Photography exhibition shows Colorado fantasy fans in full costume

Photo: Courtesy of Anne Barhyte
<p>“Girl in red at the sand dunes” </p>

Denver’s Skylite Station gallery is hosting “Cosplay in Colorado,” a photography exhibition that explores a sub-genre of comic book culture where fans dress up as their favorite fictional media character, often from Japanese sci-fi cartoons or medieval fantasy stories involving elves and knights.

The exhibition features 21 photos of costumed Coloradans, shot in various naturalist environments around the state, such as Red Rocks, the Botanic Gardens, the Ice Castles, and urban locations around Denver like The Millenium Bridge and The Denver Pavilions. The gallery’s website displays an additional 30 photos as well as interviews with the cosplayers depicted in the photos.

“Cosplayers have always been taking pictures and posting them online,” exhibition curator Lauren Scanlan says. “Now they can be seen in fine art photography with Colorado as the backdrop.”

A longtime cosplay fan, Scanlan put out a call asking photographers to submit photos of Colorado Cosplayers in costume.

Cosplay has become a worldwide phenomenon over the past 25 years, experiencing a particularly large surge with the advent of social media. This form of adult dress-up enjoys a strong popularity at Colorado sci-fi and fantasy conventions like StarFest, Nan Desu Kan, MileHiCon, and Denver Comic Con.

"Cosplay has been growing in Colorado for decades, " Rebecca Heinrich, Cosplay Director at Denver Comic Con, says, noting the extreme level of devotion cosplayers have to their craft. "We bundle up to go outside in subzero weather to spray paint large props, or drive out in snowstorms to buy another zipper. Denver has some challenges: sadly we don't have a fabric district like LA or New York."

“A lot of people come to Comic Con just to see the cosplayers in costume,” Denver Comic Con cosplayer Christine Rost says.

In 2013, Denver Comic Con was rated the fifth most popular in North America. This year’s event, which was held in June, attracted 86,000 people. Rost estimates that more than 20,000 of those present were in cosplay.

Rost says that cosplay provides a social avenue for people who might otherwise be alone with their books and films.

Such is the case for Lochlan O’Neil, a Colorado State University student who travels to a different cosplay convention around the country every month. O’Neil, who lives in downtown Denver where she often meets up with other cosplayers on the 16th Street Mall, often dresses as Princess Celestia or another character from the “My Little Pony” franchise when she attends events.

“I’ve always been an introverted person that had a hard time making friends,” O’Neil says. “But when I’m in costume and around people like me, I’m much more confident and comfortable talking to people.”

“Colorado has a large group of expert cosplayers,” Scanlan says. “At Comic Con we have people who make giant dresses or kimonos, and one guy who made a whole suit of armor as Iron Man. Really cool stuff.”

“Cosplay In Colorado” opens July 4, with an opening night event on July 12 at 4p.m.