WEARING YOUR FANDOM ON YOUR SLEEVE: HOW FANDOMS AND FASHION CLUE PEOPLE IN TO WHO YOU ARE
by Maria Genoese
Introduction: Henry Jenkins (1996, 2008) defines fandom as "[The] ability to transform personal reaction into social interaction [, and] spectatorial culture into participatory culture," (p. 21) and I can agree that that's a fair definition: fandoms unite fans. The principle behind fandom isn't to just blindly obsess over a show, or book, or band, it's to drive towards developing a sense of community with other fans and feel like similar interests create unity. We see this outreach for community in the way people dress, whether we're fully aware of it or not. Someone who is a giant Batman fan, for example, is automatically more hyperaware of every person who passes by wearing a Batman shirt, every wallet, book bag, or pair of sneakers bearing the logo, and every time the word pops up in other people’s conversations. In my personal experience, wearing my geekdom on my sleeve (in the literal sense) is an act that gives people a clue about me, that lets them know where my interests lie and with what "community" I feel a sense of belonging. By advertising my interests, I feel a connection with strangers in my fandom, because – hey! If they like the same thing as me, they can’t be so bad. The intent of this photo essay was to juxtapose non-fandom and fandom attire to show which communities the subjects belong to and how their fandoms might reflect their personalities in how they dress. It wraps around the idea that, at first glance, you don't know what these people are like; there are no indicators of interest or of character in their regular clothes. Of course, you can always make inferences or assumptions about people, but fandoms reveal a lot about a person and may serve as I guide to a better understanding. I wanted to show off these two sides of a person – the fandom and the non-fandom, the advertised versus the undisclosed. I find it important to note, however, that my intent with this essay was to not praise one personality aspect over another: I'm not suggesting that people with fandoms are better or that people without fandoms aren't equally interesting, I just wanted to show that you can't always recognize a person's interests if they don't advertise them. Therefore, expect to see lots of smiles in the subjects’ pictures, because whether they’re showing off their geek side or not, they still carry their personality with them wherever they go.
So here’s your challenge! When you turn the page, take a look at the first image in each set and ask yourself, “What’s this person interested in?”
Composition Analysis: Subjects for this photo essay were chosen based on my knowledge of subjects’ interests and how I could show some variety between them. For instance, if I used all of the pictures of all of the subjects I took, I’d have three Batman fans (1, 2, 3), one My Little Pony fan (4), three Mario Brothers fans (5, 6, 7 - of Mario, Luigi, and Peach), and one computer gamer “Steam” fan (8). The last subject I featured in the essay, the Batman-loving 7 year old, best portrayed his interest in the fandom and always incorporated his love of video games, eliminating the need to use candidates 1 through 3 and 8. Subjects 4 through 7 weren’t used simply because the pictures didn’t come out as neat as the ones I featured did, probably because they were the first ones I took. To accommodate the subjects’ different schedules, the pictures were taken in a variety of places everywhere from subjects’ living rooms, to an empty classroom at a community college, and at Rowan University’s photo lab, and were shot in front of a white sheet held up with thumbtacks and binder clips. Photos were taken using an iPad 2 camera and the Hipstamatic app, and re-colored/retouched using the program Picasa. Non-fandom shots were colored in sepia-tone and softened to contrast the fandom shots, which were brightened, touched with glow, and framed in a faded white vignette border (Framing - 10 Top Photography Composition Rules). I wanted to show that the non-fandom shots are more set in reality and that these are how these people typically dress and appear at a glance; this is also the side of them that gives no indication of their interests. The fandom images have a dream-like effect added because they feature the part of the subject’s personality that isn’t always advertised. The dream-like glow in the fandom shots is what separates the “real” person we see from the obsessed fan we don’t always see: the Walmart employee from the heavy metal-loving rock star, the hairdresser and housewife from the zombie-crazed, monster movie addict, the serious political science student from the fun-loving, would-be Pokémon Master, the full-time artist from the Disney princess, the truck driver from the Harley Davidson biker, the fashion-savvy retail worker from the Lorax-loving environmentalist, and the 7 year old elementary school student from Gotham City’s next Dark Knight. The non-fandom shots all had the same effects added to them (sepia, soften), and the fandom shots all share the same effects, as well (brighten, focus glow, white vignette border). This was done to give the images a sense of uniformity and make them all look apart of the same set, kind of like how people in fandoms are all part of the same set of interests. As per the Golden Section Rule (Your Photo as a Story), the points are meant to align and “box” each subject’s frame, focusing in on how they advertise their fandom, their clothes. Compositionally, the fandom shots rely on a certain level of intertextuality, meaning your knowledge of those fandoms lends to your understanding of their personality; for example, knowing The Lorax is about saving the environment helps you understand why that subject is hugging flowers. By looking at the same subject in two different lights – the non-fandom and the fandom – you get a better grasp of their personality, a sense of their interests, and clues about what makes them who they are. The photograph captures a part of them you might miss if their interests weren’t plastered all over their wardrobe.
In this photo, Ryan (the subject) is off-center and his amp is to the left of the frame so that the picture seems balanced. The picture was balanced so that the white space doesn’t make the image feel empty or incomplete, yet his posture leads the viewer to look around his frame and towards the white space; this allows them to see the whole picture: Ryan, the cord, the amp, the border. The background is a solid white to avoid being a distraction, and both Ryan and the amp are framed by the faded white vignette effect. I didn’t want people to try to look past him, but rather focus on qualities of the picture that are fandom-oriented, such as Ryan (and his rocker clothes), his amp, and his guitar. I was trying to avoid taking only pictures that were centered because I wanted to add some variety to the images, as per the 10 Composition Rules. As for coloring, the warm colors are meant to add to the “yay, this is how I am when I’m a rock star” vibe of the picture. Ryan is showcasing his fandom and showing off a side of him that people don’t usually see. Typically people only ever see as far as the chill, laid back dude, not realizing that his world revolves around his music – his loud, awesome music. While his metal may be considered hardcore or extreme, he himself isn’t an extreme guy: he’s friendly, approachable, and fun, says the look on his face. He’s the type of guy you’d want to hang out with and maybe listen to some tunes with, and you know he’ll put a smile on your face.
Works Cited 10 Top Photography Composition Rules. Photography Mad – Tips, Tutorials, and Techniques. December 18, 2012. http://www.photographymad.com/pages/view/10-top-photography-composition-rules Jenkins III, Henry. Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, June 1988. Volume 5, Number 2. Photography Composition – Your Photo as a Story. Two Pilots. December 18, 2012. http://www.colorpilot.com/comp_rules.html