Silver 2016 / People / Life Style

A Cos’ality Of Play

  • Prizes
    Silver in People/Life Style
  • Photographer
    Argus Paul Estabrook

Under the daily hum of academic pressures, plastic surgery advertisements, and fast food chains, a growing subculture of cosplay has taken root on the outskirts of Gangnam, South Korea. Meeting usually one weekend every a month at convention centers in Yangjae or Hangyeoul, Korean youth have seemingly found a way to escape the pressures of societal perfection by transforming into fictional characters they admire.They mostly meet and prepare in the metro stations closest to the chosen venue, taking them over almost completely in a sea of cosmetic boxes and costumes. Some spend hours applying make-up there, even going as far as hiring make-up artists to help them become anime princesses. Others simply wear used uniforms found in military surplus stores to act out war with their friends. Cross-dressing is also extremely popular. For these few hours each month, they are welcomed into a community where they can escape into fantasy.But can escape be fully realized in a society that places such a high value in personal appearance and consumerism?In this urban playground where fantasy lives are acted upon, they must still contended with the reality of Korean hierarchical values. Onlookers still see them amidst a landscape oversaturated in all manner of advertisements. With so much product placement imposing itself onto every aspect of their life, is their escape not a product itself?The aim of my photography is not to judge those who find community in this subculture, but to examine how they feel comfortable being seen, as well as presenting an external environment that is impossible to remove. Through the use of multiple exposures, I am able to share a story that lives between fantasy and reality: A Cos’ality Of Play.

I’m an emerging photographer currently based in Seoul, South Korea. As a Korean-American who grew up in a rural area of Virginia, I have a unique perspective of Korean identity and its relationship to both global and regional communities. I studied photography as an undergraduate, but set it aside during my MFA program at James Madison University to concentrate on intermedia. After moving to South Korea I rediscovered photography, using it as a means to document and share my experiences.