Every year, according to a Convention Industry Council study, there are 1.8 million conventions, conferences, meetings 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, 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’m attending more than a dozen conventions—the more unusual and photogenic the better—and documenting them in Conventional Wisdom.
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 without fear, apology or explanation. 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. An attendee I met at the taxidermist convention put it best. “This isn’t a convention,” he said. “It’s a family reunion.”
Taken together, these photographs chronicle one photographer’s exploration not only into the world of conventions but also into the heart of American popular culture. After immersing myself for more than a year in these wildly diverse gatherings—from sadists to Santas—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…