Archives for posts with tag: costume
Sir Christopher Felding-Vendenner and Mister Mendacity Crick, displaying a mutual Affection.

Sir Christopher Felding-Vendenner and Mister Mendacity Crick, display a mutual Affection in an unguarded moment.

The Steampunk universe, which is kaleidoscopically creative in its applied manifestations, is nonetheless consistently embedded in the 19th century. That 19th century (predominantly occurring in the former British Empire or the American West) was not, as they say, gay-friendly. And while Steampunk enthusiasts are a generally accepting sort, and while convenient exceptions are carved to a variety of firmly-held Victorian views on gender, orientation, race, and economic class, those firmly-held Victorian views are nonetheless an inescapable part of the period that inspires the neo-Victorian (or alt-Victorian) subculture.

Here’s the thing: steadfast Steampunks are sticklers for temporal congruity in fabrics and fabrications, and even fantastical constructs (elaborately multi-lensed clockwork goggles; firearms that resemble handheld cannons; aether-driven mechanical versions of modern electronics) are held to a fairly strict expectation of period-appropriateness. (Woe be unto the sad individual who glues some random gears on a hat or tosses on a corset and calls it steampunk! It’s so much more than a mere conflation of its memes.)

So if we’re going to play that way, then we need to at least be conscious that we are ignoring some exceedingly unpleasant aspects of our chosen alternative reality’s reality. And that reality goes back a bit.**

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE DISCUSSION NOW TURNS TO TOPICS AND IMAGES THAT SOME MAY FIND DISTRESSING. IF YOU ARE DISTRESSED BY TOPICS RELATED TO, SAY, THE PECULIAR INTERESTS OF OSCAR WILDE, OR IMAGES OF MALE AFFECTIONAL BEHAVIOR, OR BLOCK-QUOTES OF 16TH CENTURY LAW, YOU ARE URGED TO CLICK HERE, FOR SOME CUTE CAT PICTURES.

Henry VIII, noted paragon of sexual virtue, signed the Statute of 1533 which made sodomy punishable by death.

An Acte for the punishment of the vice of Buggerie (25 Hen. 8 c. 6). Forasmuch as there is not yet sufficient and condign punishment appointed and limited by the due course of the Laws of this Realm for the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast: It may therefore please the King’s Highness with the assent of the Lords Spiritual and the Commons of this present parliament assembled, that it may be enacted by the authority of the same, that the same offence be from henceforth ajudged Felony and that … the offenders being herof convict by verdict confession or outlawry shall suffer such pains of death and losses and penalties of their good chattels debts lands tenements and hereditaments as felons do according to the Common Laws of this Realme. And that no person offending in any such offence shall be admitted to his Clergy…

The Statute was repealed by his daughter, Queen Mary (there were, apparently, limits to her bloodiness), but re-enacted by his daughter, Elizabeth I, when she came to the throne. In 1540, the first man killed, Walter Hungerford (1st Baron Hungerford of Heytesbury), ironically shared the day’s festivities with Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister and the primary advocate of the Statute of 1533 (Cromwell was executed for treason, not “Buggerie,” although both executions may well have been more politically- than criminally-motivated). The last men hanged under the Statute, James Pratt and John Smith in 1835, were immortalized by Charles Dickens in “A Visit to Newgate” (Sketches by Boz, 1836).

It is interesting that over the course of 300 years, fewer than ten men were convicted and executed under the Statute. The relatively low number of victims was primarily a function of economics, as was passionately pointed out by Pratt and Smith’s defender, the magistrate Hesney Wedgewood:

There is a shocking inequality in this law in its operation upon the rich and the poor. It is the only crime where there is no injury done to any individual and in consequence it requires a very small expense to commit it in so private a manner and to take such precautions as shall render conviction impossible. It is also the only capital crime that is committed by rich men but owing to the circumstances I have mentioned they are never convicted.

Section 61 of the Offenses Against the Person Act of 1861 graciously eliminated the death penalty for sodomy, but Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment of 1885 included both public and private activity between men (lesbians, apparently, were invisible to the Victorians).

11. Outrages on Decency. Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of or procures (a) or attempts (b) to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency (c) with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour.

It was under this section that Oscar Wilde was convicted to two years’ hard labor for his affair with Bosie. (Wilde was only one of the estimated 49,000 men convicted under Section 11, a number that included the father of computer science, Alan Turing, whose resulting suicide likely delayed modern technology by thirty years. (If we’d had personal computers in the 1960s, imagine what we’d be doing now! Then thank Victorian and subsequent homophobia for our inability to teleport.)

Which—having completed our  brief frolic and detour through the merrie history of British moral jurisprudence—returns us to Steampunk, and Those Aspects of Victoriana We Would Prefer to Ignore. I guess my point is that if we’re going to go all alt-hist, we should also consider the social and political aspects that should morph and change when steamtech is added to the mix of Verne and Babbage and dirigibles and goggles and squids.

Some time ago, I introduced the Gentlemen of Steampunk, my humble effort to provide equal-opportunity prurience in a photographic genre focused almost uniformly on scantily-clad women in goggles. The response has been largely positive, as I discussed here, although sales of the associated products (a book and a calendar) have been disappointing. But I soldier on, intrepid little ‘punker that I am, and a second volume of GoS is forthcoming.

But I’ve also been exploring the Wilde side of Steampunk a bit, and pushing the Gentlemen into previously-unexplored areas of same-sex fluffy-soft-erotica: things like the photos below. These images, which basically portray little more than a very Victorian, steampunky, PG-rated vision of what two ‘punky Nineteenth Century men in love might have been doing in private sometime after 1861 in the alternative steam-driven, aether-powered world in my head. It’s an enlightened, mature world that celebrates diversity and egalitarianism, invention and innovation and technology and practical magic; a world in which the gaslit streets glisten with rainbow puddles of alchemical by-products, and the darkly pungent air is thick with soot, and smoke, and probably some things better left unnamed.

LAST CHANCE TO AVOID DISTRESS! CLICK HERE, FOR PICTURES OF A CUTE CAT DOING ADORABLE CAT THINGS.

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* “The love that dare not speak its name” is a line from the poem, “Two Loves,” by Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas . Bosie was many things. Most famously, he was–for a time–Oscar Wilde’s young lover (he was 21 when he met the 37-year old Wilde). Douglas’ father, theMarquess of Queensbury, forced Wilde to bring a libel suit, which opened the door to the author’s conviction and imprisonment for sodomy. Bosie had a stormy relationship with Wilde, after whose death he converted to Catholicism, married a woman, and became a famous antisemite and homophobe. He was also a fairly dismal poet, as one might expect. However, he did contribute the “dare not speak its name” phrase to the gay lexicon, so there’s that. Ironically, the “Two Loves” poem was used against Wilde in his sodomy trial, as evidence of the sort of Uranian mindset of those with whom he trafficked. Anyway, for whatever charms he held for Wilde, Bosie was a bit of an ass, and so that’s all we’ll say about him here.

**I mentioned previously that the Victorian period includes such unpleasantnesses as slavery, the subjugation of women, racism generally, the commercial exploitation of children, strict economic and social divisions, unequal political power vested in a hereditary ruling class, brutal colonialism—a whole murky stew of institutionalized oppression and narrowmindedness from which the modern sensibility recoils, and which the Steampunk oeuvre sidesteps as deftly as ever did Miss Bendaline Marsicamp turn out a delicate L’été en Quadrille at a country ball, her décolleté exposing shoulders gleaming with joyous exertion, cooled by the graceful flutterie of her ivory eventail au chinois. But I digress. As a gay white male of a certain age,  I have my own special favorite persecution, and it is upon that which we focus here.

Ever since I started the whole “Steampunk Beefcake” thing (handsome, fit young gentlemen in an assortment of neo-Victorian fantasy costumes and proppage) I’ve been hearing one comment fairly consistently: You should do a calendar.

So I did a calendar, and I’m shamelessly promoting it here. So before I go on to opine about the calendar-making process, the desirability of calendars, and the appropriateness of objectifying men’s bodies for the purpose of keeping track of what month it is, let me get this out of the way:

The calendar looks like this on the outside:

2015 Gentlemen of Steampunk calendar

and like this on the inside:

Gentlemen of Steampunk calendar interiorand you can Preview the whole interior HERE, which is also (conveniently) where you can purchase it at a reasonable price as well.

Thank you for your patience.

So I finally took the advice I was being given from numerous interested parties, and decided to make a calendar. Thing is, I have virtually zero interest in hawking calendars (OK so it would be hard to notice that, given the preceding blog-column inches, but keep reading before you scoff) at cons (see how a couple of words really modify what I’m saying?). I truly admire the dedicated craftspeople and artists who take up vendor space at sci-fi and steampunk conventions, sitting patiently at tables and discussing their work with buyers, potential buyers, possible later buyers, people who just want to chat about their own stuff, and people who say rude and unpleasant things when they really should just keep their criticisms to theirownselves.

The vendors at cons are amazing folks who do creative things and then lay them out for sale to passers-by. I am not amazing: my inherent shyness (no, really), coupled with a skin whose thickness may be accurately measured only by the finest micronometric devices, combined with a tendency to be viciously snarky and sharply defensive when praised with any perceptibly less than utterly ardent fervor, makes me a poor candidate to be taken out in public generally, much less planted at a tabletop and expected to sell people calendars (or books, such as the related Gentlemen of Steampunk biographies or the “wickedly clever” fairy tales of Aether & Rhyme, the digital versions of both being currently on sale for a mere 99 cents at Amazon). I think I would be very bad at it, and the whole affair would doubtless end in tears.

For that reason, I needed to find someone who would do the selling for me. There are, you will not be surprised to learn, a number of online companies that have set themselves up to do just that. I explored a number of them, and actually tried setting up calendars at three: CafePress, Zazzle, and Lulu. All three offer similar build-and-storefront services, but in the end, I found that Lulu’s was the easiest for me to work in: clean, simple, and largely intuitive, with a WYSIWYG interface. The choices of calendar templates was a bit limited, and the cover template isn’t exactly what I’d envision, but it’s free to use and the revenue structure is reasonable, with a base price on which users can build margin and discount structures. Your mileage may vary, but it works for me.

Anyway, so I built the Gentlemen of Steampunk 2015 Calendar, using the best images from the book along with some new photos destined to appear in the sequel. I posted cheery notices on my personal and professional Facebook pages, and posted on some special-interest steampunk pages as well. Thusfar, that has been the extent of my aggressive marketing campaign, and the numbers support the enormous effort I’ve put in: 1. (Actually, that “1” is a lie, because it was the proof copy I ordered myself. The actual number of legitimate sales has been somewhat south of that.)

Gentlemen of Steampunk calendar

A physical copy of the Gentlemen of Steampunk 2015 calendar, and the envelope it came to my home in.

So, boys and girls, here we find Your Humble Blogger, sitting on the very cusp of the new year, the fresh annus mirabilis laid out before him ripe with opportunity and straining at its seams with refulgent potential and undiscovered delectations, and he–he is ready to number its each passing sublime and inflorescent day, because he, dammit, has a calendar!

And, somehow, so can you.

The current photo book project I’m working on is a follow-up to the beefcakey Gentlemen of Steampunk:

Aether & Rhyme:

Being a Unique Collection of Morally-Improving Tales, Nursery Rhymes & Fragments from the Great Age of Steam

– with Photography by the Illustrious Mister Luxet Tenebrae, and Instructive Commentaries by Lord Professor Anton R.M. Feldspar

“Aether & Rhyme” is a collection of highly child-inappropriate neo-Victorian steampunkish kidlit. It’s a version of the classic Mother Goose oeuvre that’s simultaneously laden with a sort of faux arch-moralizing suitable to the mid-19th century and a dark and disturbing steam-tech aesthetic, nestled comfortably in the pretense of being a loving backward look at a the culture of a past epoch now subject to analysis and critique (included in amusingly critical academic footnotes by the ridiculously august L.P. Anthony R. M. Feldspar) and of course including the odd and poorly-preserved photographic work of Luxet Tenebrae.

Altogether there will be 18 stories and poems in the collection. Having created all the bits, I’m now in the process of integrating the photos with the stories and poems and assembling the thing.  But because neither self-control nor patience are among my many excellent virtues, I thought I’d offer up a little sneak-peek of a few short snippets from here and there, out of context and still in draft.

So, little ones, here are some stories for you tonight, to lull you gently into a disturbed and nightmarish steamy slumber…

FOREWORD

The title of this collection, as most readers will recognize, comes from the introductory poem in the famous collection of children’s stories and verse,  Old Shellduck’s Tales, which was to be found in any nursery worthy of the name back in the bygone days when the first Victoria was building the foundations of today’s Empire on the great spinning gears and oily pistons of the early Age of Steam:

Come my sweet child, it’s your bed-story time;

For tales of  magic, and aethers, and rhyme.

We’ll summon the plasms that brighten your dream

And drift you away on soft vapours of steam….

The tales and poems collected here—presented both in full and as fragments—are gathered from that original Shellduck’s. …

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

…It wasn’t long after she’d entered the Deepdark Wood before a Wolf hopped out onto the path before her.

“Hello, little girl,” smiled the Wolf, hungrily. “And where are you going, all by yourself in the dangerous Deepdark Wood?”

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

“Why, I’m going to visit my Grandmother, who is feeling poorly, in her little cottage down the path,” replied Little Red Riding Hood politely. “However, Mister Wolf, my mother has told me quite particularly not to speak to Wolves here in the Deepdark Wood, for they are more than likely to want to eat me.”

The Wolf smiled broadly. “Why, my dear,” he said in a low and reassuring murmur, “I am no Wolf! I am but a poor fellow-traveler upon the path, and as human as you or your sweet grandmother!”

Little Red Riding Hood was very surprised to hear this.

“Why, sir, please pardon my mistake! For your wolfen fur confused me.”

“The wolfen fur,” smiled the Wolf,  stepping closer to the girl, “is but a coat that keeps me warm against the chill air of the Deep Dark Wood.” And then the Wolf very cleverly stepped out of his fur, as if it were, in fact, only a coat, which you and I know it was not.

(c) EButterfield Photography

… Now, when Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother made the little red cloak of the finest velvet, she included a clever pocket on the inside. And Little Red Riding Hood’s mother, when she gave the girl the basket, knowing as she did the various Dangers that lurked in the Deepdark Wood, had slipped into the cunning little pocket a Drogget’s Demi-Automanual Ventillator Vapour Rifle, equipped with a full clip of 50 milli-meter Percussive Bore Engined-Bullettes.  And Little Red Riding Hood, in addition being a promising seamstress, and whose skills on the pianoforte were quite advanced for her age, was a dab hand with midscale armaments….

(c) EButterfield Photography

 

THE TALE OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS

One fine day, once upon a time not so very long ago, three little City pigs—having grown tired of the constant tick-tick-tick of the bright brass gears that turned and hummed and clicked all day and night beneath the streets and in the walls; and the gloomy fog of steam and coal smoke that shadowed the city’s sky in twilight even at noon; and the strange-behaving rainbow pools of effluent aethers and plasms that splashed their pants and made them sneeze little feathers.

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

So they scavenged fallen bricks from Trottingbridge, and wood from the scaffolds around Old Saint Merks, and thatch from behind the gardener’s shed in Gallowspark in front of the Great Court-house. They even crept into unlocked kitchen doors and took a few nice pieces of furniture from a few nice homes—for everyone, they said, has more furniture than they really need.

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

They gathered all these up in a little cart, and headed out along the Rotinn Road past the wide ring of factaries and ‘works, over the Estuary, and beyond the tiny houses of the Outer Lecturbs where the Carders and Liners Enginers live; through the villages and cultivated lands of the great houses, past the farms with their steam-cows and pneumatic horses, and finally found themselves in the pleasant Countryside.

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

 Finally, long after the Rotinn Road had dwindled to little more than a path through the Deepdark Wood, they came to tiny sunlit clearing….

Just then the Wolf spied the tiny pipette that secretly connected the pigs’ house to a mainpipe of the Great Trigenerative Empowerment Combine, and a clever thought occurred to him. While the three pigs danced and sang in their parlor, enjoying the warmth of their steam-powered furnace and the unflickering golden light produced by their steam-powered generator, the Wolf crept himself around behind the cottage and followed the pipette back to the connecting spigot in the woods. With a chuckle—for the Wolf knew exactly what he was about—he quickly turned the valve as high, high, high as it would go.

  THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT’S FATHER

 “‘Now, my dears,” said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, “you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor…’” [from The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter]

Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-Tail and Peter were just the tiniest of bunnies on that long-ago morning, when their Father, Mr. Rabbit, said to Mrs. Rabbit, “My dear, this morning I believe I will go out into the world and see what I can find to feed our little family.”

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

“I shall go down the lane and into the fields, for I may find there all manner of things to eat ready at hand upon the ground.” And so Mr. Rabbit, being just a little vain, put on his best waistcoat and cravat—for rabbits, you know, are always very careful about looking their best whenever they go out into the world—and he kissed Mrs. Rabbit sweetly on the cheek, and patted Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-Tail and Peter on their four little bunny heads, and off he hopped— lippety–lippety, not very fast, and looking all around—out the door and down the lane.

Mr. Rabbit had not gone too far when he came across a pair of old forgotten brass goggles lying in the dust by the side of the road. “Why these,” he said to himself, “will look very fine upon my little pink nose, and perhaps will help me better see the seeds and vegetables that lie upon the ground in the fields.”…

THE FROG-PRINCE

…“Frog-prince, show yourself to me, and I shall release you gladly!” cried the Princess, who thought her days would be much brighter in the Prince’s kingdom.

From the rotting underbrush along the edge of the pond there emerged a truly hideous frog. The Princess could barely contain her disgust, but put out her hand for him to hop up on. She raised the ugly, foul-smelling, slime-covered creature to her lips, and gathering all her courage, kissed it tenderly upon its ghastly mouth.

Instantly there was before her a young man, in a prince’s raiment. He would normally have been considered a handsome young man indeed, except that his skin retained a distinctly greenish tinge, and his eyes bulged alarmingly from his head. Strangest of all, the pupils of his eyes seemed to be made of brassen clockworks, for they ticked and whirred and clicked as he looked around him….

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

 OLD MOTHER HUBBARD or THE AETHERICALLY-ANIMATED  CORPSE!

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard
To fetch Doctor Ventris an aether.
But when she got there she’d let in too much air
And the floor disappeared from beneath her. …

 (Thanks to my models, Natalie Campbell, Andrew Diego, Jeremiah Hein, Pynkee, Andre Chambers, Dove Meir, and Scott Russo. “Aethers & Rhyme” will be available on Amazon in Sept. 2014.)

Like the Victorians it celebrates, Steampunk is all about the stuff. Elaborate period-accurate costumes built with period-accurate materials, tools, and techniques. Elaborate armaments and mysteriously complex scientific instrumentry;  jewelry and hats and gloves and gauntlets festooned with bits of brass this-and-that; even phone cases and computers dressed up in aged oak and rusted metal. Many of these pieces are jaw-droppingly intricate and beautiful, and I am in awe of their makers. Me, I’m a photographer (or at least I call myself one), and I traffic not so much in the art of making fine, tangible objets d’steampunque as in creating visual images that evoke a sometimes not-entirely-appealing alternate Steampunk reality, peopled by slightly unhinged but often brilliant and well-intentioned (albeit suffering from the effects of overexposure to the vapours, noxious effluvia, alchemical by-products, and general miasma of the Steam Age au Butterfield).

Not that I haven’t tried my hand, on occasion, at making appropriately steamy props and paraphernalia for my photography. The nice thing about making props for photography (or taking things other people have made and augmenting and embellishing them–what we call in publishing a “derivative use”) versus making props for practical cosplay, is that the results don’t have to stand up to a lot of use, and really only have to photograph well from a few angles. So superglue and velcro and one-sided decoration and anything else that feeds an illusion is perfectly fine. Things that someone is going to wear for long periods of time, or carry around at a con, well, people who make those things are Artists.

Anyway, here are some things I’ve made and used as props and costumes in photographs:

gauntlets and jewelry

Leather gauntlets for a “Roman Soldier” costume, augmented with gears, chains, a compass, and a working pocket watch, plus a couple of pieces of jewelry

Little Red Riding Hood's gun

Repainted tot assault rifle modified with gears, hardware, clock parts, drawer pulls, and a doorchain

binoculars

Modified opera glasses

pistol

Handgun constructed from a fishing reel, empty acetylene tank, painted plumbing pieces, and assorted watch parts and a vacuum tube

goggles

Goggles with gears and watch parts on eyepiece

breather

Capt. Nemo’s breathing apparatus, from augmented swimming goggles, watch parts, old knobs and drawer pulls, and a snorkel, Photoshopped.

 

box and ring

Box augmented with radio parts, vacuum tubes, wooden blocks, and hardware

autoinjector

“Auto-injector” using a syringe and antique hand-drill

 

shoe

Steampunk Cinderella’s slipper: a shoe augmented with gears and jewelry chain.

cryptology box

Cryptological device, using radio parts, medicine bottles, gears, watch parts, and wooden blocks

hatter hat

Mad Hatter’s Hat: top hat augmented with geared decoration and tag with context-appropriate printing

gloves

Elbow-length fingerless gloves augmented with a decorated toy telescope, gears, watch parts, and chain

cane

Collapsible hiking stick painted and augmented with gears and hardware

wrist light

Personal Illumination Device: stick-on LED light painted and augmented with gears, watch parts, and chain

 

All of these items worked quite nicely in photographs as props. But here’s another thing I made, that I’m even more pleased about:

Gentlemen of Steampunk

This is a collection of original steampunk “beefcake” photographs featuring male models in neo-Victorian costume reflecting male models who forgot to put on their shirts that morning. Now available in both print and digital formats on Amazon (click the image to go check it out).

 

To read more about the process of making this book, read my post, Good for the Gander.

 

“There was a time, surely, back in the now long-forgotten ante-vapourian ages before we, Illuminated and Inspired as we are today by the Rays that gleam from the intricate brazen gearworks of Modern Aengineering; by the myriad Mechanical Technologies that, driven by the kindly Vapourate Spirits, bring Goodness and Brightness to our days; and by the glowing emanations of the Practical Chemistries ruled by the Three Actinic Sisters of aetheric, plasmic, and alchemic philosciences; a time in the distant, dark, and lumbering days when we toiled simply to live and our minds went wanting, when antiquated and bestial notions of national tribalism, class imperative, and religioracial sanctity ruled our culture and our hearts. But today, such small-minded animalistic ideas are both offensive and irrelevant to the Enlightened Man in Her Serene Majesty’s radically locomotive Empire of Light!”

— from Radical Education Society. On the Current Serious Need for Specific & Immediate Reformations to the Anachronistic State and Principles of the Empire’s Primeval Universities, [Pamphlet] Drogan, Lord W. G. E., and Canfenser-Martin, T. R., Ph.Eng, Authors.

Google “steampunk photography” and you will not find, at least not with any immediacy, images that are not Caucasian. Oh there is diversity out there, but it must be searched for a bit. Just as Lord Drogan and Mr Canfenser-Martin called for a short, sharp end to the cultural myopicism that many of the established universities clung to throughout the early days of the New Empire, it’s also good to reflect a bit of diversity in our steampunkishness. Thanks to a couple of models I worked with last week, then, for these images, which also continue to address the comparative dearth of steampunk beefcake,too:

Steampunk Jamaal 249

 

Good Morrow Sir

Shirtless male model in Steampunk gear

 

(Models:  Jamaal Lewis and Shayim Todman)

There are, quantum physics tells us (or so I choose to understand what little I can decipher of quantum physics, given my fuzzy-headed liberal-artsishness) multiple universes nestled all over each other; multiple realities generated by choices taken and untaken, each as real and tangible to itself (and presumably to those inhabiting it) as this particular one that our combined and interacting series of choices and accidents and consequences has created for us.

In one of those realities, the 19th Century never ended. Charles Babbage’s theoretical difference engine, funded in 1823, launched the digital age 150 years earlier than in our timeline. The power of steam was harnessed and perfected in unique and imaginative ways, resulting in a cacophonous proliferation of gears and pipes and flywheels powering everything from toasters and teapots to dirigibles and high-speed locomotives. With an inexhaustible supply of fuel, the Victorian Age ushered in a high-tech utopia of gleaming brass and steaming iron rather than today’s cold wasteland of silicon and plastics. Driven by a meritocratic devotion to the triplet goddesses Curiosity, Progress, and Science, unique new understandings evolved that discovered the realities underlying alchemy and magick, that, tamed and flavored by the Victorians’ cool-headed intellectualism, became just more aspects of Science herself.

My vision of that alternative world is Steampunk.

There is a sizeable popular culture built around various aspects, permutations, interpretations, and definitions of “steampunk,” including a diverse array of conventions and convention-attenders, costume-makers and -wearers , musicians, jewelry-crafters, accessory-makers, vehicle-designers, cosplayers, artists, and photographers. Diverse, yes, but almost all of them include some elements of Victoriana, gears, clockwork, a bit of leather, and a fair dollop of darkness. (For a flavor both of Steampunk and its diversity, visit the Facebook page of Steampunk Tendencies; the Steampunk Emporium; or the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrances.)

Personally, I’m having way too much fun with my new obsession, most recently evidenced by a series of photoshoots with models willing to play dress-up and adopt the characters of Victorian professors, scientists, and adventurers sporting some lovely clothing items I purchased along with an assortment of props, accessories, and gadgets I’ve created myself with a little spray paint, gears, and superglue. And as much as I enjoy these shoots for themselves, the real appeal for me is in manipulating the photographs in Photoshop to look like they’re Steampunk themselves: old, faded, and battered relics of a fabulous bygone, steam-driven Empire…

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Model: Jeremiah Hein

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Model: Jeremiah Hein

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Model: Aaron Avila

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Model: Jeremiah Hein

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Model: Ivan Bohman

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Model: Jeremiah Hein

In these “antiqued” photos, the process in Photoshop was relatively simple, if many-stepped and a bit time-consuming. Basically, I initially reduce the original image’s vibrancy, creating a faded, hand-tinted look. I then proceed to use soft overlay to combine the original image with images, colors, and textures of wrinkled paper, parchment, rusty metal, and peeled paint, making adjustments to the different layers to reduce or enhance vibrancy, opacity, and contrast to achieve the effect of an old daguerreotype that’s been left in a desk drawer for a century, or a rare color photo that’s faded with age, or a valuable antique image thoughtlessly mistreated and used as scrap paper by misguided previous owners. Sometimes I overlay bits of handwriting, ink splashes, or other signs of exposure to the years. I really kinda like the results.

Not all of my Steampunk work is manipulated in post-production to that extent, of course. The clothes and props are really quite lovely, and sometimes a color photo shows that best:

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Model: Jeremiah Hein

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Model: Andre Chambers
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Model: Ivan Bohman

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Model: Jeremiah Hein

So this is fun, and pretty, and affords me quite the creative outlet for my overactive, fevered imagination (and what some might refer to as a pathetic case of arrested development and a failure to act my age). It’s also multidisciplinary, since I frequently write captions for these photos in the style of passages from 19th-century publications, utterly taken out of context. In the case of photo above, for instance, this caption from The Quarterly Sociological Review:

Today’s modern Gentleman, whether of the landed, learned, mercantile, or military classes–and whether or not associated in any case with one of the several esoteric neo-scientific academies which open their doors to virtually any class — or even, these days, any gender!–is always equipped with the three essentials: a Mechanickal Walking Stick that features a variety of miniaturized personal and professional conveniences that we have come to expect (here a Phletzer-Spetzingham  “Artemisian” with complete C.I.L. equippage for accurate communications, inspections, and locationary activities); a set of bespoke Aetheric or Select-Dimension Goggles that provide both enhanced observational technology as well as vital protection from the elements (and stray elementals); and of course a Weapon for the protection of himself and others. In this case, our Gentleman is equipped with a new model of Ransom & Mellidew’s Mark III Multicannon: a prodigious, effective, and highly persuasive piece of impressive Personal Armament. 

Welcome to my (other) world.

[Thanks to my models for their patience and creativity: Jeremiah Hein, Ivan Bohman, Aaron Avila, and Andre Chambers)

I am such a geek. I am, totally: I own my geekery, I wallow in it, I embrace by geekitude with all the enthusiasm I can muster from <mumblemumble> years of Trek (TOS, NextGen, DS9 and yes VOY flavors, and if you know what those are then welcome to the club) and Star Wars (original trilogy only, please); the Alien Quadrilogy, Trek reboots, and Galactica (reboot); Doctor Who (ditto rebooted), Torchwood, Futurama, Cowboy Bebop, and Invader Zim. Kim Stanley Robinson and William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and  Iain M. Banks, Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert, Harlan Ellison and Douglas Adams, China Mieville and Ken MacLeod: just go read ’em. Really. Amazing stuff.

So there, I’m out: Geek. Totally. Deal with it.

So the subculture of periodic sci-fi/fantasy cons, renaissance faires, and anywhere else where people throw off their social constraints to dress up and celebrate a shared geekology are appealing to me. Not as a participant is the often wildly creative cosplay, though, as much as a photographic observer. Some of my fellow geeks lavish astonishing amounts of time and energy and dollars on fabulously detailed, intricately accurate costumery, and the sci-fi drag is often a wonder to behold. My creative energies don’t lie in that direction (and spandex is not everyone’s friend, as I have discovered to my personal chagrin), but Cons offer me the opportunity to release my inner geek and also my outer photographer. And some of the results are pretty fair as portraits, as well as displaying the quality of costumery on display at the events. So let’s go there.

Chimney Sweep

Chimney Sweep at BentCon 2013 in Burbank, CA

Medieval Steampunk

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Steampunk at ComiCon 2010 in San Diego

China Mieville

Not dressed up in costume, but author China Mieville at ComicCon 2010 in San Diego

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Robin posing at BentCon 2013 in Burbank, Ca

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Above and below (right), more photos of the chimney sweep urchins at BentCon 2013 in Burbank, CA

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Another take on Robin at BentCon 2013 in Burbank, CA

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Oh and one brief moment of blatant self-promotion: I’ve redesigned my EButterfield Photography website. Click on the link to go check it out (and see more photos, of course!)

 

 

Faerie at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, Irwindale, California

I went to my first Renaissance Faire last weekend. To be specific, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, in Irwindale, California. I had never been to a Renaissance Faire, and frankly even typing the words “Renaissance Faire” makes me just the wee-est bit embarrassed for myself. But just a bit.

Now, I have been to Comic-Con in San Diego, and a Dark Shadows Festival in Burbank, so I have absolutely no room to cast superior glances in the direction of those whose geekly preferences run toward breeches and doublets and jerkins and corsets, the codpiece and bodice and surcoat and simarre rather than white plastic stormtrooper helmets, bright red tights, or false fangs. Bell-toed shoes and Starfleet insignia are all of a piece, really, part of a great panspectrum of nerdishness of which I am an appreciative photographic bystander and, yes, even celebrant.

That, of course, is really the point here, because I’m supposed to be writing about photography and not the relative merits of science fiction vs fantasy, or whether ’tis nobler in the mind to engage in historical reenactment or dress up like a Wookie. So on to the photography.

The nice thing about events like the Renaissance Pleasure Faire is that there are really, really interesting-looking people, who have gone way out of their way to embody creative and visually arresting personas and who—and this is the part that’s really great for a shameless voyeur like myself—are delighted to be photographed.

Group of costumed "Italian Nobles" at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale, California

In nature photography, I have to creep around in the poison oak and brave swarms of nasty little flying things in order to take an interesting photo of a bird or an animal. I love nature photography, of course, and am a constant watcher-for-birds. (I do not claim to be a “birder,” which implies actual substantive knowledge of the things being photographed, as opposed to my approach of “ooh that’s pretty I’ll take its picture.” My grandmother called herself a “birdwatcher,” which I suppose is what birders were before they got all sophisticated and cool.)

blue jay on a fence rail

Stellar's Jay near Palm Springs, California

I am also someone who is fond of “street photography” (which is sometimes referred to as “taking pictures of people who are just out minding their own business”), although doing it sometimes makes me feel just a wee bit creepy (and someday I’ll tell you all about how Flickr slapped my wrist for taking photos of people on the street who happened to be college-age surferboys). Anyway, I appear to have digressed, and will discuss my creepiness at a later time.

The thing about events like the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, though, is that the participants are generally more than happy to show off the months of excrutiatingly detailed work they’ve put into their period-correct clothing, or the hours and hours they’ve spent making-up themselves to look like mystical faeries. This is wonderful for a voyeuristic photographer, since no skulking about is required. I do ask, of course: I join merrily in the total-immersion play-mode embraced at the faire; I address the subjects as m’lord and m’lady, wax ribald at the bar-wench, and go gently with the faerie folk frolicking in shade, away from the heat of the sun.

"And is not my hostess of the tavern a most sweet wench?"

And oh my the sun! I suppose it comes to no one’s surprise that the mid-morning sun in Southern California is about as good as it gets, lighting-wise: glowing (but not over-contrasty) surfaces; crisp, sharp shadows; perfectly-lit colors that are bright and vivid without tipping into supersaturation. These photos went through Photoshop only for cropping; other than that, what you see is pretty much how it came straight from the camera. I like the sun.

Parasols in the sun

It’s a wonderful opportunity to practice the capturing of moods and moments, of trying to transcend snapshottery and achieve more of a personal vision, with subject matter that’s way out of the ordinary. Technically, I found myself tending away from full-figures, photos designed to show off the entire costume (although those are certainly interesting).

Rather, I was tending more toward the faces of the people inhabiting those costumes. The close-ups still show off the workmanship in the fabrics and make-up, but rich and compelling as the clothing may be, the fact that these people, in this century, chose to not only spend months working on their clothes, but to wear them out and about in public, in a brightly sunlit 90-degree day, is even richer and more compelling a story, to my mind. These are exceptional individuals, aristocrat and wench and woodland sprite alike.

For a moment these people inhabit another time and place: a Europe with neither electricity nor the Euro, shivering in the little ice age of the Sixteenth century where all that leather and layering made sense, rather than a superheated park at the base of the Sierra Madres; a world woefully without antibiotics or equal rights or economic opportunity or basic personal hygiene; a world bullied and abused by elites established by birth; a world wallowing in superstition and illiteracy and ignorance; a world scratching and coughing with uncountable nasty diseases and assorted discomforts of both flesh and spirit.

But for a warm weekend or two, it’s a world basking in the warm and embracing sunshine of Gloriana the Faerie Queene, a flat young planet nestled in concentric crystalline spheres, a polite and playful Renaissance that’s better than it was, a Pleasure Faire most favourably attended.

And I get to take ye olde pictures of it.

"About the maypole new dance we, with glee and merryement abound!"

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