I feel like I'm starting to hit my stride now, with almost four years of LARP photography under my belt. I've shot just over 30 LARP events so far and each time I'm still learning something new. I feel like I genuinely have thirty games worth of experience - rather than just shooting the same thing thirty times.
One of the things that photographing LARP has taught me is that not showing things can be as important as showing them.
This weekend saw the end of Odyssey LRP. When the system started, six years ago, it broke new ground with the standards that a fest LARP in the UK would expect from participants. It also had some pretty impressive props provided for the players to interact with.
The arena must surely be one of the most beautiful and impressive works of set building in the UK LARP community. End gates with spectator boxes, bleachers, and large fabric sails to keep the sun (and the rain) away from those watching. Walls made from wood, assembled on site each event. Banners for each group and for many stories adorning the walls of this sacred stadium - almost all donated kindly by players.
Special weapons and costume pieces were given out by the story team for players to use. Quintessence and coin was produced and put into the hands of the players. Armour and masks were commissioned in order to fit the setting exactly.
Attention to detail was high, this was a game that would break new ground. And break new ground it certainly did - as it paved the way for Empire LRP.
But not everything in the game benefits from being photographed.
Some things are secret. For instance at Odyssey LRP not all characters can interact with all locations in the game. Only certain characters could access the World Forge, the Map Room, and the area containing the philosophy puzzles.
On my first event I was asked to avoid showing some of these things in my photographed. It was requested if I photographed 'secrets' that I wait until after Odyssey had finished to release the pictures. It was never an issue - Odyssey was only ever planned to run for six years. No photograph was ever more important than the integrity of the game.
But now I can release pictures of the beautiful World Forge, created by Gill Francis. I expect I will never see a prop that is quite like it ever again. I have no idea how it works - but I'm sure others can tell you that if you want to know.
It was a remarkable thing to photograph. It was placed in a tent that was almost pitch black. Light emanated from within the giant structure. Tags hung from the outside of the Forge. And players huddled around deciding what move they should make next.
It was magical. Truly. I have not encountered anything quite like it since. And I never did go back to visit it again, after I photographed it, because I did not want to break the memory.
I was also asked not to photograph the God audiences. Odyssey did not have the budget of a Hollywood movie. And without some serious special effects it's hard to make a roleplayer look like a God. The God audiences, that were so crucial to Odyssey, relied on roleplay and player buy-in to be the huge success that they became.
I am assured that nothing compares to being bellowed at by your God, begging for mercy at their feet at Odyssey LRP. But at the end of the day, these were a load of LARPers in old army garage tents, often swathed in old bedsheets and charity shop accessories. But that doesn't mean that they weren't incredible, intense moments that defined characters, stories, and the game itself.
They just weren't the kind of thing that would ever lend themselves to being photographed. So I simply didn't photograph them. In retrospect perhaps I could have shot some 'behind the scenes' images to release after the game, but I still think that they would have taken some of the magic away.
Memories are a powerful thing. We, as humans, tend to forget the bits that were a bit rough round the edges and instead focus on the best. Rose-tinted spectacles we tend to refer to this phenomenon as. A bit like when we remember the great bits of 80s fashion - but we forget the hideous shoulder-pads.
In the future nobody will remember that the God were wearing bedsheets, the gladiators were slightly tango coloured, or that the arena occasionally fell over (and was held together by pure willpower some of the time). They will remember the memories and the stories - and as photographers I feel it's my job to try and support those memories.
I said to myself that at the thirteenth, and final, annual of Odyssey LRP that I would set aside time to photograph the Map Room, the Quests, the Story Room and all those other little bits and pieces that I had not photographed so far.
But increasingly as the weekend went on I was aware that these things don't translate well into photographs. In the end, I decided not to even take those photographs.
Odyssey is not a game of army tents, marquees, bedsheets, and sticky-back plastic. It is a game of heroes. Of Champions. Of difficult decisions.
But mostly Odyssey was a game of stories. And sometimes stories are best left to the imagination.