Getting up close and personal with the cosplay community

The photographer delving into the art of dressing up

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County Jail
Photography Charlie Kwai

We've had Charlie Kwai's close range portraiture on our radar for awhile. Known for his sometimes dark, sometimes humorous look at London life, Kwai has turned his lens towards the surreal world of cosplay and conventions for his latest photo book, ‘County Jail’.

“There's always a mix of escapism, devotion, love or fanaticism involved but I think for most people it's a chance to be creative and be someone or something they aspire to be for the day and have a lot of fun at the same time”, Kwai says of the cosplay community. He rarely asks for permission to snap someone's portrait, and any engagement comes only after the image has been taken, ensuring the model is completely unposed and at their most natural.

“Wherever I'm shooting, whether it be on the streets of London or at an event I'm always drawn to the most eccentric people. It might be how they're dressed or what they're doing, but whatever it is, it is a reflection of confidence, and I try to empower that through the photographs I make. I'm becoming more and more interested and in pursuit of those that explore identity, and it fascinates me as to why people do it.”

Removing any visible trace of location – and therefore context – from the images, Kwai sought to create his own world disconnected from the one in which he initially took the portraits. Kwai then presents the photographs as part of a fictitious jailhouse, with the hopes of raising questions on the models stories, concealment, and identity. The result is part documentary, part hyperreal, and offers an unpretentious glimpse into the cosplay community of London.

View more of Charlie Kwai's work and buy County Jail here

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