APAHM 2020: Spotlight on KP11 (@KP11Photos)
For the month of May in 2020, I wanted to showcase a few Asian Pacific American creators and artists for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). There are a number of amazing APA people out there that I wish I had the chance to meet and interview. With that being said, I am truly excited for you all to get to know the individuals I am privileged to highlight this month. Next up, I am thrilled to introduce you all to Prakash, also known as KP11.
I first heard of KP11 from watching Critical Role and its accompanying talk show, “Talks Machina”. Actually, KP11 had won “Cosplay of the Week” for his take on Gilmore, a popular NPC from the D&D show. Quite soon, I went down a rabbit hole of seeing his work both as an up-and-coming cosplayer but also as a skilled photographer. I’m thrilled that I had a chance to speak with him, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know him a little more too.
[Please note: some responses below may have been edited for clarity purposes.]
How did you get started with being a photographer?
KP: I got into photography back in 2011, though I did take two beginner level electives of Digital Photography in junior year of high school (nothing serious). I saw a black and white photo that a Navy friend of mine took in the middle of Charleston, South Carolina, and it just spoke to me. I went and bought my first DSLR camera that following weekend and that’s pretty much how it began.
What equipment/editing program do you use?
KP: I primarily use Lightroom to catalogue/organize, along with basic edits, and Photoshop for color grading and effects.
How does social media help your work?
KP: Social media, as for most artists, has been a great way to promote my work and make more people aware of what I do. It has also helped me connect with other talented creatives of all backgrounds from whom I can borrow ideas and inspiration from. Twitter in particular, which has been my newest platform, has been great to really connect with the audience on a more intimate level and help break the barrier created by other platforms. I feel they don’t know me just as a photographer, but see me as a person and find me, hopefully, overall interesting and easy to interact with.
Did you start off with doing photoshoots of cosplayers? What else do you like to photograph?
KP: I actually started off with inanimate objects, like most other artists hahaha. It’s nice to have a subject that you can pose and do whatever you want with, however long you want to, as you experiment and learn. I also used to shoot a lot of friends and family portraits to hone my skill. I honestly enjoy all forms of portraiture, from cosplay to fine art to family portraits. Working with people in any form and posing them to tell a story is vastly interesting to me. I also like to photograph landscapes, though those tend to be on a moment-to-moment basis and the interest comes and goes as the inspiration strikes.
What are some challenges you’ve encountered as a photographer of color?
KP: Ohhh man…I honestly feel I have been very lucky in that I don’t think I personally have faced any challenges as a photographer of color, not specifically in photography anyways. This could be due to multiple factors however, and my experience is most definitely not indicative of the norm that most other PoCs face. I know am certainly more privileged than most others. One thing for certain, I am nowhere near a professional as most of my peers in the field, as photography had always been a side hobby for me, and has only recently transitioned to a full-time side business. It’s not my primary form of income, so what might be a trivial inconvenience to me at the most would be a huge burden for those in it full-time. On top of that, I’ve never had to work with large companies or individuals with great influence so I am not experienced in the levels of rejection that a PoC might face compared to others.
What challenges do you think still exist for photographers of color? What improvements do you think have been made?
KP: Once again, I’m not sure if I can adequately answer this question as I feel my experience is atypical compared to most creators of color.
What advice would you offer to other photographers and to beginning photographers?
KP: Practice. Practice, practice, practice! It’s really all there is to it. Find a free video online on something new or interesting someone did, grab a friend or family member, and practice getting that shot until you get it. Rinse and repeat with every new video you find that you think is interesting. Read articles online on the basic concepts of photography. Learn about lighting and posing! Apply these concepts on yourself. Do these things until they start becoming second nature to you! And slowly but surely you will become the photographer that you wanted to be. Except, that’s a lie because your idea of what a good photographer is will change as you learn and experience more. It will always be a shifting target, pushing you to keep striving to be better.
Oh, and learn how to use social media to sell your craft! Learn how to promote yourself!
What’s something you wish you knew as a photographer five years ago? What’s something you hope to improve upon?
KP: How to use social media hahaha. I wish I knew how I could use hashtags and stories to really connect with the audience. I also wish I had known how to use Twitter so I could have connected with my audience at a much sooner date. I’m still learning, but I feel like I have gotten much better.
As a photographer, what do you look for when do a photoshoot for a cosplayer? What is the connection like between you and your subjects?
KP: If you are referring to how I select my client, it’s honestly a first come first served basis. If it’s about after the shoot is booked, then I do the following to prepare:
- What character and from what show are you portraying?
- What are certain characteristics of said character? What’s their personality like? How do they move or interact with other characters in the story?
- Are there any particular parts of your cosplay that you are proud of and want me to especially focus on?
- Are there any poses/looks/scenarios that you wish to be portrayed in?
- I also usually ask them to put together their own pose/mood board, say on Pinterest, that shows examples of the types of shots they would like.
The last one (e.) is especially important because I also create my own board. My idea of what to shoot might be different to theirs, so this helps me stay aligned with their vision of what they want out of the shoot. It also ensures I get a few shots that I know they will like because it was something they had picked.
Pivoting now so that you’re a subject you like to photograph: your Gilmore cosplay from Critical Role is well-loved (congratulations on Cosplay of the Week!). Can you talk about how you put that cosplay together and what got you into it?
KP: Hahaha oh man my Gilmore cosplay. Thank you! As for how I got about putting it together… It was purely out of boredom and curiosity that I started it, to be honest. I had never cosplayed before, my wife was on a trip to India leaving me home alone, and I really just wanted to do something with the time I had [laughs]. The idea was brewing in my head for a while ever since I heard Matthew Mercer’s description of him. I remember thinking, “Oh man, I am strongly imagining like an Indian/Middle Eastern car salesman, maybe I could possibly do a casual version of him!” And then I saw other existing cosplays of him and realized that the vibe I had gotten was the same one others had as well, so I decided to give it a try.
As for how I put it together, it was all just iterative baby steps. I remember the first thing I did was a very basic test of the face paint. I knew he was a powerful magical being, and before I knew that he was a runechild (as described by Matt in game), my idea of a sorcerer involved cool glowing runes on their body, so I drew on some basic runes and posted it in the Critical Role fan group. The strong positive response that came from that was overwhelming and pushed me to take it to the next step. I’m not sure at what stage I decided this, but I realized that if I was going to represent Gilmore as a brown man of Middle Eastern/Indian influence, then I should incorporate some of my actual Indian culture into it. And the only thing I could think suitable for the gloriousness of Gilmore was my wedding attire haha. The rest, such as the jewelry and hair, just came during the iterative process as I brainstormed on what more I could do to bring him to life. The one thing I know that was a strong conscious decision was adding the purple shawl. I knew that the iconic color for Gilmore was purple, but aside from my purple eye shadow, I didn’t have anything to represent that, so I chose the purple shawl as a nod to that and incorporated some of that without completely changing my outfit.
Photo by @topheroriel (Instagram)
I recall seeing online where you shared that Gilmore was your first ever cosplay. Who else would you like to cosplay, if at all?
KP: I have a few in mind that I am excited to try out, though I would like to enjoy Gilmore a little longer before switching. One of them is Mousesack from Netflix’s The Witcher. I’m currently still brainstorming on how I could bring about his costume, though I’m hoping the popularity of the show means that the outfit will be more readily available, rather than custom-making it. The other, more recent though has been cosplaying Dev Patel’s character from The Green Knight trailer. I’m waiting to watch the movie when it comes out and learn more, but I feel like it’s a character I can convincingly cosplay.
What are some difficulties cosplayers of color face?
KP: Oh man, though this is something I personally have not experienced yet, though more due to being new and less exposed than anything else. I know that PoC and Black cosplayers face a lot of discrimination when it comes to being represented and the level of exposure that they get. I know friends who’ve been looked over by photographers, who have been harassed by trolls, who’ve been made to feel less than they actually are because of the rude and derogatory comments that people leave for them. It’s disgusting.
It’s especially disappointing when I hear stories of cosplayers of color being ignored by photographers because of their skin color. As a photographer myself, I feel it is our duty to capture any and every subject that comes to us, particularly if they come for a paid shoot. Like any professional, I believe we need to honor our paying customers and provide the same service regardless of who the person is or what they believe. The only exception I can think of is because of moral grounds due to the client being a known negative influence or of poor moral standing.
How do you think culture and representation play into cosplay?
KP: I think culture and representation is very important and a great way to break barriers. It introduces a wider array of diversity into the cosplay community, which leads to new and interesting interpretation of existing ideas/concepts. Cosplay, to me, is all about finding your own interpretation and bringing that to life, and diversity really helps bring out the full potential of that!
To me, representation as an Indian is fairly lacking in most media. Part of the reason I felt I couldn’t cosplay for so long, outside of lacking the skill, was because I couldn’t identify with a lot of the existing characters. Gilmore was the first time I felt I could actually be someone and truly immerse myself into. With that came a strong confidence in myself and it opened the idea to other things that I could cosplay.
Part of my confidence also came from the fact that I could insert my own cultural inspiration into it and making it my own. Wearing an attire that I already wore and am comfortable with made it easier to become Gilmore, while also making myself unique and also representing where I am from. It felt nice! Now I look forward to other cosplays and how I can Indianize them and insert my influence in them, even if they were not originally made as such!
Who are some cosplayers you admire?
KP: Oh wow…That’s such an impossible question for me to answer! There are just so many amazing cosplayers out there, both well known to not so well known that inspire me daily and awe me with their talent. Rather than any one particular cosplayer, I would say that the entire group as a collective is what inspires me each and every day.
Do you have any advice for people who want to get into cosplay?
KP: Hahaha as a baby cosplayer, I’m not sure how valid my advice can be, but all I can say is start small and build on that. Or go big and be ambitious! Whatever you do, just start something. You’ll learn each step of the way, problem solve things you don’t know, jerry rig things you can’t perfect, and just get better and better each time. Your first, second, third, etc. attempt will probably fail or not be up to what you want. But each time you try it and build on it, you’ll get better. The entire point of cosplay is to have fun doing what you do, not be the best at it, so don’t let petty competition and the ever illusive perfection stop you from getting into it and enjoying cosplay.
Where can people find you and your work?
KP: You can find my work @kp11photos on both Twitter and Instagram, where I post my photos and engage in general with my audience. I also have a Patreon where I like to post previews of my next work, as well as behind-the-scene shots, before/afters, and a slew of other benefits that are either not released to public or are time-delayed, all for less than a cup of coffee a month.