Photographer Betty Oxlade-Martin visited the London Anime and Gaming Con to document the young people taking refuge in the pleasure of alternate universes
Once reserved for nerds and weebs – and generally something to be enjoyed privately – anime has had a huge cultural renaissance over the past few years. Previously, publicly admitting that you’ve watched the entirety of Neon Genesis (and the even more batshit sequels), or having a crush on Ryuk from Death Note (hot) was scarcely hazarded without hesitation, if at all. But now, even just stating that you watch anime could, in certain corners of the internet, get you Cool Points. Perhaps this is because we’ve been told to embrace our cringe and to shrug off cultural taboos and faux pas interests, or because anime is just genuinely good, but public love for anime has been steadily growing since the pandemic, as has the surrounding subculture.
This, in part, is what led photographer Betty Oxlade-Martin to this year’s London Anime and Gaming Con in Hammersmith. “Anime has had a surge in popularity with teens today, so I thought it would be a great place to capture developing identities and dressing up in one place”, Oxlade-Martin tells Dazed in a conversation over email.
The London-based photographer’s portraits from the day are an eclectic mix of colourful and fantastical to downright sinister and ominous. Still, one thing connects each subject Betty captured; an undying love for and dedication to anime. “Approaching a community that finds their own reality within the fantasy realm, I was drawn to the dedication, time and effort that went into embodying each character,” says Betty. “Teens spent months putting together looks for each day, refashioning household items and working with varied budgets and timescales. It seemed to be a moment for building confidence and making friends.”
Whether watched as a form of escapism or as a means for exploring complex subject matters, the lure of anime draws die-hard fans and offers a sense of community, identity, and belonging – something Oxlade-Martin says was very apparent on the day: “There was a buzz in the air as people began queuing and the venue began to fill. It seemed as though strangers became friends through their love for anime, each costume a mark bringing unity.” You can picture the scene; chatting about your favourite show with someone in the same cosplay as yourself, or standing next to your character’s rival in the queue for the bathroom. No fear of judgement from outsiders, just good old-fashioned, harmless fun.
In an ever-increasingly isolated and individualistic world, the camaraderie among attendees is nothing short of heartwarming. Events like London Anime and Gaming Con are essential in providing a safe place for self-expression and connection with like-minded people. Oxlade-Martin’s collection of portraits depicts young people dedicated to their passion and their craft, finding solace in their common interest. The photographer puts it best herself: “The project highlights a community that is on the rise and yet still often seen as outside the mainstream – a group of dreamers finding comfort in fantasy lands.”