Book review: Conventional Wisdom by Arthur Drooker
Herd Instinct, BronyCon
In his introduction to the book, Arthur Drooker writes: “After immersing myself for more than a year in these wildly diverse gatherings, I emerged with some unconventional wisdom: While Americans like to promote themselves as rugged individualists, they’re happiest when amongst their own and accepted for who they really are. Nowhere is this wisdom more openly revealed and joyfully observed than at conventions.”
“These photographs are a revelation and a testament that the much-mourned ‘old, weird America’ isn’t quite dead yet. It has simply adopted a new Technicolor dreamcoat of disguises.”
— James Wolcott (from the foreword of Conventional Wisdom)
Humorous wit and tongue-in-cheek attitude toward his image titles and subject matter are laced throughout Drooker’s book, Conventional Wisdom. But one definitely gets the feeling the attitude is not of a derisive outsider, but rather, that of an insider. These groups have largely adopted Drooker as one of their own, and hence he gained access to the spectacle that outsiders otherwise would stand and gawk at. What photographer hasn’t relished in some voyeuristic sense at the scene in front of their camera? Who hasn’t paused to see someone enthusiastically dressed as their favorite superhero at a movie premiere, or better yet, on Halloween when you can tell who has been planning their costume for the past 12 months? The bottom line is — we like to watch people who are ‘All-in’ for their own passion. I couldn’t wait to see Drooker’s photos when I first paged through his book. So much has been done with projects surrounding specialty events and attendees, photographically speaking. But Drooker’s images go beyond superficial portraits of convention goers — we see images made by someone who has taken the time to know his subjects, understand the people and behaviors; and then share those insights.
Santa Drill Team, Santa Celebration Tampa, Florida 2013
Conventional Wisdom proves that regardless of what they’re about, where they’re held, or who attends them, all conventions satisfy a basic human urge: a longing to belong. Those who share similar interests, even obsessions, come together to be themselves, while forging new relationships and joining a larger community.
Mr. D and friend, Vent Haven ConVENTion, Hebron, Kentucky 2015
From the ballrooms to the vendor rooms to the guest rooms, Drooker’s ubiquitous camera documents the essence and exuberance of these annual gatherings. As an attendee Drooker met at the taxidermist convention expressed it best. “This isn’t a convention,” he said. “It’s a family reunion.” Over multiple gatherings of the conventions held by the Association of Lincoln Presenters, Drooker was told, “Arthur, you are becoming part of the family.” While Drooker was accepted as a member of many of the groups he documented, he maintained his role as an observer. This fits well with the observation made by James Wolcott in his introduction: “Arthur Drooker is the urban anthropologist as itinerant photographer.” By joining in these collective camaraderies, he says, “You are no longer an outside, you are, for a jolly day or two, a Lincoln among Lincolns, a Santa among Santas, A furry among furries high-fiving each other’s paws.”
Zoo, Anthrocon, Pittsburgh, Pennsvylania 2014
“Each year, according to a Convention Industry Council study, there are 1.8 million conventions, conferences, and trade shows in the United States. These gatherings directly support 1.7 million jobs, $263 billion in spending, and $14.3 billion in federal tax revenue. As impressive as these figures are”, Drooker says, “they don’t interest me as a photographer. I see conventions not as revenue sources but as visual treasures. To me, they’re unique expressions of community, culture and connection. That’s why I attended a variety of conventions-the more unusual and photogenic the better-for my forthcoming book, Conventional Wisdom.”
Dust to dust, World Taxidermy Championships, Springfield, Illinois 2013
Maxsim, The Yellow Tailed Sea Witch, Merfest, Cary, North Carolina, 2015
“The wisdom I’ve gained from this project has shown me that regardless of what they’re about, where they’re held or who attends them, all conventions satisfy a basic human urge: a longing for belonging. At conventions, people who share similar interests, even obsessions, come together to bond and to be themselves. The outside world doesn’t matter. In fact, for the weekend duration of most conventions, the outside world doesn’t even exist. The conventioneers have each other and that’s all they need.”
For an in-depth presentation, please visit the project website: conventionalwisdom.com
Conventional Wisdom by Arthur Drooker
Foreword by James Wolcott
192 pages; 10 1/4 x 11"
94 color photographs
To purchase an advance copy, click here
Arthur Drooker is the author and photographer of American Ruins (Merrell, 2007), Lost Worlds: Ruins of the Americas (ACC, 2011), and Pie Town Revisited (UNM Press, 2015). His work has been the subject of a feature story on CBS Sunday Morning and has been exhibited at the Virginia Center for Architecture, the Louisiana Art and Science Museum, the Wichita Museum of Art, and the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, D.C., among other institutions. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in American Civilization, Drooker imbues his photography with an understanding of and appreciation for cultures past and present.
Originally published at F-Stop Magazine.