The Photographer Who Allegedly Preyed On Cosplayers For Nudes

A few years ago, I got a message in my cosplay inbox. It was something along the lines of "I am a professional artist. I'm a fan of your costumes and I would like to hire you to model for a series of paintings."

It was paid work being offered -- long before cosplayers getting paid to do promo work was commonplace. It was an exciting offer and a much needed financial boost for a broke student. All I had to do was pose in a costume over Skype. Easy, right? Once the Skype call was set up, something started to feel really wrong. The artist claimed 'she' needed to see my body 'for reference'. No, even gym clothes hid too much. It had to be underwear. Or less.

Photographer image from Shutterstock

In a moment of panic I slammed my laptop closed. When I finally got the nerve to open it again, I was in for an unpleasant surprise. I had been locked out of my Hotmail account, with a warning on both my PayPal and Skype accounts. "I can get your PayPal permanently frozen, unless you fulfil your side of the deal," came the threatening message from the 'artist'. He had gotten me into an incredibly compromising position, all because of my naivety and my excitement to take my cosplay to the next level.

Unfortunately, my story is not at all uncommon within the cosplay community.

Photographer image from Shutterstock

Recently, cosplayer Dani Phantom went public with allegations that a well-known American cosplay photographer, Richard T. Bui, solicited her for nudes in much the same way as I had experienced back in 2011. Thanks to her admission, more and more cosplayers have come out of the woodwork with similar stories and damning screenshots -- some of whom were underage at the time.

Both Bui's personal profile and his photography page, Bui Photos, have disappeared from Facebook. I had a look before they were deactivated. Nothing about his page seemed out of the ordinary. His portfolio was mainly wedding photgraphy alongside a smattering of classy lingerie shots. There was even a photo of him with his young daughter. I had ten friends in common with him when I first checked -- mostly cosplayers I had met in California -- but the next time I checked that number was reduced to four.

"I haven't slept well from the whole controversy."

One victim estimates that Bui has been carrying on like this for over five years, but the controversy only came to light recently when cosplayer Dani Phantom published screenshots of her conversations with Bui in a public Facebook post. Previously, some of his victims had shared their stories in private Facebook groups, but none had ever opened up about it. Dani heard alarm bells from the start and deflected Bui's requests before it escalated, but the incident still stayed with her.

"I was worried because he worked with so many younger friends of mine," she said, "and I was wondering if he had dared to ask my underage friends for nudes -- which ended up being the case."

She wanted to protect other cosplayers from predators within the community, and decided to be the one to speak out.

Dani paid the price for this -- since publishing her post calling out the photographer, she has been attacked for speaking out. Her post has over 2500 shares at the time of writing.

"I haven't slept well from the whole controversy," she tells me. She's been "too tired and scared" to read any of the threads discussing the issue.

Dani had never even met Bui in real life. They were friends on Facebook, where he slipped under the radar as a random cosplay photographer until he appeared out of the blue to offer her a photoshoot. He didn't do cosplay photoshoots outside of conventions, he claimed. He would rather do something sexy.

While he was careful to explain that his shoots were strictly non-pornographic, he did ask for "a series of selfies with nothing on". Dani thought it was a joke at first. The conversation continued -- with Bui even supplying a cartoon illustration of what he wanted from her 'selfies'. Dani decided to cut off communication with him but she was not the only cosplayer he targeted.

"All we're doing is a photoshoot. We want to capture the best and help you grow as a performer."

This was the message Bui sent to cosplayer Vickie Alfafara, before asking for a series of nude selfies from several different angles. "That way we know you're committed."

Bui was just a convention friend to Vickie. They had met at California's Animecon in 2012 when she was just 15, but he was like any other cosplay acquaintance to her at the time. "We just saw each other at conventions and we would laugh and joke around and have some conversations." The request for nude photos came out of nowhere. It wasn't just on Facebook either; Vickie mentions that Bui also asked for quick shots of her private parts at the end of cosplay photoshoots, even after she told him that she was only 17.

Vickie blocked him on Facebook, but that wasn’t the end of it. "The day after he messaged me all those things, I had school and I just felt so ashamed. I was disgusted and I knew something was wrong, it’s just my mind was too confused to process it."

Some of the screenshots suggest that the girls were willing and consensual participants in Bui's nude selfies and photoshoots -- but such an assumption would be ignoring the manipulative tactics that Bui used multiple times. "I'll delete [the photos] after", he promised while trying to convince one of the girls to comply. Minutes later he offered to show photos of two other "well known" cosplayers who had sent him selfies.

In these cases, it can be too easy for the community to shift blame onto the victims. "They should have known better" is an easy call to make while standing on the sidelines of an event, but the reality is not as well defined. Cosplay is an interesting beast -- having grown from a hobby to a community to a legitimate career for a select few, there is obviously a complete lack of regulation. Cosplayers have no union, no guidelines, nothing but a sewing machine and their wits to guide them through trials that are not prepared for.

"I ask this of all my models. Think of it like figure drawing class. Very clinical."

While a select few cosplayers are, or have been, professional models, most have never even touched a DSLR, let alone posed in front of one. "When this happened, I hadn't done very many shoots before," says Sarah, another cosplayer targeted by Bui. "Since photography was his livelihood, I tried to write it off in my mind that this is what pro photographers do." Bui fed into these assumptions as well, imbuing his requests for nude photos with a pseudo-professionalism that had many of his victims second guessing themselves.

Another cosplayer I talked to, who asked to remain anonymous, was among those who didn't have much experience with professional photographers when Bui reached out to her. "I should have known that things weren't right when he asked for nude photos. He was a professional photographer and I didn't really know anything about it, so I trusted him and thought it was something that everyone does," she told me -- although her experience with Bui did not end once she sent her photos across.

"When we were shooting he kept pressing me to go further and further with how risqué the shoot was becoming, even though I didn't want to. He just kept pushing and pushing and wouldn't take no for an answer. I went along with it until the end of the photo shoot because I just wanted to get it over with."

This cosplayer didn't tell anyone about her experience until other cosplayers started coming out with their stories. The first few women to do so were met with scepticism and disbelief. This cosplayer decided to add her voice and her evidence to the others in solidarity.

Soliciting nude images is not illegal in itself -- unless of course the target is underage, which some of Bui's were. One cosplayer is currently involved in an investigation against him. She hopes her act of speaking out against Bui will lead to more of his victims coming out and sharing their stories, and assist in speeding up the investigation.

Photographer image from Shutterstock

Despite having a much smaller cosplay community, Australia is not free from this sort of behaviour. One high profile case emerged late last year when Adelaide photographer Timothy Scott Marshall pleaded guilty to one aggravated count of indecent assault and one count of unlawful sexual intercourse -- considered 'aggravated' because the victim was 12 years old at the time.

As a result of the story, the cosplay community in Adelaide suffered a massive upheaval, not least because of the negative media attention now directed towards the hobby. It led to an inventive response by one Adelaide convention organiser, in the form of the anti-harassment Cosplay Sentinels.

Surprisingly, Timothy Marshall still remains active -- or as active as he is able -- within the cosplay community, but his sentencing means that all conventions in South Australia have banned him from attending. He is also required to stay within SA as a condition of his parole, but allegedly applied (unsuccessfully) for an exemption to attend PAX in Melbourne this year -- despite the convention contacting him and making it clear that he would not be allowed to attend.

Unfortunately other photographers have not been outed as thoroughly as Marshall was, and many slip under the radar. A large number of cosplayers have dealt with this kind of harrassment. One Australian cosplayer told me how a simple request for a photoshoot from an unnamed photographer quickly degraded into demands for pictures in lingerie and fetishised maid outfits, with offers of payment and promises that it would just be "him and his friends". Another cosplayer caught a photographer taking photos of her when she was changing.

This kind of manipulation and abuse of power is not exclusive to the cosplay community, of course. Last year a number of young models spoke out of abuse at the hands of high profile fashion photographer Terry Richardson, who has worked with big magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone.

Closer to home, a Sydney fashion designer was arrested earlier this year for indecently assaulting his models. The former has particular parallels to the Bui case: a man using a position of power as leverage to take advantage of young women. Unlike models however, cosplayers have no union, no agents, no managers and no one to tell them when a photographer's request is normal and when it is out of line.

All we have is the community. For a well-connected cosplayer this can be enough -- having a large pool of experienced people to ask questions of and offer advice. Dani was one person who was able to reach out to her friends when she received Bui's request, sending out a call over Facebook to ask whether it was normal or not.

It's worth noting here that nude shoots or sexy photoshoots are not inherently wrong. Cosplayers and photographers have created some beautiful collaborations on consensually nude photoshoots. The issue lies with cosplayers being pushed to do something they are uncomfortable with. Cosplayers being manipulated to believe that sort of behaviour is acceptable practice.

"I will not let this keep me away from enjoying conventions and cosplaying."

While there is no easy fix for such ingrained issues, there are things we can do as a community to help.

Communication is of key importance in keeping everyone safe -- whether it's between cosplayers and photographers, between two cosplayers or even between two photographers. I've no doubt photographers could misstep even with no malicious intent, simply because of their inexperience with the unique world of cosplay.

If one thing was consistent among the many cosplayers affected by Bui's manipulation, it's that none of them are letting this one bad experience ruin their enjoyment of cosplay.

"I want girls and guys to know about this and not be ashamed if something has happened to them," said Sarah. "They aren't to blame. Luckily I know a few amazing photographers who always make me feel comfortable and never cross any lines, and I love shooting with them. I have made some of the most important and amazing friends, and I will not let this keep me away from enjoying conventions and cosplaying."

If you want to make your local cosplay community a safer place, check out the Cosplay =/= CONsent movement for more information.


    Interesting write-up!
    More awareness around these sorts of things can't be a bad thing.

    This issue isn't insular just to cosplay. It's part of a larger societal systemic neglect in protecting women's rights through legislation. Take a look at the recent royal commission with relation to surgeons.

    Sexual predators will always stay ahead of the legal curve if the law & society have no interest in the crimes they perpetrate. That said we're a pro-human rights violations country so I wouldn't expect any changes anytime soon.

    It is definitely not something that should be dismissed as "you should of known better" and unfortunately this type of thing does happen more often than it should. I have a couple of friends, not in cosplay but other forms of modelling and some amateur photographers definitely try to take advantage, but it is not just exploiting for nudes, in a live shoot they can sexually abuse the person and try to force themselves, which would be considered rape. And when you are working with younger people who think it is an opportunity to be photographed and maybe "well that's what it takes", it is a sad state of affairs.

    The best line of defence is probably an on line database or something where photographers can register and have feedback provided (although some of these services are available on deviant art). That and also some experienced models putting forward a set of guidelines / charter so young aspiring people no what is acceptable and what is someone preying on their naivete.

      It really is case of you should have known better. I get that this isn't cool and it's creepy, but let's not pander to the point where an adult, over the age of consent and able to enter into contracts and any number of other legal arrangements, is somehow the victim if they agree to this rediculous shit.

      I understand 100% if they are in a physical location with a photographer and they are being pressured through forceful dominance, feeling threatened or otherwise, but in a facebook message or a text is entirely different.

      Some random "photographer" on the internet, messaging you on facebook wanting nudes isn't a professional and is probably a creep? You don't say.

      Last edited 23/10/15 5:31 pm

        You seem to have missed the section where they stated that some of the people who were approached were under the age of 18.

        It is not cool to victim blame, that just helps perpetuate the "you were asking for it" defence.

        A person should try to protect themselves wherever possible, but that doesn't mean society shouldn't have robust protections in place to stop unscrupulous people taking advantage of the naive. Not knowing better isn't a crime. Obtaining private information through deception is.

          We do have such rules - but they only apply in certain circumstances, being a creep isnt a crime unless it's doing specific things which are actionable under law. The law does protect people from being forced to do such things under specific circumstances.

          Look, in reality, you're going to have to sometimes think for yourself.
          As nice as it would be to have something to always stop these things from happening, there's only a certain level of protection that is ever going to be possible realistically.

          Maybe more education is the answer? I think it's good sites like this bring things up for discussion.

          Last edited 24/10/15 12:55 pm

            I think you're right. Education is the answer. If you have a look at DogMan's post below, I think he does a pretty good job of summing it up.

            People are absolutely responsible for themselves, but we are talking about people who have no education on how to be responsible. This kind of thing is everywhere. There's a thousand ways we as a society fail young people because we are too busy teaching them to pass tests to teach them how life works. I work with kids and teenagers. I regularly meet 16 year olds who don't understand how basic nutrition works. But it's not their fault. We can't blame them for not knowing what we haven't taught them.

            I'm really happy to see this article come up. If this awful shit goes down, then people should know about it. I'm also really happy to see the conversations in the comments being so civil.

            Last edited 24/10/15 1:29 pm

        naw man, you're meant to be able to get naked for random stranger without consequences these days. what rock have you been hiding under? there is no more 'look after yourself and exercise caution', everything is someone else's fault.

        i agree. if you get caught by someone on facebook trying to get nudes out of you you're naive and shouldn't have the internet.

    Great article, disturbing subject matter.

    Unfortunately, I know a couple of females who have had bad experiences with creepy photographers after a shoot (insisting on the model returning to their studio on a future date to "review the photos in person", and insisting that they come alone to do so). There is a marked contrast between the creepy and the good photographers, who'll often encourage the model to bring a friend/partner to the shoot so they're more at ease, make sure they never touch the model even when attempting to change their pose, etc..

    Having said that, at least one of the photographers in question still appear to be getting a regular supply of different women to shoot judging by their facebook, somehow, so it's not an easy problem to solve.

      Coming in alone is a gigantic red flag. I can't think of anything professional that can stipulate that you can't bring a supportive friend/relative/partner along.

        Salary reviews?

          Er... I meant in modelling. Heh.

          But I am now interested in the idea of bringing in support for salary negotiation.

            Yeah, HR really don't like that.

              I can see why. After all, who else could so aggressively extoll my virtues (and how I'm not being paid enough) as my Mum?

        To be honest, I usually decide not to work with actors/actresses that want to bring other people on set. Its a significant hassle and they always get in the way and delay shooting. Worse they sometimes stickybeak at the camera and "offer suggestions".

        As a film-maker I ama a professional, my crew is professional and I expect actors to be professional as well. And that means not bringing randoms onto a set.

        That being said I also do run closed sets with minimal personell for any scene the actor might feel nervous about.

        Oh and the actresses that tell me their boyfriend has to come or they are not allowed to do it... yeah they need to re-examine their relationship.

          Well that worked well for some of these girls in the article right? Going alone and thinking they're going to be shot by a "professional".

    Nothing wrong with nude cosplay photos, as long as they want to do it and they are legal adults. NOBODY should EVER be forced or manipulated into doing something they don't want to.

    Hopefully everyone that's been targeted by this scum comes out and tells their story.

    I'm surprised he's so transparent in his language.

    "That way we know you're committed."

    Sounds like a sex trafficking scene in a movie.

      Lets hope Liam Neeson's their Dad... Bui's gonna have a bad day if so...

      Yeah it sounds like a cliche line in a B grade movie.

      Pretty sure I've heard that exact line before in those 'fake agent' porn videos, which are scripted to give viewers the impression that the cameraman is a fake modelling agent who tricks the models into sex. Makes me wonder if the creeps in the article watched stuff like that and thought it was real.

    The thing is 'they should have known better' is an absolutely valid comment, provided you're using it as a call for education rather than using it as a way to be dismissive of the crime. There's no real educational material targeted towards this stuff. In school we learn about peer pressure in this stupid, nonsensical 'well they weren't you real friend anyway because your real friends wouldn't make you smoke crack' sense that doesn't actually exist in the real world. It's all villains and heroic kids willing to stand up to them. They never cover this sort of pressure. They never covered dealing with the 'everyone else is having fun doing it and I'm sort of curious' peer pressure or the 'I'm not ok with this, but they've attached it to something I want and they're forcing a yes/no response on the spot' pressure.

    This scenario isn't new. It's been going on since people drew pretty cave paintings. Hell, it's not even limited to artists taking advantage of models. Just go out and buy a used car. It's crazy that we don't prepare kids for this stuff, then act like they're stupid when they don't instantly know all this when they're old enough to make decisions. This really doesn't need to be learned through life experience.

    Last edited 23/10/15 1:50 pm

    good article. issue needs more awareness.

    Holy crap. The hell, guy?


    You know, thinking of widespread, potentially systemic or normalized exploitation... I'm reminded of a time when I was a primary school student living on the coast, taking a trip to the mystical and wondrous 'Brisbane'.

    A capital city! An urban metropolis full of strange new sights and sounds!
    One of the places our grade... 4? 5? class visited was the Westfield (I think perhaps called something else in those days) in Indooroopilly. Out front of the Myers, on the ground floor, there was a 'high fashion' photo-shoot going on next to a water feature. Black stage, giant white umbrella flash things, black backdrop curtains, the whole deal.

    A depressed-looking stick-figure waif was standing limply and disinterested, being physically manhandled into poses by an over-dramatic photographer, sighing in exasperation and saying 'this won't do' and shit.

    At one point the entire class was amazed as the photographer - in a fit of frustration at a slipping shoulder-strap - actually took the shiny fashion rag dress off the girl, pulling it up over her head, exposing her in her underwear for a few moments. He turned the dress upside-down, and pulled it back down over her, then went back to shooting and sighing.

    Our young minds were confused as to:
    1) Why the fuck would you wear a dress upside-down? Is this what fashion is?
    2) What the hell is with undressing a girl in front of dozens of people?

    I mean, I know there's practically no difference between the level of exposure when doing a bikini swimshoot vs underwear, but still... We have taboos around that. (Even if they don't make sense, like the hypocritical difference between displaying male nipples vs female nipples.)

    I think the most shocking thing to us was how starkly this highlighted that the model wasn't being seen as a person so much as a mannequin.
    Edit: Oh shit, that's what I remember now, about the dehumanizing... the strap kept falling down, and she kept pulling it back up, and he would tell her to stop that and pull it back down again.

    Last edited 23/10/15 2:07 pm

      This whole experience sounds like a scene from that whole sequence in Being John Malkovich that gets REALLY weird.

    No one ever asks me for nudes :(

    Pretty disturbing though. The story, that is. Well, both I guess.

      I was going to ask but after the Zangief photos there wasn't really much point.

      Send nudes pls!

      I like to think that people are too shy to ask me for nudes, so I take the initiative and just supply them of my own accord. Then I get done for publishing an indecent article!

    i noticed one screenshot. said photographer did include "you are welcome to bring an escort/friend if you like"

      Yeah, I saw that too. The real issues here are threats and underage models. Australia in particular has very strict (some say nonsensical) child pornography laws.

        The Simpsons: The Movie falls foul of our child pornography laws.

        Take that as you will.

      True, but he also states that it can't be a partner, likely as that person will be more likely to be concerned and have the model's best interests at heart.

    this part is the problem

    you can just say NO.. this appears as an ENTRAPMENT .. with these people planning to ruin the photog. he asks.. you can say no.. instead they say yes but in the end just use it against him

      While that may seem obvious to an outside observer, it's difficult to appreciate the levels of pressure the cosplayer is under in the moment. Modelling work is a big opportunity for a lot of people and one they may have dreamed of doing, so when it comes with stipulations that are uncomfortable, people tend to try to mentally minimise the size of the negatives to help justify pursuing the part they actually do want.

      Compound that with the fact these people are generally young and inexperienced, and the fact the photographer often puts a kind of 'if you don't accept this now the opportunity will be lost' time pressure and the result is poor decision-making. Yeah, the cosplayer had their part in that, but the circumstances were manipulated to engineer the outcome the photographer wanted, not the outcome the cosplayer wanted.

      Asking if a cosplayer is interested in nude shoots isn't wrong. Using coercion to pressure them into giving a particular answer to the question is unethical at the least, bordering on criminal.

    What a creep... trying to take advantage of young women like this... ugh

    Great article Hayley!
    I never understood how they got themselves into the compromising situations before I read this.

    Let me take a moment and call you out on your shit reasonining and bullshit. Just because someone is of legal age does not somehow magically mean that they "should have known better." Knowledge comes with experience not age. All of the targeted girls had very little experience in regards to photoshoots, which he knew and took advantage off.

    Furthermore, he specifically messaged people who he had friends in common with and who he was introduced to and friended on facebook. To them he wasn't some "random photographer", to them he was a person who they either met or knew they could work with because their friends did and said nothing happened.

    Stop blaming the victims and take a moment to actually reflect on the issue.

    I actually have seen this guy on my friends' Facebook statuses. Reading this article really broke my heart. I am currently checking to see if they were hurt in any way.

    Last edited 24/10/15 9:17 am

    Cosplayers must look out for each other. It's the only way we can stop this sort of thing. We must look out for each other. Men, look after the women. Women, look after the men. Men, look after other men. Women, look after other women. If you do see something bad, call it out. Even if they threaten you, it only take one person to stand up to these people and then you'd find yourself with a massive support group.
    "You should have known better" is no excuse. None whatsoever because if you don't really know about something, haven't been exposed to it, then how would you know better. These people who are preying on girls (maybe even boys) are well aware of how to coax people into doing what they don't want to. They use people's hope to make them do something they wouldn't normally do. It's very easy to say "you should've known better" when you are a bystander and seeing the end result. Let's stop blaming the victims, and make the people who know they are doing the wrong thing responsible.

      Even beyond just cosplay, it's probably a good thing for people to look out for one another.

      That whole "push the envelope" thing here reminds me of a story from a year or two ago about some guy doing videos at one of these conventions (could've been PAX?) where he was all super handsy with the girls, and tried to get them to kiss him under the guide of "pushing the boundaries" or envelope or whatever. Sounds like instant red-flag code for creep to me.

    He's not a photographer who preyed for nudes... he's a creep who preyed on nudes.. It's this kinda of bullpoopie labelling that makes actual photographers look bad - What the snarf did photographers do to you that made you put this wanker in the same boat as photographers? Why? Cos he has a camera? Change the snarfin title

    As a male in cosplay, this has never happened to me (as you one may assume), but I can only imagine what these young ladies feel about being preyed on by this guy.


    No it's because 19-22 yr old bf's are usually a pain in the ass. Many photographers have been robbed by escorts.

    yeah but... entrapment is a crime that can only be committed by the police. even if this were reported the police would have to do an investigation.

    this 'agreeable' wording might make the situation appear more amicable than it really is, but if the photographer is still committing a crime then he'll still be in trouble for that.

    A person under the age of consent can not be legally obligated to complete a contract without a guardian or a lawyer to advise them.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now