The Birth of The Brotographer Corner
What exactly IS "The Brotographer Corner", this place of many wonders, legends, and urban myths? If you've been inside of the cosplay scene for some time, especially within the Pacific Northwest, odds are you've at least heard of it. The origin story, however, has been shrouded in mystery and false assumptions. I'm here to tell my side of this story!
Believe it or not, but one of the main aspects that have torn a rift between cosplayers and photographers over the years is simply the act of having group cosplays. This on the surface appears to be an entirely natural concept, friends who get together and participate in a group activity together. But upon further inspection, this has caused a rift, as it is literally group cosplay, and not group cosplay and photographer.
Once the photos are all said and done, once they are taken, the group of cosplayers would then often walk off and leave the photographer behind. Photographers are also mostly just individuals, not full teams of people working behind the scenes. Those times when there is a full team, those are generally the exception, and more often than not only assembled for a particular specific shoot.
Many of us photographers just casually refer to each other as "Bro" or "Bruh" when we see each other. After a shoot, the first thing we'd say is simply "Sup Bruh!" followed by a fist pump as a general greeting. Why? Who the hell knows! It just sort of became a thing, I guess?
Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC), Sakura-Con, and PAX West (Formerly PAX Prime or Penny Arcade Expo) all exist within the same venue, the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC, formerly WSCTC, why do these things keep changing names). This enables us to see the same faces regularly, the same photographers in the same place over and over again several times a year. We created this sort of bond between one-another, similar to what cosplay groups had. And then, at one point, we started to act as a single unit.
When one of us would get a call for a photo shoot, we'd move as a group, a collective unit, to wherever we were called out to. Once at the shoot, we'd each take turns between different roles, such a photographer, lighting assistant, directing poses, or equipment assisting. That last note was one of the best experiences I personally believe we all had. We assisted each other with equipment, loaning and sharing camera gear amongst each other for the duration of the shoot. This allowed each of us to grow as photographers by experimenting with equipment and situations we'd never would have had otherwise.
We were the "Bros", we were the "Photographers", but there is still another piece to the puzzle. What exactly is the "Corner"?
Since we had three events a year in a single location, we all knew the venue and surrounding areas extremely well. We had nicknames for each location so we could quickly communicate where we were, or where we were heading at any giving time for others in the group to meet up. But where do we go when the shoot was over? This is Seattle, it rains. The weather turns to crud in a heartbeat. The conventions themselves were also growing each year, significantly limiting where casual relaxing and sitting could occur.
The Washington State Convention Center has this certain place up on the 4th floor, on a back wall, out of the way from the main traffic flow. This may seem high up, but the building is also built on a hill. Imagine this for a second: 1st floor is ground level, 2nd floor has a balcony over the street, 3rd floor has underground parking, and 4th floor is ground level! The 4th floor is also direct access to Freeway Park right behind the building, this being the primary location where photo shoots happen.
So we're on the 4th floor, directly inside of the doors from the park, yet still just barely out of the way of the main high traffic flow path. We now gained a quick staging area. If a cosplayer contacted any one of us for a shoot, we could either direct them to this location, or we could congregate and move as a group through the park to the cosplayer's location. This out of the way corner became our home base of operations.
The Back Injury
Contrary to what others have experienced at other conventions, our corner traditionally was never a location we would take photos at. This is in stark contrast to the Katsucon Gazebo, Fanime Wall, or Otakon Fountain. Our corner was strictly used as a staging ground for meeting cosplayers or a place to wait to head to a cosplayer's location.
And then I suffered a terrible back injury that left me on and off crutches for about a year, an injury that to this day I've never fully recovered from.
Because of my limited sense of mobility, yet still extremely strong desire to take photographs, I started to set up and do photos right there in the corner. I explained my health situation publicly, and told everyone to simply meet me in the corner, and that I'd hardly be leaving it at all. I stopped using my lighting equipment, and switched to taking simple quick snapshots within the corner.
This became the turning point for the corner, and when it finally started to be referred to the now given title of "The Brotographer Corner"
Because of my request, more and more people started to show up to the corner just to hang out and socialize, starting as a way for a few to keep tabs on me to ensure I was doing alright, and then extending to them inviting their friends over to hang out with each other, too. This trend of friends inviting friends that lead to more friends being invited has grown to the level where I personally honestly don't even know everyone who hangs out in the corner anymore.
With the limited mobility, I also missed out on the main group gathering that everyone including myself expected me to be at. The gathering was right outside, but on the 2nd floor, a place my limited mobility prevented me from getting to easily. To my extreme luck, I was able to catch a single photo of the entire group from above while in the corner using a super wide angle lens and this photo became one of the most favorite of the entire gathering! My little misfortune turned into a blessing in disguise.
The Brotographer Corner's New Culture
Many things have evolved over the past few years with this little area of the convention center. For myself, even feeling physically better now, I've become accustomed to taking quick snapshots in the corner. We have people bring in boom boxes for music that play constantly throughout the day and night while people casually dance. Friends and strangers alike mingle and socialize with one-another. And because we're outside of the high-traffic areas, cosplayers in full outfit stop by to sit down and relax off of their feet for a bit.
One story I've loved to share time and time again is of two people I'd never seen before in my life walking through the corner. I briefly overheard part of their conversation. One person was explaining to the other what the "Brotographer Corner" is and how cool of a concept that it is to have a casual socializing meet up location at a convention. This was the very point in time that hit me hard, realizing that although we started as a few solo photographers looking for that same comradery that cosplayers have, that it has grown into something so much more where everyone is welcome and included, regardless if you're a cosplayers, photographer, both, neither, or anything in between.
Another amazing aspect that I've not really opened up before is in regards to other conventions. I've had convention directors all across the country at different times contact me and ask me about various aspects regarding The Brotographer Corner. All of their missions have essentially been the same: how to provide a good social atmosphere for their events within their venues. It is also about creating an inclusive culture and atmosphere, the true heart of what gave birth to the anime, video game, and comic convention scenes in the first place. Through pure accident, we have revolutionized and modernized this aspect of convention culture.
Onward to 2017
As of this writing, we're just shy of two weeks away from ECCC 2017 in Seattle. I've been pondering about what we should do for the corner as we head into another amazing year of conventions. I've been talking more and more about not wanting to focus on photography anymore, and The Brotographer Corner is one of the main aspects as to why. Initially for me, photography was all about meeting new and interesting people, and bringing them all together. That concept has now grown away from just the camera and into something much larger for everyone.
Will the camera ever go away? This is doubtful. But will I be the person behind the lens? That is still something only time will tell. As things are planning out right now, I may be entirely done with that aspect. Instead, I'd personally like to introduce some new ways for people to interact with one another, to get to know each other better through The Brotographer Corner. I have some absolutely amazing people helping be behind the scenes right now to bring a couple awesome surprises together for this year. At this point, all I can say is "JUST WAIT AND SEE!" #gethyped