enhancement of truth. That’s what I mean about “dramatically” recording what I see; to take a subject and make it unique or special through the use of composition, framing, camera settings, color, everything else. That’s the one thing that has translated from my landscape and nature photography to my cosplay photography, the notion of recording and dramatizing.

When I began teaching photography I was not very much of a portrait photographer, but of course when you teach the medium you simply have to be able to teach portraiture so by necessity I had to learn more about lighting, posing, editing, etc. As a teacher and an art museum educator I also have to be rather well versed in photo history and so there are a lot of important portrait photographers I’ve had the opportunity to study and analyze. All of this has helped in my ability to make portraits and the learning never stops.


@local_h0ney by @kevinqgray
@local_h0ney

Your journey into cosplay photography kicked off at Otakon in 2016. Can you share the story of that momentous convention experience that propelled you into the world of capturing cosplays? What sparked the interest that led to your first foray into this vibrant community?


I’ve been a fan of anime since college, beginning with Princess Mononoke and then Neon Genesis Evangelion, and it has exploded since then. I resisted going to Otakon for many years, even though my best friend works for them and offered me a free ticket each time. I finally relented in 2016 and brought my camera more or less as a shield to protect me from the crowds as I have a bit of social anxiety. But as I began to see all of these amazingly talented, enthusiastic cosplayers and make hall shots, I realized that this was a way that I could actually contribute to the anime and pop culture I loved. Why not try to use whatever talents I have as a photographer to give back to these other fans of the medium?


After your Otakon adventure, you stumbled upon local cosplayers who booked you for shoots. What was it like stepping into that world of local cosplaying without any prior expectations, and how did those early shoots shape your perception of cosplay photography?


My first experience with cosplay outside of a con came in the most unexpected of ways. I was working at a small, living history museum in upstate New York where every winter we held an ice harvest. That first scene in Frozen where a young Kristof and all the other guys are cutting blocks of ice out of the lake? It’s exactly that. Visitors could come and cut their own block, and suddenly I saw two people dressed exactly like Elsa and Anna walking onto the ice to get a chance. One of my jobs was to photograph the event for promotion so I immediately took a bunch of documentary style photos of them cutting, and then I ran up to them afterwards to introduce myself and take some more pictures. These were @hillcitycosplay and @lazyrotini, who I’ve worked with multiple times since and became good friends with. We began to do cosplay shoots out in locations across upstate NY and that’s where I first learned that cosplay photography can be nicely paired with the landscape photography I was already doing.


@lazyrotini photo by @kevinqgray
@lazyrotini

As a cosplay photographer you run into all kinds of characters to shoot with their own unique looks and personalities. What have challenges of photographing Disney princesses versus anime villains? Can you recount a specific photoshoots where you faced unexpected challenges to capture the essence of that character your shooting, and how did you adapt your aesthetic to bring out the cosplayer's vision for their character?


In a general sense, the largest challenges I face are often in location, especially in a convention setting where good spaces to shoot are in high demand (I don’t ever even try to shoot at the Katsucon gazebo, for example LOL). If a location doesn’t suit the mood of a particular character, then you have to get more creative with things like framing, posing, and lighting. To this day there are many instances where some compromise needs to be made, especially since I’m the kind of old-fashioned photographer who wants to get as much of it in-camera as possible. I do very little compositing (creating new environments in Photoshop), partly because I prefer to use real locations and partly because I’m not great at compositing!


@maria.cosplays12
@maria.cosplays12

In the past four years, I’m sure your journey has been a learning curve when it comes to posing, lighting, and editing for cosplay photography. Have you encountered any new techniques or lessons that significantly transformed the way you approach capturing cosplays?


By far the greatest leap in skill I’ve taken is in lighting. I have learned so, so much more about lighting a human model vs. relying solely on natural light for a landscape photo in the past four years. There was a point where I realized I was limiting myself by my knowledge and my equipment related to lighting and that I had to become comfortable with strobes and LED color lightsticks to not only shoot in low or bad light situations but in order to achieve the dramatic effect I and my cosplayers want. I feel that the learning curve for using artificial light is incredibly steep and I still have a long way to go.



Collaboration with models is a key aspect of your cosplay photography. Have you had memorable collaborations where the cosplayer's interpretation of a character brought a fresh perspective that maybe helped to influence the overall success of the shoot?


@hillcitycosplay once created 1920s flapper versions of Elsa and Anna costumes, and it was a lot of fun to try and build a photographic aesthetic around that. But every cosplayer brings their own unique interpretation of the character they’re portraying, and it’s up to me as the photographer and them as the cosplayer(s) to figure out the vision together. It’s probably not good for my own sanity but I don’t use the same formula for every shoot. I don’t camp in one place at a con, I’m always bouncing around trying to find the best place for a certain shoot and crawling, climbing and sometimes running to get the kind of shot I want. I liken it to a dance where sometimes you lead and sometimes your partner does, and hopefully you don’t step on each other’s feet too much and it looks graceful.


@itskenziemf
@itskenziemf

Looking back on your career so far, particularly these four years of intense cosplay photography, is there a specific moment or project that stands out as a turning point or a highlight? What made that particular experience significant for you?


In 2021 I made my first attempt at charging for bookings at a convention, having no idea what to expect. I ended up with over a dozen bookings and suddenly I realized, I could actually make a real side gig out of this thing. People saw my photos on Instagram and actually want to work with me. It was an incredible, overwhelming feeling and I’m still pleasantly surprised every time I see a new booking come in, especially from a new client who’s never worked with me before.


With your full-time job in education at an art museum, how do you find a balance between your roles in education and photography?


Don’t forget the six year old daughter my wife and I are raising! My routine is that every night after putting her to bed, I sit down with a small glass of scotch and begin editing whatever photographs are next on the list. I usually find editing to be relaxing so most of the time I look forward to it. I’m someone who likes to keep busy so the work doesn’t bother me. The scheduling of everything, however…



As you express excitement about where cosplay photography will take you, are there specific goals or dream projects you're looking forward to pursuing in the coming years? Any particular characters or themes you're eager to explore with your lens?


I want to find more opportunities to create tintype portraits of cosplayers. Along with my digital work I have become interested in the 19th century photographic technique of wet plate collodion, which requires me to take my darkroom with me and coat the chemicals on black metal plates on location, put them in the camera to expose them, and then develop them. They have an incredible look and are very unique in the cosplay world, but as of now there’s really only one con each year where it’s feasible for me to make them (Colossalcon East).


As for characters, I’m always up for a Neon Genesis Evangelion shoot, and my current favorite anime is Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End so I hope to have some opportunities to shoot those characters soon too.


@hillcitycosplay and @lazyrotini
@hillcitycosplay and @lazyrotini

With many talented Photographers and Cosplayers out there in the community, are there any Photographers or Cosplayers whose work you follow and inspires you that you’d like to collaborate with one day and that you’d like to give a shout-out to?


The list of cosplayers and cosplay photographers who inspire me is far too long and if I tried to name some of them my fear would be that I’d forget to name others. I will say that in general, the cosplay community is one of the most positive and supportive groups of people I’ve ever come across and it’s always a pleasure to work with and alongside them.

And because I’m safely assured it’ll never happen, I’m willing to say that I would absolutely love to work with Italian cosplayer @himee.lily, as her Evangelion cosplays are spot-on and the aesthetic she strives for with the photographers she works with is right up my alley.


If you could pick any fictional character to be your cosplay sidekick at a convention, providing commentary on your photography adventures, who would it be?


Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes. I appreciate his dry wit and the constant threat of tiger attack would keep me on my toes.


Which fictional character would you choose to have a dream photoshoot with if you had the chance and why?


I guess it would have to be either Asuka or Rei from Evangelion, though Asuka would probably get annoyed with me very quickly and I can’t imagine Rei would be at all interested in posing.


As our conversation with Kevin Gray comes to a close, we've unraveled the fascinating chapters of his cosplay photography journey. Kevin, for those captivated by your lens and eager to explore more of your work, could you share where readers can find and follow you online? Whether it's social media, a portfolio, or any upcoming projects, guide our readers on the path to discovering more of the captivating world you've woven through your photography. Thank you for sharing your insights and creativity with us!


The very best place to keep up with me is on Instagram at @kevinqgray. I have a website, www.kevinqgray.com, but I’m very bad at updating it. I do a variety of Northeast US cons, with Katsucon, Otakon, and Colossalcon East being the most consistent.



Be sure to check out the issues of Creative Cosplays Magazine where Kevin's photos have been chosen for the cover. All available in Digital and Printed formats.




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