A solo exhibition by Tan Ching Yee

28 Nov – 31 Dec 2013

Over a span of six years, photographer Tan Ching Yee visited, interviewed and photographed more than 20 cosplayers in their homes, and the works were presented at Offstage.

Read our Objectifs Chat with Ching Yee or more about the exhibition in her own words:

“I started shooting this series back in 2008. I saw two teenage boys donning dramatic cosplay costumes on the MRT train. They looked slightly uneasy, probably due to the attention they were getting, but there was a certain kind of courage in them that I found very compelling. I was deeply curious about the person underneath that costume. What were their reasons for cosplaying? What were their lives like outside of cosplay? I documented this journey of meeting different cosplayers through a series of formal portraits of them in their own homes.

Cosplay, short for “costume play”, is a type of performance art in which participants, or “cosplayers”, put on costumes and accessories to represent a specific character from comics (“manga”), animation (“anime”), games, movies or music bands. Cosplayers will often seek to adopt the affect, mannerism and body language of the characters they portray. In Singapore, the first official cosplay event started in 2001 and has since grown to a few large-scale annual events. The cosplay phenomenon is growing worldwide, yet many people are still unfamiliar with this sub-culture.

With little knowledge about cosplay, I started attending the major cosplay events in Singapore to get closer to the cosplayers. To learn more about their involvement in an event, I followed a group of them to “Comic Fiesta”, a major cosplay event in Kuala Lumpur, even bunking in the same hotel room with them for a few days. It was an eye-opening and mind-boggling culture shock. Besides the array of visual information, there were also plenty of emotional stories at the back of this scene.

Over a span of six years, I have visited, interviewed and photographed more than 20 cosplayers in their homes. Every cosplayer taught me something new. I learnt that there are many types of cosplayers, each with a different reason to cosplay. They also have varying levels of involvement in a cosplay event. I take my hat off to those who put in tremendous effort and passion in the craft of costume-making and in performing the character to make it believable.

In this body of work, the cosplayers wore their cosplay costumes and posed in their character’s signature poses, with their living spaces as the backdrop. Through a juxtaposition of fiction against reality, the “fictitious characters” invite us “offstage” into their homes and their private lives. Between the imaginary and the real, the hidden and the seen, how selective are our perceptions based on our beliefs and experiences? As otherworldly as these cosplayers may look, when out of their costumes, how vastly different are they from us, or how strikingly similar?

I thank these cosplayers for giving myself and other viewers an opportunity to get a glimpse of their private lives and to understand more about this subculture.”

About Tan Ching Yee

Tan Ching Yee is a Singaporean photographer and educator. Trained as a Chinese teacher, she pursued her growing passion in photography only in recent years. Besides shooting events and editorial, she also enjoys teaching photography and assisting photographers. Her personal works veer towards documentary and conceptual portraiture with a social message.

She has previously exhibited at Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) 2008 at the National Museum of Singapore. She has also participated in group shows at 2902 Gallery, The Arts House and Objectifs in Singapore. In 2012, she presented a public talk on Shooting Our People at the National Museum of Singapore, as part of the 10-year anniversary of Shooting Home workshop organised by Objectifs.