Skyler Dahan documents the unsettling glitz and glamour of Anaheim’s Reptile Super Show

Showcasing the contrast between American commercialism and wildlife, Skyler peaks behind the curtain of reptile enthusiasts, highlighting the unsettling nature of the obsession.

13 October 2021

Reptile Super Show, found in Anaheim California, is an annual convention for the rhapsodic reptilian fan, hosting technicolour reptiles and enthralled enthusiasts alike. Already harbouring a considerable interest in conventions, the show caught the eye of Los Angeles-based photographer and filmmaker Sklyer Dahan. “Originally, I was taking photos at conventions such as Adultcon, Dragcon and Aliencon,” Skyler tells us, before research led him to Glendale’s Opposites Attract Catclub. “In my experience, photographing conventions can be surreal because the attendees fully immerse themselves in their universes,” he recalls, allowing themselves to be put on display. “But the Catclub was different because instead, the attendees are putting their pets on display,” Skyler explains, an act that perhaps reveals even more about the attendees and the culture than what they’re exhibiting.

Driven by his love of Christopher Guest's Best in Show and fascinated by the attendees – recalling how they “would meticulously groom their felines at their stations and talk to them like they would a small child” – the incidental discovery of the Reptile Super Show seemed too good an opportunity to not investigate. “Immediately I thought to myself what kind of people would show up,” he remarks, questioning what even happens at a Reptile convention, finding himself immediately overwhelmed by the spectacle.

Following the convention’s Covid-19-related hiatus, Skyler soon enough found himself there again, alongside “a crowd with pent up pandemic angst, and some colourful chameleons,” Skyer recalls. The subsequent photographic and video series Reptilecon is a fascinating snapshot into an especially niche, dubious and weird reptilian-obsessed world, dutifully captured through Sklyer’s eyes. Throughout the series, Skyler’s imagery translates a stark intrigue and illustrious spectacle, composed of candid and colourful off-beat moments, that leave the audience questioning their own reactions to the work.

GallerySkyler Dahan: Reptilecon (Copyright © Skyler Dahan, 2021)

Discussing the convention’s surprises, Skyler recalls how the business side of the show was an unsettling sight. “Seeing lizards and snakes in small confined spaces can feel a bit uneasy,” he explains, “especially when people buy them and don’t have the proper experience in handling them,” adding that he was disheartened by the number of spectators showing little respect for the creatures. It is perhaps the contrast of the “alive and vibrant” atmosphere, and Skyler’s documentation of the attendee’s post-covid elation, with the nefarious and saddening sights that make the series so captivating. There is something disastrously poetic in the pairing of Americana excess – a world of bright lights, seas of plastic and garish scenes – with such distinctly wild creatures.

The uniqueness of the series is perhaps a result of the convention’s controversial focus. “Overall it felt more like an interactive museum than anything else,” Skyler explains. “The focus was not on educational talks or in-depth sharing of knowledge,” as were the other conventions he had attended, “instead it was geared towards showcasing the glitz and glamour of the reptile’s aesthetics.” Recalling the proud owners showing off their resplendent reptiles – “eager to soak up the sights and the variety of reptiles brought to the convention” – we feel an unease towards their obsession, seeing oddity and disrepute in a familiar world so well documented by creative media.

This context and sensibility are made evident through Skyler’s focus on the owner’s hands – often as much as the reptiles – allowing the natural expression and framing they conjure to drive their own narratives. “The attendees’ hands act as a supporting cast member,” Skyler explains, “because they play an important role for the reptiles,” whilst also representing the commerce and trade of the story.

Looking ahead, Skyler’s convention fascination doesn’t seem to be dwindling, in fact, he has recently expanded his horizons into Groom Expo West – a dog grooming event – as well as Telluride’s Mushroom Festival. “I am also getting ready to release a book titled Unconventional,” Skyler explains, a book documenting his five-year journey across the uncanny and unusual conventions in California. “While participating as an attendee I decided to disguise myself as a hardcore fan,” he remarks, taking photos of himself posed amongst other attendees. “I wanted to explore America’s fascination with convention culture while being incognito,” he adds, capturing an unfiltered eye into the convention experience.

GallerySkyler Dahan: Reptilecon (Copyright © Skyler Dahan, 2021)

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Skyler Dahan: Reptilecon (Copyright © Skyler Dahan, 2021)

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About the Author

Harry Bennett

After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.

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