Photographer Arthur Drooker has already taken us on eccentric adventures within the World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championships and the annual assembling of the Association of Lincoln Presenters. Drooker’s been swinging by a hand-picked selection of the convention industry’s oddest, while compiling images for his new book-in-progress Conventional Wisdom. The next stop is the Cincinnati Airport Marriott Hotel for the 37th Vent Haven Convention, which bills itself as “the oldest and largest annual gathering of ventriloquists.”
More than 600 attendees, drawn from more than 16 different countries, made their way to the Marriott, conveniently situated close to the Vent Haven Museum, “the world’s only museum dedicated to the art of ventriloquism.” These “vents”—as they refer to themselves—generally range “from kids who aspire to be adult entertainers and adults who perform for kids,” explains Drooker.
While there are entertainment-oriented components to the convention—such as open-mics and appearances by the likes of old master Jimmy Nelson and current superstars Jeff Dunham and Terry Fator—the gathering also has workshops on breathing techniques, showmanship and booking banquets. Commerce takes place between the events, where the dealers’ rooms sell the latest figures. They range, as Drooker notes, from “relatively simple soft sculpture puppets made of foam and fleece” (costing $300 and up) to “a custom-made, hand-carved wooden dummy that takes as long as six months to create” (which can go for $5,000).
Drooker was once again inspired by the passionate dedication of all attendees. His particular observations this time, play against the stereotypes of ventriloquists. “They’re not misfits practicing a dark art that some consider creepy, but rather well-adjusted extroverts who enjoy making others laugh,” he shared. “It takes a lot of imagination to conceive of a memorable character who is separate and distinct from you, yet physically attached to you. And it takes a lot of skill and even a bit of magic to create the illusion that the figure is so real,” he continued. We believe him. He certainly captured that magic with this round of photographs.
Cool Hunting was invited to follow Arthur Drooker behind the scenes as he continues to survey and photograph conventions around the US. All images in this ongoing series are by Arthur Drooker.