Cosplayers and fans are outraged over a convention vendor who's taking "creepshots" to a whole new level of disturbing.
Eric Pearce, according to his own website (down as of this morning), has been "an imagager [sic] for over 10 years and direct [photographer] for over 5 years."
He's only been at the center of a fandom maelstrom over "cosplay ≠ consent" for a few days, but it might be the thing that affects his career the longest.
On Sunday, cosplayer Carrie Wink vlogged about her experience at AnimeNEXT, and her discovery that Pearce's photography studio, 2 Image Solutions, was selling body pillows and other pillows in the vendor's room. The problem? Many of the models for the "creepy" body pillows were Wink's own friends, none of whom had any idea that they were on merchandise that could arguably be sold to cater to a sexual fetish.
"He only wore this once, at Dragon*Con," she says, speaking of her friend Dustin's superman cosplay and smiling through gritted teeth. "And he's on a pillow."
When Wink complained to con staff, Pearce allegedly responded that the participating cosplayers had signed a release form presumably allowing him to do whatever he liked with their likenesses.
The release form Pearce used specified the use of the model's likeness for "promotional" items. One cosplayer, Pixie Belle, discovered her own likeness on a pillow at 2 Image's vendor booth, and took to Facebook to lash out at what she deemed a deceptive business practice:
I found this horrible thing in the dealers room. Apparently it's legal because it's a "promotional item". Since when did promotions gets charged? All I can say is I wasn't told these were going to be made when I SPECIFICALLY talked to him last year what he was going to do with the photos and I do not approve of it at all.... [H]e had the AUDACITY to tell me that I was a popular seller, as if that would make me feel more comfortable about this. There were many others who had pillows made and every other person I talked to was disgusted with this.
I most definitely do not recall anything about using the photos for pillows or the like to make money. That is wrong on too many levels. What if the cosplayer isn’t even 18? And a parent had to sign the form? Wouldn’t that mean underage cosplayers could possibly have their image on a pillow?
In the wake of the backlash, Pearce pulled the pillows from his store and issued a lengthy explanation about the policy change on his deviantART, claiming that "We did not mean to upset people, and felt that people chosen would be flattered to be among the few chosen [for the merchandise]."
In the past, we were selling products with images of others as well as custom-ordered prints of themselves. This was meant to inspire people to elevate the level of their own costumes. We would like to assure participants that any pictures of them that we have taken WILL NO LONGER BE SOLD AT OUR BOOTHS OR AVAILABLE TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC. The products will be available ONLY to those of whom the pictures were taken. Any future products will be special-order so that the attendees will be able to order prints and merchandise of themselves and themselves only. We would like everyone to know that their privacy is of utmost importance to us and that we did not intend to violate their privacy in any way.
It's difficult to see how screening a cosplayer onto a $12 pillow could inspire anyone, or why models who went uncompensated for their work would be "flattered" to be exploited to turn a quick buck for the photographer. But while condemnation continued to be swift, several people did thank Pearce for his relatively quick action in removing the pillows. "I feel a bit more comfortable now that the ordeal is over," Pixie Belle commented.
"I had my picture taken by this man this weekend at AnimeNEXT and he was extremely nice to me when I was very nervous and he made me feel much more comfortable for my photo," fortheloveofsalazar commented in Pearce's defense. "I don’t think he was trying to be creepy when selling these photos, he was just trying to promote his business." Pearce did not respond to the Daily Dot's request for comment.
But while Pearce's actions were more about reading the fine print on a contract and less about inappropriate convention behavior, they also fall into the ongoing debate over cosplayers being subjected to sexual harassment and other violating forms of behavior while in costume at events like these.
Pearce may not be selling the body pillows any more, but there's no telling how long the cosplayers whose images appeared on them could feel the longterm effects at future cons of having been displayed on a "fap pillow."
It's probably at least as long as Pearce will be remembered among cosplayers as being the man who tried to put them there.
Photo by Aja Romano