It’s becoming stylish to be a geek. When I attended the psychological trauma engine we refer to as middle school, the word “geek” accompanied wedgies, spitballs, and derisive laughs. But now, in the age where comic book movies are the big blockbusters, geek culture has become its own status symbol ― even though the internal strata of role-players, comic book fans, trekkies, and similar remain largely unchanged.
Life in Miniature
I caught word that there was a class being taught on how to paint miniatures at the local geek haven, The Tangled Web. Since all things geek resonate with me, I wanted to just come out and photograph the class. I was excited when both the shop owner and the teacher agreed to let me do it. In this case, the miniatures in question were figurines which sometimes get used in roleplaying, but some people just like painting and displaying them. The basic idea is that you can use the figurines to represent characters and creatures in a role-playing game, so each player can get a better idea of where their character is in relation to everything else going on.
Heading the class was Matt Sterling, who comes from a family of artists and musicians. Just talking to him for a few minutes about the subject makes it clear just how passionate he is about it. He’s written books on the subject and offers numerous classes to share his love and his techniques with others. While the advanced class I photographed was small –Matt’s basic classes tend to fill the room – it did provide a lot of good opportunities for Matt to get one-on-one with each of his students. And where Matt’s attention went, I did my best to follow.
This is the same geek culture I had grown up knowing. It just wasn’t cool to go to work or school and talk about the things that really interest you. Instead, we would seek out other geeks at gaming and comic book stores, make friendships there, and discuss the things we loved with other people who also loved them. It created a sort of double-life, where you’d feel pressured to adopt a more acceptable public persona but be able to relax and let yourself shine through when you’re finally in the right atmosphere.
The miniatures I saw, both in the hands of students and in Matt’s personal collection, were awesome. As an avid role-player myself, I could immediately see how a custom-painted figure could really enhance the atmosphere in a game, not to mention really help out when it’s time to figure out complicated combat scenes. Matt’s class took a single miniature from base coat all the way to job done and every single one of them was awesome. Not only does he love what he does and know what he’s doing with them, but it turns out that he loves to show other people how to do it, too.
To be perfectly honest, if I had miniatures like ones I saw there, I would likely wind up getting admonished by the storyteller to put the camera away. They’re that fun to photograph. When you get up close to small objects with a larger camera, you start getting crazy amounts of background blur. If I had a similar collection, I’d have just as much fun photographing different scenarios as I would role-playing with them.
I spent most of my time with the class trying to be inobtrusive without making anybody uneasy. I started with detail photographs of Matt’s collection. As the class went along, I went back and forth from taking pictures of the students and what they were doing to Matt teaching the class, occasionally peppered with a few more details and more conceptual photographs as I went along. It was a fun experience for me, and I hope I wasn’t too much of a distraction for his students along the way.
What I’ve come to value about geek culture, as well as certain other lifestyles and is the ability to be completely authentic with another human being. For a geek, that means lowering your shields, and being obvious about the things that make you unique from other people without fear of reprisal. Imagine a muscle that remains clenched for days, weeks, even years at a time without reprieve, and suddenly being able to let it relax. It’s more than therapeutic. It’s realizing what life could be if we weren’t so worried about conforming to the same ideal.
If I can manage to find a single moment of complete authenticity with somebody I’m photographing, I treasure that. It’s not about just finding clients and hanging photos for me anymore. It’s about helping people see themselves how they really want to be seen.
Be you; you’re the only person who can.