Every weekend in countries around the world, grown men and women don elaborate costumes, adopt assumed identities, and meet up to enact fantastical scenes set in alternate realities. Although many still consider it a fringe activity, Live Action Role Playing (LARP) has exploded in popularity over the past decade, with chapters springing up from Minneapolis to Moscow.
German photographer Boris Leist has spent the past four years documenting some of the world’s most dedicated LARPers. He first learned about the activity while shooting a Renaissance Fair in Norway, where he met a man dressed as a Tolkien-esque dwarf, complete with body armor and weapons. The man was an IT professional by day, but was so dedicated to LARPing that he had enrolled in an evening welding class to learn how to make his armor.
“I was very impressed by how high-quality his costume was,” Leist remembers. “I told myself, I have to learn more about this.”
Leist began attending LARP events around Germany, where the activity is particularly popular. Many of the LARPers were wary of him at first, having been burned before by journalists only interested in mocking them. Leist eventually earned their trust by himself dressing up as a mendicant monk named Boris the Reader, with a full backstory.
The portraits Leist captured, around 160 of which will be published in book form later this year by Kehrer Verlag, show LARPers fully inhabiting their alternate identities, with lovingly crafted costumes and carefully chosen accessories. Leist tried to portray the players with dignity and seriousness—to depict them the way they saw themselves, including captions that only use their LARP name, not their “real identity.”
Although LARPers are sometimes mocked as people who refuse to grow up, Leist respects their artistry and devotion to their craft. “They’re really creating a whole world,” he said. “I like that these are people creating things in their free time, and not for money. They’re living out their creativity.”