As part of my ongoing project documenting UK Sci Fi Conventions my continuing mission took me to London’s Excel Centre, which hosted the first official Star Trek convention in over ten years, entitled ‘Destination Star Trek London’.
Appearing at the event would be the Captains from the five incarnations of the popular television series, including William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew and Scott Bakula. My understanding is that this was the first time ever that they’d all been together in one place at a convention.
This scale of event attracts literally tens of thousands of people from all over the world to come and meet their favourite characters, buy merchandise, hang out with other like-minded people and just have fun. One of the fascinating aspects that encouraged me to start shooting Sci Fi conventions is the range of interesting, colourful and peculiar subjects on display. Trekkies are a breed unto themselves, and perhaps get a bit of a bad reputation; partly down to the media always focusing on the more extreme cases, that perhaps conform to the stereotype ‘thirtysomething living in his Mum’s basement syndrome’. The majority of these guys though are just out to have a bit of a laugh and do in fact live regular lives, have jobs and go to the pub and socialise with friends which is really what it’s all about – friendships based on a common interest. In a way it’s not unlike football fans congregating at a match sporting their football colours, something I’m also guilty of doing. Except their football colours are their favourite character’s costumes, which they dress up in. This dressing up as their favourite character is often referred to as ‘Cosplay’.
Destination Star Trek London (DSTL) was a chance for me to capture documentary photographs of these people from all over the world, from places as far afield as USA, Australia, Germany and Scandinavia to name a few. Among the weird and wonderful aliens I snapped were Klingons, Vulcans, Andorians, Talaxians, Romulans…..you get the idea. Some of them had got creative and mixed them up as a kind of hybrid character. The costume competition must’ve been interesting.
Trekkies taking part in Cosplay
A photo call that had been arranged by the DSTL press department was the marriage of two young Norwegians…dressed as Klingons!! Not only were they dressed as such but they had a Klingon ceremony and a Star Trek themed multi-tiered cake resembling a Borg Cube made by a top cake maker. Even the setting was chosen accordingly, in the Klingon section of the hall which had been designated as the food hall. As this had been one of the real newsworthy pictures on the call sheet for the media, this poor couple were set upon by twenty or so London press photographers all screaming at them for a shot. Imagine that kind of attention at your wedding. They didn’t exactly look phased by it all. I’m pretty sure that they weren’t shy and retiring having chosen such a theme for their wedding.
Sonnie Gustavsson and Jossie Sockertopp from Norway exchange vows
The main event on the agenda was to get the money shot, so to speak, which was of all five captains (Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway and Archer) in the same frame together, which had never been done before. This would have been a fantastic shot had it been properly choreographed for us photographers. Unfortunately we all had to fight our way through hundreds of already-assembled Trekkies and hope that things worked themselves out. An unforeseen circumstance was that there had apparently been some kind of internal disagreement and so Sir Patrick Stewart would not be joining the Five Captains photo call. What a shame! This would’ve been such a fabulous picture, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. Such was the scramble of this completely disorganised mess of a photo call I got one frame of the four captains that was any good, and they were all looking away from me…probably towards the Getty photographer!
On the Sunday I had a bit more luck photographing the stars. I managed to gain entry to the sectioned-off stage area that would host the A-list of Star Trek celebrity, namely William Shatner and Sir Patrick Stewart. I was genuinely impressed by the number of people behind these curtains, there must have been a couple of thousand of them and from the outside perimeter it sounded like the final at Wimbledon, such was the enthusiasm of the crowd at the sight of their heroes in front of them.
William Shatner is probably as big a name as you can get in Science Fiction entertainment, and people in this particular universe regard him with almost god-like admiration. The cheer when he walked on stage for the first time was absolutely deafening. Having watched this man on film & TV over the course of my lifetime the occasion was tinged with a hint of sadness that he is now getting older, but at 81 he still exudes great energy and wit, which he clearly still enjoys – ever the performer. Bill, as he likes to be called, will be remembered most fondly for playing the heroic, handsome and charismatic Captain James T. Kirk, but he has had far more critical acclaim playing other roles down the years, most recently winning a Golden Globe and two Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the eccentric law firm owner Denny Crane in Boston Legal. Here he was doing the Captain Kirk thing, taking some quite obscure questions from the crowd, which he must have heard countless thousands of times before, having a quip in reserve for each and every one of them. He was a lot of fun to watch and it was a pleasure to see him enjoying himself on stage.
The Captains on stage
As well as the celebrities, the other attraction for Trekkies is the merchandise which, like Star Wars, is a lucrative business worth billions of dollars. Signed autographs, comic books, toys, props from the shows – you name it – it’s all available at these shows. People part with extraordinary sums of money to own an item that they deem valuable. A signed photograph by William Shatner would set you back £40 of which he signed thousands of them over the weekend. It’s not difficult to understand why these actors continue to do the rounds, it’s the ultimate job for them – one that never stops giving.
I have now built up a significant collection of UK Convention documentary images, having begun this project back in 2009 at the Milton Keynes ‘Collectormania’ event. I am getting to the stage where I can start narrowing the best shots down to form into a book. It will focus on all aspects of science fiction fandom, the people, the colour, the stars and their effect on the fans, the scale of the events and obviously the colour and fun that these guys like to have together.
I’d like to show a light hearted slant to this section of society who gather, exchange stories, collect, make friendships, see their idols and live in their chosen escapism for a day. It’s all in the name of fun.
“Live Long and Prosper.”