It’s been so bloody long, I really need to put this baby to bed. The last few things that need to be said about Red Dragon Con 5 – and I’ll make it
relatively short because, yes, I am already bored with myself, too. [Added pre-publication but after finishing the post: Yeah, right, “short”… ] Sorry sorry sorry.
When I rocked up in the venue at about 10.30am on Sunday morning, my first order of business was – queuing. You might remember that I had been
blinded by the gorgeousness blinked in my precious photo with Richard, so I had to come in early for a re-shoot while Kate had a little more time to make her way to the hotel. I joined my queue… As I was finally getting into the room where the photo sessions were being held, observing Richard and his various co-sitters in the set-up, something amazing immediately occurred to me: Richard was putting his arm around everybody!!!! *gasp* Apparently someone had had a change of heart over night. Or someone else had taken him aside and given him a few pointers. Or maybe he just sneaked a peek at Twitter and saw that there had been some complaining. In any case, Richard seemed quite different on Sunday morning – and his new willingness to appear a little less reserved had a massive influence on his fans: The buzz in the room was undeniable; people literally appeared to be happier, more relaxed, very much in love even. Despite the human rights violation of a pair of loosely cut trousers, flapping from the supposedly delectable derriere of the OOA.
So once again the conveyor belt pushed me inevitably closer and closer to the epi centre: Leave your bag on the table. Show your photo badge to the helper. Five steps. Get the same warning as the day before. “No touching, no flower crowns.” Four steps. The flashes are really bright. Three steps. I must remember to really keep my eyes open. Two steps. Shit, I forgot Pop!Thorin. One step. I am next. Lift-off: I move into the frame. I say a polite hello to some tall bloke in a dark leather jacket. I look at the camera. Last second I decide to make the picture silly by pointing at that bloke. I feel a hand and an arm ghost across my back. I plaster a stupid grin on my face. As the flash goes off, I blink. I hurry out of the frame as quickly. What a horror show!
It remains a mystery to me how something as pedestrian as queueing and getting your photo taken, is so immensely draining on body and soul. When I came out of that session, I was basically ready for a lie-down. And it wasn’t even as if there had been any exciting exchange between me and Mr A. Quite the opposite, actually. We both very much kept to ‘our side of the bed’, so to speak. Luckily the next event was the 1pm Q&A with Richard. I readjusted my flower crown and went to look for Kate and Armidreamer.
After another heart-breakingly good Q&A session with interview pro Richard Armitage, it was time for another stewarding stint again. And now the story got really interesting.
American Gothic all the way
Like the previous day, I had been put on photo collection duty for my volunteering on Sunday. When I got to the collection room, most pictures from the morning’s photo sessions had already been picked up and not much work was left to do. I spent a little while counting the photo “badges” (little receipts that had been used to make sure only paying con attendants got into the photo studio). It occurred to me to look for my own photo from the re-shoot. When I picked it up, I could not help but snort loudly. Once again I had closed my eyes when the flash went off – another photo op ruined. You really had to laugh. I was kind of muttering more to myself than anyone else “Ah no, I blinked again, my eyes are closed in my photo… too bad.” But a couple of women who actually worked properly for Starfury, apparently heard my mumbling, and I explained to them that I had ruined even the *second* of my photo ops. Ah well, no need to be sad. I had never really wanted to have a photo anyway. So I just accepted the fact that I am oversensitive to photographic flashes, and that was it.
And then, after a minute, the woman in charge of photo collection dropped a bombshell. “Do you want a re-shoot?” I could hardly understand what I was hearing. “Eh, yes…” I stammered, a thousand question marks in my tone. “Then you need to go now with this girl here. It’s the last picture of the day. Go go go.” Before I had time to understand what was happening, one of the Starfury assistants from the photo room was already looking for me in the photo collection room, and next thing I was already running with the girl through the hotel lobby to the backrooms where the photo sessions were held. The photo sessions were officially over, so the photo equipment was being packed up, the room rearranged. Instead of con attendants, the room was filled with volunteers and Starfury staff who were tidying up. The girl took me to the photographer, explaining that I was the last person that day to have a quick re-shoot. I apologised profusely for prolonging the photographer’s work, but he was calm and nice. He just told me to position myself in front of the backdrop, ready to have the picture taken as quickly as possible. Richard, I noticed, together with Mads Mikkelsen was still in the middle of signing one of the big banners that were going to be raffled off to the con attendants. Having to wait while standing under the bright illumination of the photo lights, is pure torture for someone who doesn’t like to be photographed in the first place. And I didn’t even have a prop with me to hide behind. Instead the thoughts were reeling in my head, telling myself I would have to concentrate on keeping my eyes open. And how the hell was I supposed to smile when I was actually struggling to keep myself from blushing with embarrassment?
And then things happen very quickly: At last, while I am still apologising/chatting with the photographer, Mads and Richard suddenly step into the photo area . I vaguely hear somebody explaining to them that there is to be one last re-shoot. I don’t know where to look, I am mortified, babbling apologies. Mads turns up on my left, and I sense Richard passing behind my back. It is actually Mads who addresses me with a grin and a chuckle: “Are you the blinker?” I have to laugh. “Yes. I am.” And I feel really bad when I actually turn him down – “but not with you but with Richard.” Mortally wounded (haha, or rather: not) Mads leaves the scene while somehow RA cops on that he is the one I want the picture with. I kind of sense that there is no point in saying much to RA – he is possibly less than impressed to have been roped in for a re-shoot and just wants this to be over. And so do I. I stand awkwardly beside him while trying to appear nonchalant, last-minute repeating my fun little finger-pointing gesture from the morning. *flash* I can feel I had my eyes closed. And the photographer says “hold on, let’s take another” while I feel my facial muscles spasm from the awkward artificial smiling. Yeah, American Gothic all the way now.
Alright, alright. Richard isn’t American Gothic, only I am. He smiled and his eyes sparkle. So there:
But boy, was that a struggle! I think the picture shows the strain, and so my advice to anyone similarly suffering from acute embarrassment in face of the OOA is to actually bring some kind of prop to the photo op. I definitely felt much less exposed when I had Pop!Thorin with me the day before. In the unlikely event of having to talk to Richard, Pop!Thorin at least would have provided a topic. Moreover, Pop!Thorin gave my hands an occupation, therefore avoiding both mirroring RA with hands in pockets, or looking like a family photo from a small town photo studio ca. 1984.
Believe me, I know what I am talking about. I have been there. Both in 1984 and 35 years later. – I ran back to my stewarding job to finish my shift. And to thank the photo ladies for giving me the opportunity to re-shoot that picture. I knew that they had made an exception for me – it’s usually not possible to re-shoot photos (as is actually explained when you buy a token for the photo sessions). I, however, was lucky because I was volunteering with the right people. They simply were nice women. Which they not only proved with the whole re-shoot thing but something else.
The Heart in the Right Place
I always like to leave the best for last, and the following last incident from Sunday at RDC5 definitely ranks high among the many memories. The photo collection was pretty quiet by the time I came back from the photo re-shoot, and the ladies told me that there was no need for me to continue waiting there; they would look after the photo collections themselves. I packed up my stuff and was about to leave when I remembered one thing. Even though Hariclea couldn’t attend the con because of her mother’s death, she had obviously paid for her ticket. And while her included autograph allocation basically expired, the guys at the registration had promised me I could pick up Hariclea’s badge at the end of the con. After all there was a picture of Dolarhyde on the badge! The registration guy was sitting in the same room as the photo people, so I popped over to his desk and retrieved that badge. And by way of conversation I mentioned to the lovely photo ladies, that “my friend could not attend the con because her mother died the day before the con, and I am at least bringing this back for her as a souvenir”. The two of them looked at each other. Then one of them said: “Who’s her favourite star?” I said, “Richard.” She reached out her hand and said, “Just give me that for a moment.” I handed over the badge and she vanished with it. After 5 minutes she was back.
Just to spell it out: Without any prompting or suggesting from me, she had run over to the backrooms where Richard and Mads were still doing their autograph duties, and had obtained a signature from Richard on the ticket. I don’t know what she told him and how she did it, but she got the ticket signed by the man who Hariclea would’ve wanted to see. And for free. I was gobsmacked. And I don’t think there are words enough to say thank you to the photo ladies at Starfury’s Red Dragon Con 5. This was simply two decent people being touched by the kind of sad story that life writes – and reacting in a generous, kind and thoughtful way. And that counts for so much more than any kind of petty criticism for commercialised fandom events. I am annoyed with myself that I never asked for the two kind photo ladies’ names. But even without naming them, I am sure that the universe will reward them for their kindness. They so deserve it!
(Second but) Last Words
Right, I actually wanted to wrap up the whole con thing in this post, but again, I have been too elaborate. Apologies. I could leave it at this but that would be a bit unfair. I do want to give their dues to the other people whose appearances at the con I enjoyed. And I also want to say a last word about the fannibals and the various encounters I had. I promise, just one more post.
But to tie this one up, here’s a last reflection on the whole photo malarkey. I realise I am a lucky fan. I got my photograph with my favourite actor,
and I was really lucky in that I came away with a version in which I *don’t* have my eyes closed. No complaints there. If there’s anything to complain about, it is me. The fangirl mind overanalyses all the time. Too busy are we, constantly monitoring what we say, what we think, and how we feel, in face of the OOA. Sometimes, I feel, that actually overshadows our enjoyment of the moment. That’s certainly what happened to me. There I was, standing beside this bloke whose talent and skills as a performer I so admire. It’s not every day that happens. And regardless of the vibes of reluctance and/or shyness that he was exuding all weekend, I *should have* loved every second I could stand beside the guy. I loved photographing him at the panels, I certainly loved listening to him speak, and if I had been a little less dim I would have loved the one-to-one moment at the signing, too. But the photo sessions? Boy, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough! This is just me and does not apply to everyone, but here is what I felt: The fact that I had two re-shoots kind of intensified or exacerbated the whole scenario for me. A rather luxurious complaint, I know. Taking three separate efforts to get a photo with my favourite star, I felt so embarrassed and awkward, put on the spot and as if my cover had been blown. No, I don’t believe that RA recognised me – I doubt he knows who I am. There is no reason why he should know me – I am one of thousands of people who turn up at events, waving a book or a programme at him, asking him to sign. Most of the time I hide behind my camera, anyway. But as much as I appreciated the exceptional circumstance that allowed me to have my picture taken (and *again*), for me it was definitely also a situation way beyond my comfort zone.
Even though the commercial aspect of the photo sessions legitimises our desire to be close (in proximity) to our favourite actor, there is one thing that money can’t buy: genuine interest. And that is what makes these photo ops and selfies by the stage door so difficult for me: I am there because I *want to* be there. I am genuinely interested in my favourite actor, and it is a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to see him live. But that is a pleasure that is not reciprocated. I understand that it can’t be, of course. There is only *one* of him – and *thousands* of fans. It is impossible for every fan encounter to be as meaningful to him as it is to the individual fan. But it is precisely this imbalance that I dislike. And I’d rather admire from afar and without acknowledgment, than from close up and only with polite tolerance. It also has got something to do with how *I* see myself, I guess. And while I know my shortcomings very well, I do believe that there is more to me than the fact that I like Richard Armitage. I don’t like to be defined predominantly by my status as a fan – especially by the guy who I am a fan of. Is that a contradiction or a logical conclusion?
I really don’t know. But I know one thing – with all my niggling about imbalance of interest: He was very fair about not singling anyone out – although he certainly had a bit of a Dibley revival weekend. But RA is not to blame for my difficulties with RL interactions. My overriding impression after observing those photo sessions and seeing Richard at the autograph signing, was one of gratefulness. I don’t know how he manages to so but he made every attempt at giving every fan their own special moment. Whether it is chatting with those Kiwi girls about NZ, expressing his admiration for Flat Richie’s international itinerary to armidreamer, laughing with Kate about Jill’s Gymkhana, or playing ‘Spot the Location’ with my photos, RA did try to be personable. You just have to be cool enough to take it.
Which I am not.