Some Stuff about LARP Photography (Again)

This post is going to be a huge mishmash of stuff, covering lots of different things. Some of these ideas have grown out of Facebook posts I tried and failed to make, some have grown out of conversations, some are just things that swim around in my head. I’m not looking for sympathy here, or ego-massage. I’m just using this blog for it’s intended purpose – catharsis on a personal level.

CM-150314-4705webThere’s a reason for picking that photo there, of a monster being shot and recoiling backwards. That’s how being a LARP photographer feels like to me most of the time.

This weekend I crewed Shadow Wars as a photographer. It was a fascinating experience and there was not a second that I didn’t completely love (ok, maybe I didn’t completely love the bit where I still wasn’t well from flu and a chest infection and therefore had to choose between toting a camera and toting a gun). Adam has been crewing Shadow Wars for years and convinced me to come along to shoot some pictures, I was assured that T and the rest of the crew would love to have me there. As usual I signed up to the event with utter confidence, completely sure that I’d be able to bring a unique vision to my photographs of the game. The week before I began to lose my confidence, even considering cancelling – my chest infection gave me a handy get-out clause. The day of the game I was convinced I looked stupid, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to roleplay with anyone (since this is the first time I’ve shot a game where I can legitimately be there as a photographer) and that I’d have a breakdown and cry in the middle of the site.

11072366_10152677628225965_91234684_nTurns out that none of those things happened. I looked cool, I roleplayed with players reasonably successfully and I didn’t cry once. (I almost cried a little bit when my quadricep injury played up, but nobody saw so that didn’t happen.) In fact I think that the weekend was a huge success. I certainly came out with some pictures that I am happy with (perhaps not as happy as I could have been, but everyone has off days) and I also came out of the event having made some awesome friends which is – let’s face it – what hobbies are really all about.

I am hard on myself with my photography. It’s not just enough to get some pictures that everyone else likes, it’s crucial to me to get pictures that are exactly as I wanted them and raise the bar over the last thing I shot. Somebody once said that you’re only ever as good as your last photograph and this is something that I really take to heart.

During some downtime on site I had an interesting discussion with someone which they summed up well in their own Facebook post yesterday. For ease I’ll just copy here what they wrote:

*talking about making kit and about helping other people make kit*

“Oh god, don’t you just hate it when people say ‘It’s ok for you, you’re good at everything you try'”

“Yes!! Because holy shit that’s not true. It’s feels dismissive of all my hard work, practise and like… all those failed projects and fuck ups!”

“I’m not good at everything, I’m just dishonest about my failures!”

I can’t remember which one of us said which. But I’m fairly sure that there was this great moment of realisation on both sides that someone else had experienced this and also just doesn’t show people the fuckups. This happens in my LARP photography. People tell me I’m amazing. But the truth is at Shadow Wars this weekend I shot just under 750 pictures and I’m only happy to publish 195 of them. 3/4 of my pictures are so rubbish that I’ll never show anyone unless I’m trying to make a specific point.

In all honesty I’m a proper sensitive soul when it comes to my art. I never feel like it’s good enough and I always feel like I’ve let people down. I always feel like I’ve let myself down too, which is never a very nice feeling. All I really want is some respect for my photography when it comes to LARP, but it seems I struggle to even get that sometimes. Or that’s how it can feel.

I’m sure I read something years ago that said ‘if you show some vulnerability, people will find you easier to relate to’. I understand that sometimes I come across as a bit of a broody, impenetrable fortress, but in all honesty I guess that’s from growing up as an only child. I never had anyone to let inside as a kid, not like siblings do. I suppose I can be a bit broody, but I’ve written about my general melancholy before I think. But the truth is that I’m a vulnerable, fragile person. Albeit one who occasionally has some strong opinions. Ok, one who usually has some strong opinions.

There can be a tendency in life to believe that disagreeing with someone means that you should hate them and even bitch about them. Or if you’re on Facebook then the solution seems to be to block them – but I digress. Sometimes people bring up a disagreement that I’ve had with someone and point out how much I must hate them, but I’ve never really felt that way. I embrace debate and discussion and I find opposing viewpoints generally quite fascinating. I love to throw my ideas out into the world and let them rub up against other peoples ideas. I love to see people come back with brilliant oppositions to my ideas that make me think. I love to pick the bones of the debate until there’s no meat left on it. I think that all my friends realise the worst criticism they can receive from me is no comment at all – because no comment means it just doesn’t interest me.

But the last two years (that I’ve been taking pictures of LARP) has become somewhat difficult. It has got to the point where I’m starting to feel like I’m facing an uphill struggle every time I think about going to a LARP. I had been naive when I first started writing on this, my personal blog, about LARP and when interacting in LARP Facebook groups. I love to talk about things and I find interesting, and I find LARP absolutely fascinating.

Yeah ok, I’ve apparently said some controversial things. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said on an open discussion forum that I felt people should be brave enough to challenge their employers social media policies (when discussing photographic take-down policies for LARP systems). Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that I felt glasses didn’t always look IC and that the reflections were hard to photograph. And then of course there was the deeply personal post where people believed I was being unkind to women who are larger than me. But I feel like I’ve been dragged over hot coals so many times for these things which are really relatively minor infractions in the grand scheme of things, that were just blown out of proportion by people who somehow felt like I’d eaten the souls of their kittens or something.

The latest round for me to struggle against is because I posted on this blog about why I felt that just reblogging photos isn’t a good way to build community. A few days after I made this post the commendable Ladies Who LARP Tumblr started. Have you taken a look? It has some fabulous ladies on it! The Tumblr’s author asked me if I could use a photo and we had a conversation where I said, I’d prefer you to have a discussion about something relevant to the photo and being a woman at LARP and use it to illustrate that post. It was all very amicable, she seems utterly lovely and I wish the blog all the best. But I’ve had a few messages now from people suggesting that I submit my pictures to her Tumblr. I inevitably explain that we’ve had a discussion and no, I’m not really happy for my LARP photos to be just reblogged without discussion. I’m happy for people to use them to illustrate points (and the interview pieces she’s posting), but not just to reblog. Especially not on Tumblr, which is a bit of a cesspit of deattribution and lazy picture stealing.

While most of the people have completely understood where I’m coming from on this point, some people have not. It was even suggested that I’m hindering the progress of women in LARP by not allowing people to use my photos. I should add here that I’m absolutely passionate about creating a more equal playing field for women in LARP. I’ve written about it on this blog, I’ve written about it on larp.guide and I will continue to talk about it and write about it until we’re genuinely at that point. But I still want to retain some control over my photos, and doing so doesn’t make me a bad person. Thankyouverymuch.

But that’s easier said than done. Last night I found myself awake at 2am wondering if I was indeed a bad person because I wouldn’t let people reblog my images on Tumblr. That perhaps I was somehow putting the cause of women LARPers back ten years. And then of course my mind strayed and I wondered if I was being an arsehole to people who wear glasses. And people who have restrictive jobs. And then I told myself to stop being so silly. Because I am generally identified as female, I wear glasses and I spent the weekend partially in the company of someone lovely who has a job with a restrictive photo policy (and they don’t seem to think I’m an arsehole – either that or they like talking to arseholes).

I think that lots of people don’t want me to shoot at the systems they play at because they perceive me to be an arsehole. Unfortunately I think that these perceptions are built on rumours, exaggerations, and moments where there’s been a disagreement on the internet (and whereas I still get on with people when I’ve had an internet disagreement with them, not everyone does). I’ve found out recently that a couple of people have been far exaggerating experiences that they’ve had with me at LARP and really tarring my reputation. I’ve said it on this blog before, but spreading untruths about people and damaging their professional reputation isn’t actually very cool. Ultimately it makes you look like a dick, but the side effect is that it makes me potentially lose money.

There were a few conversations that happened at Shadow Wars over the weekend with various different people. It does seem that people enjoy confessing their ‘bad LARP photographer’ stories to me. You wouldn’t believe some of the horror stories I’ve been told. But I was struck by the guy who says that due to photographers generally getting in the way and being dicks, he avoids booking at any games that have photographers attending. I nearly put him off Shadow Wars by heading along, but he decided that the game was just too good to miss. (I can confirm that Shadow Wars is indeed too good to miss.)

Lets take a photobreak to celebrate how awesome Shadow Wars is with a fabulous lady who LARPs:

CM-150314-4642webThe truth is that I’m saddened that my presence at a game could put people off. Fortunately the same guy then said ‘but I’m really glad I came because actually you’re lovely and not at all like people say you are, and you don’t get in the way either, I didn’t even notice you’. But if people feel this way about LARP photographers (it’s not just me by all accounts), then something has to change.

I guess though that we can only work out what to change if we know what’s going wrong. When I sat down with Matt and Simon at PD and we hashed out the set of guidelines for photographers, I got a pretty good idea of what organisers felt was wrong with some LARP photographers. We introduced rules about kit, about flashes, about not being in line of sight and about minimum focal lengths on lenses (about 70mm with a dash of Rule 7, btw).

It was an enlightening experience, learning about what was important to enabling immersion in the game. Because let’s face it; immersion is King in games like Empire and Odyssey, and indeed Shadow Wars too I believe. Photographers generally break immersion. And while some people don’t mind, others find it a problem. So for me it’s worth not stopping at the rules we hashed out on a cold evening in GOD at Odyssey, we should be taking this further as LARP photographers.

Shadow Wars has brought a new perspective to the way I feel about LARP photography. For the first time I was able to be a fully functioning NPC a game. I roleplayed with players, I roleplayed with monsters and I took photos for three days. It was great fun. For those three days I was a war correspondent working for New Horizon Media on a job that I didn’t really want. I felt like I got better pictures because I was immersed in the system – and getting plastic BB’s fired at your face certainly sharpens your senses and makes you ultra aware of your surroundings.

Every event my experience as a LARP photographer grows. And every event I take less photos. Not because I’m getting better, but because I self-select out of situations where I might impact someones game negatively. That does mean I get less shots. That does mean I miss some awesome moments. Some might argue that makes me a worse photographer because I’m not capturing so much for so many people, but I feel like in fact it makes me a better LARP photographer. I’ve long argued, in my professional career, that being a good photographer isn’t about exploiting every situation possible. It’s also about knowing when to draw a line and be respectful.

Being a good LARP photographer, to me, is also about working with the organisers to fulfil what they need. Not all organisers need photographs, not all photographers want photographers. Not all photographers suit all organisers styles. I’ve worked quite closely with PD over the past two years to try and give them excellent pictures that they can use for marketing and to construct their game world. I’d like to work closely with Shadow Wars in the future to do this as well. If I don’t feel like I’m giving someone something of value then I don’t really feel like I want to shoot an event. Part of the fun for me is in turning over a set of pictures that the organiser will use to make their game somehow better – anything from style guides to selling more tickets.

I’d also like to work with other organisers in the future, those working on new games. Helping them to build style guides and wikis when they don’t themselves have any content. Helping them to produce fantastic publicity material to generate hype and just generally helping the community produce a better quality of game. Because that’s what we all want, isn’t it? A better quality of game to play? Imagine what games we could have if we all worked together on making the standards just that little bit higher. Wouldn’t it be fantastic? I feel like I can help somehow with that. We live in an increasingly visual world and not everyone has the skills to describe things in pictures.

I don’t know where I’m going with this now. Which is what I usually say somewhere after 2500 words. I’ve rambled my way round a few different topic and I’ve somewhat lost my way. I suppose really what I’m trying to say is that I’m feeling rather undervalued as a LARP photographer at the moment. And this isn’t me just fishing for compliments or looking for a great big virtual cuddle-pile, but just looking around to figure out the way that I want to move forwards. And perhaps even finding new organisers that would enjoy working with me.