Photographer Arthur Drooker has spent time looking into the interesting subcultures of human interactions. Whether it's a convention of Lincolns, or this gathering of mermen and mermaids, He takes us to a world many of us never even knew existed. We talked with him about his pictures.
HLN: How did you learn about the Mermaid Convention?
Arthur Drooker: I learned about the mermaid convention while doing online research for my book project, Conventional Wisdom. I had heard about mermaid conventions and was eager to photograph one. I was going to photograph one in Tampa, but it went out of business. Luckily, Merfest, a new mermaid convention in North Carolina, started up. I contacted the organizers and they approved my request to photograph the event.
HLN: What did you think when you began shooting?
Drooker: I had photographed several conventions prior to Merfest so in a general sense I knew what to expect -- a high-energy event attended by like-minded people who share a passionate interest. More specifically, I thought that the colorful mermaid tails combined with the pure joy of mermaids bonding and swimming together would make great pictures.
HLN: What did you take away from it?
Drooker: I hadn’t realized how popular mermaids are. It amazed me how many people identify with them -- with their beauty, grace, wisdom, and confidence. They just might be one of our earliest female role models at least in myth and lore. I also didn’t realize the breadth of the mermaid subculture. People of all ages, regions, body types and orientations share a love for mermaids.
HLN: Do you have a favorite picture?
Drooker: How about two? One is the picture of Maksim the Yellowtailed Sea Witch, which I think is a wonderful portrait showing pride in being oneself and freely expressing it. The other favorite is the wedding shot. Cookie Ramirez, also known as the Harlem Mermaid, married her “mertender,” Ralph de Jesus, in the hotel pool. What makes it special for me is that Cookie was housebound with health issues for quite a while but she credits becoming a mermaid with her transformation into a confident, fearless woman no longer on medication. Getting married as a mermaid to the love of her life represents an extraordinary affirmation.
HLN: What do you look for when you take pictures?
Drooker: When I attend conventions, I look for moments that convey what I call the three C’s of Conventional Wisdom: community, culture, and connection. No matter what they’re about, where they’re held, or who attends them, all conventions satisfy the longing for belonging, a very basic human urge. The mermaids personified this theme, ah, swimmingly.
HLN: What's next for you?
Drooker: At the end of January, I will be attending Military History Fest, a historical re-enactors' convention in the Chicago area.
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