Photos of furries in their natural habitat
Furs, fursuits and fursonas have been around since the internet has existed. The Internet’s official birthday, January 1, 1983, coincides with the decade when a group of American guests at the science fiction convention bonded by their mutual love of anthropomorphic animals, initiating a fandom that would grow exponentially over the following decades. Decades later, furries have marked their territory all over the web — they upload comics to DeviantArt, sell DIY accessories on Etsy, and even start their own anti-fascist groups targeting the alt-right. At this point, any talk on Twitter isn’t really legit without the intervention of a fursona account.
Photographer Tom Broadbent isn’t a hairy himself, but he’s been enjoying getting to know the humans behind the masks for 14 years. After establishing a bond of trust with this often misrepresented community, her 2018 photography book At home with the furries gave readers a rare insight into the ordinary domestic life of individuals who like to dress up occasionally as a dog, cat, or dragon.
Her latest collection, At home with Xavier Foxfollows the life of a motorsport-loving Essex red fox with a passion for Japanese supercars of the late 90s. We caught up with Tom to get the story straight from the horse’s mouth.
VICE: Hey Tom! When did you first discover furries?
Tom Broadbent: In 2008, I first encountered the furries at an event in London called RBW – Rather Brilliant Weekend – at a hotel in Bloomsbury. At the time, I was doing a shoot for a magazine, I had just gotten out of the taxi with my camera and I saw a six-foot-tall wolf walk into the hotel lobby, and I been transfixed! I could not believe it. I had read about furries, I knew they dressed like characters they created themselves, but seeing it in person was amazing.
As I was doing portraits I was meeting all these furries and asking permission to take their picture, about their character names and their costumes and it really opened a door for me. It was just a great feeling. A lot of people were silly and kinda silly, and people got away with doing funny things in costumes that you might not be doing if you weren’t wearing one. I saw these people and thought, “This is just a great community.”
What prompted you to continue documenting them?
I thought, ‘There’s probably another project here beyond the terrible hotel carpets, but I’m just wondering what it could be, maybe I could photograph them at home?’ It set a seed in motion, and it was just about gaining people’s trust enough to allow me to photograph them at home. It took a good year to attend furry get-togethers, which happened about every three weeks, and just to get to know people.
One thing I started to notice back then, the way furries were portrayed in the mainstream media was very distasteful and unfair. I wanted my project to right some wrongs and show that they’re actually a great group of people doing really creative things.
Why do you think people are so drawn to fursonas?
There are lots of reasons. Some people get there through role-playing, through artwork, but really it’s about meeting and having a connection. My project looks at the more visual aspect – the fursuiters – but that’s not really that per se. This is the idea of joy. It took me a long time to realize that’s what this is all about – but the furry community is all about joy, really.
As you’ve been in the furry community for over a decade now, have you seen it grow or change at all? Or is the beauty of community that it stays more or less the same?
It’s definitely changed, as any community changes over the years. There is no doubt that conventions like Confuzzled, to be held in Birmingham in May, are expecting their highest turnout after the pandemic. In the United States, its popularity really exploded. There are two very large conventions, one in Pittsburgh called AnthroCon and the Midwest FurFest in Illinois now has over 10,000 attendees. Over time, it becomes more popular. I think the demographics have changed too. There are many more young people doing it.
You’ve touched on media misconceptions before, but does your work give non-furry people a chance to realize that those involved in this subculture aren’t somehow a threat?
My work has been featured in The Sunday Times back in 2013, and the reason I’m bringing this up is because a number of furries dropped me a line after to talk about how it can’t be so weird if it was in The Sunday Times magazine, and how it gave them the confidence to go on their very first fur encounter and make friends. It really tugs at the heartstrings. It normalizes it, but I would never describe furries as a threat, they’re just people having fun around a common interest.
How did you first meet the subject of your new book, Xavier Fox?
He is a friend and a supporter. I first met him at a furmeet in London, and he did my first book launch with me at the Photobook Café, where my next launch will be. He wasn’t in the first book but he came in costume, and it was a really special night because like some of my other shows, the furries come in costume and really bring the work to life.
What makes Xavier so distinctive – I’ve seen his instagram that he likes cars?
He’s just an amazing, really creative character. I really wanted to show the full picture of who his character is, including the fact that he spends a lot of time running a business, which does a lot of really good things, including transporting kids with special needs. It focuses on his identity and his wonderful outlook on life. But it’s also about cars.
I gave a talk at the Royal Photographic Society last month about the new book, and while I was there I talked about meeting the furries in Confuzzled in 2019 there was a separate car park full of tall cars performance and Xavier had one of his insanely overpowered Nissan GTRs, which Fast and Furious type of car. There’s a subsection of furs called the Motor Furs, and they’re all furs that really love cars. One thing Xavier does, twice a year, is rent a race track for them to drive around and about 30-40 furries show up – not all of them driving, of course.
There are many furs who are very generous, who do a lot for the community and who do not seek to recover anything. “You put a big smile on someone’s face,” Xavier told me. “You can see their real enthusiasm. It’s a very rewarding thing to do.