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The Unconventionals

A Chicago photographer offers a glimpse into the hidden world of ultraniche gatherings.

At a McCormick Place dog show in 2002, photographer Yvette Dostatni happened upon a pair of nuns heading down the escalator en route to a bikers’ convention. She followed them. “I thought shooting that event would be a lot more interesting than shooting Fido,” Dostatni says. And with that, a photo project was born.

Since then, Dostatni, 43, has gone to dozens of conventions across the Midwest, usually with an eye toward the unexpected and downright bizarre: Korean dry cleaners, tattoo enthusiasts, Walking Dead fans. “I want to show the universality of conventions,” says Dostatni, who lives in Rogers Park. “In their normal lives, these people are doctors or lawyers, but every year for a few days, they get to come together and really be themselves.”

In December, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to turn the photos into a book. (She raised a little over $10,000 and is currently shopping the project to a few publishers.) Here she recounts the stories behind seven particularly memorable ones.

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