A few weeks ago Kotaku showed you some cosplay photos from photographer Mengjie Luan. Meng, a 29 year-old web editor, has been snapping off pictures of Chinese cosplayers over the last 5 years. Meng sat down with me last week to show off some of his photos and to talk about the Chinese cosplay community.
Originally a photojournalist, Beijing native Meng, never expected that his cosplay and cosplay photography hobby would make him one of the better-known cosplay photographers in China. An avid gamer, Meng grew up in a time when China still sold licensed game consoles. That is, before the country banned them in 2000.
"I was fascinated with video games, but we didn't really own a console when I was little," said Meng, who's now in his 20s, as he snuffed out a cigarette. "I had an uncle who borrowed an Atari from a coworker, and we used to play that a lot."
As Meng got older, his gaming tastes grew as well, and he became an avid gamer. While gaming became one of his major hobbies, he also dabbled in photography, which is something he says he shares in common with his father.
It was after university when he first began taking pictures of cosplayers, or as they call them in China "cosers".
"I went to university to study law," said Meng. "Unfortunately, it was hard to find a job in that field after graduation. I ended up going to work for a TV station's website as a web editor. I had to write, take pictures, and put stuff on the website." Despite all that, Meng added, he still had loads of free time.
A female colleague who was into cosplay introduced Meng to the costume-wearing subculture. Mesmerized by the dedication that cosplayers put into portraying characters, Meng became soon became a steady staple in Beijing's cosplay community. To Meng, what catches his eye and his lens isn't just the costume but the person's behavior and attitude towards what they are portraying. For Meng, everything from the facial expression to the pose is key in pulling off a look.
During the early days when Meng first started taking pictures of "cosers", he would attend club meetings held around universities as well as go to the major gaming conventions, such as China Joy. In those early days he recalled being rejected by cosplayers more than 80% of the time. He still gets quite a lot of rejection these days but not as bad as when he first started.
"I used to walk up to girls at conventions or on the street and tell them they were pretty and that I wanted to take a picture of them," said Meng. "Some of the girls would look at me with look of disgust and blow me off, others would just run away like I was some creep." Meng, who comes off as well-mannered and extremely polite, is anything but.
"Other times I would contact people online through QQ or MSN, and we would talk but once I suggested meeting, they'd blacklist me."
Despite the initial rejections, Meng kept up with his photography. Over the next two years, he would develop a network within the Chinese cosplay community. Within the community, he became known for his preference of shooting in a studio and using Photoshop to create backdrops and effects. According to Meng, his photo editor, Qing Hangdeng, also appears in many of his works, such as dressing as Chun-Li from the Street Fighter series.
While Meng's best known for his photos of pretty women dressed up as fictional or fantasy characters, Meng says that he wishes there were more masculine male cosers in China for him to focus his lens on. He isn't only interested in photographing female cosplayers; he's interested in photographing cosplayers.
"There aren't very many masculine men in the Chinese cosplay community, and if there are, they aren't portraying manly roles," said Meng.
Meng is currently playing Monster Hunter Portable 3rd and Patapon 2, when he has downtime. He says he is taking a small break from cosplay due to his day job; however, he will be back with more photos after China Joy. Meng will hold a personal gallery in Beijing around that time as well, making this the third year that he's put together a gallery.