CNN Photos

The art of escaping real life

French photographer Denis Rouvre was in Japan documenting the survivors of the March 2011 tsunami when he discovered the colorful community that would inspire his “Cosplay” project.

Cosplay is the art of costuming in the style of characters from movies, comic books, manga and video games. But Rouvre had a different perspective on the people behind the elaborate costumes.

“I was immediately intrigued by their dual, split personality, this way of taking cover and living in a virtual world and making it so real,” he said. “In this work ‘Cosplay,’ it is almost the anti-hero notion that is my point of interest. They live in a virtual world as if to reach a meaning of their life.”

He wanted to capture the characters they represented, allowing the cosplayers to control their poses and style. Although very open to being photographed, the real people behind the characters didn’t want to provide personal details about their identities.

Rouvre’s empathy came to the surface as he became acquainted with the cosplayers.

“Behind these unreal people, I saw fragility and some suffering of these men and women that can't find their way of life in the real world,” he said. “In a way, they are silent victims.”

Rouvre became a photographer because of the way he liked experiencing life through encounters with other people: independently and without obligation. Holding a camera was the key, and in time, it became the best way for him to share his encounters with others as well.

A photographer of ordinary people and celebrities for 25 years, Rouvre is well known for his portraits. His quest as a self-described humanist photographer is to capture individuality, and man is the essence of his work.

“By isolating him from his context and from any time notion (or artifice), I look at him as a sort of contemporary hero, a minuscule and fragile element of this world but essential to it: a foundation for the stability of our world,” Rouvre said.

The “Cosplay” project became something more than photographing captivating characters. Rouvre discovered that the cosplayers weren’t truly accepted by traditional Japanese society. They lived in a kind of community away from others, embodying their character each day and taking pictures of themselves.

Through their conversations, Rouvre also realized that the cosplayers had a complete lack of curiosity about the real world around them while having firm conviction in their motivations.

He asked them, “What do you look for by cosplaying?” The answer was almost always the same: “Escape real life.”

- Ashley Strickland, CNN