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Most people think of trekkies or Marvel Comics enthusiasts when they hear the word “convention”; in fact, those often-parodied events are just the tip of the iceberg. Every year, according to the Convention Industry Council, the United States hosts 1.8 million conventions, conferences, and trade shows, representing a staggering $263 billion in spending. Plenty are yawn-inducing professional meetings, but many are also quirky, glittering celebrations of American diversity.
Since 2013, photographer Arthur Drooker has been on a quest to document as many of these gatherings as possible for his series Conventional Wisdom, to be published in book form next year. To fulfill that goal, he’s traveled the US attending conventions ranging from BronyCon, the annual rally of My Little Pony fans (which mostly draws young adult men), to the assembly of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, an association that requires its elderly members to have “a real beard grown by self.” His roster of acquaintances has grown exponentially, now encompassing clowns, Lincoln impersonators, and taxidermists.
“I’m always on the lookout for revelatory moments and images that show community, culture, and connection,” Drooker told Hyperallergic. He’s come to see conventions as places where people, free to be themselves, are able to parade normally hidden obsessions without fear of mockery or rejection. They show that despite the American penchant for individualism, we still love to be surrounded by like-minded folk. “This isn’t a convention,” one attendee at the World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championships told him. “It’s a family reunion.”