Archives for posts with tag: costumes

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


Modified opera glasses


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


Goggles with gears and watch parts on eyepiece


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


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



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


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


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.


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


Steampunk at ComiCon 2010 in San Diego

China Mieville

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


Robin posing at BentCon 2013 in Burbank, Ca


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


Another take on Robin at BentCon 2013 in Burbank, CA


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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