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So it appears I’m taking a bit of a break from the steampunk/cyberpunk/dark-Victoriana stuff I’ve been doing, and turned my attentions for the moment to anime. But some things don’t change, and just like I corrupted steampunk by inserting handsome, muscular models into scanty steampunkage, I’m doing the same with anime.

Anime is challenging, at least for me, in the way its characters are sexualized. Speaking broadly, both men and women are generally depicted as very young–unless they’re clearly balding or gray-haired or comic. Often the characters themselves are very young: even in anime that is clearly aimed at an older audience, the protagonists can be in a sort of junior-high equivalent, and in those cases in which they’re college-age, they still look more on the junior-high end of things. At least to me. And despite their youth, the characters are often highly sexualized, either overtly through an emphasis on remarkably-developed secondary sex characteristics, or more subtly, through artfully-achieved glances, attitudes, poses, and dialogue.

This tendency is most pronounced, obviously, with female characters, but it’s also very much a thing with male characters as well. Even outside of the gay yaoi (“boy love”) or bishonen (“beautiful boy”) genres, male anime characters are often subtly–and not-so-subtly–sexualized through both art and dialogue.

Anyway, all of this causes a serious sort of cognitive dissonance for me, and no small bit of guilt and anxiety as I realize that the extremely attractive young animated gentleman I’ve grown so fond of is, like, twelve years old. And that is most definitely not OK. Now, anime has an answer: biseinen refers to “beautiful men”–grown male characters who are attractive through their handsomeness, elegance, attitude, intelligence, or even humor. [I’ll refer you this breakdown of the various types: http://blog.honeyfeed.fm/what-is-bidanshibiseinenikemen-definition-meaning/] But that doesn’t help when the protagonists of most more-or-less popular anime, or at least the ones I find interesting, are clearly not grown men.

So to assuage my guilt, I’ve undertaken a new photographic series that takes the inherently sexualized nature of (male) anime characters and–in sort of anime dialogue fashion–melodramatically (and shamelessly) pumps up the bishonen into biseinen. Like my Gentlemen of Steampunk, though, and perhaps even more so, the “Gentlemen of Anime” are not really cosplaying. The anime biseinen, in fact, have been stripped down to the barest prop-and-costume elements necessary to tie them to their bishonen roots, but all suggestion of little-boyishness are gone; these are grown-up versions of the characters they portray.

I decided to do a selective-color approach in most cases, in which the models are rendered in monochrome and their props, costume items, and other key character-identification pieces are color-saturated. My thinking is that this helps pull the models out of the “real” and is more suggestive of an anime or fantasy character.

As I said, this is an ongoing series. I’ve worked with only two models so far, and there will be many more characters and versions of characters to come. The gallery is accessible at EButterfield Photography, and you can see more there. Here, though, are some early samples of what this is all about.

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Mugen from “Samurai Champloo” [model: Quinn Knox]

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Tuxedo Mask from “Sailor Moon” [model: Quinn Knox]

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Ken Kaneki from “Tokyo Ghoul” [model: Quinn Knox]

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Rintarō Okabe from “Steins;Gate” [model: Quinn Knox]

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Shōtarō Kaneda from “Akira” [model: Quinn Knox]

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Mugen from “Samurai Champloo” [model: Osvaldo Romero]

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L from “DeathNote” [model: Osvaldo Romero]

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.

 

I’ve talked quite a bit about my obsession with steampunk, which I think is a healthy and constructive artistic outlet for my pent-up English major’s frustrations with having spent seven perfectly good years wandering the hedgerows and dark back-alleys of 19th century English-language literature. Little Dorrit coughed up blood on my shirtcuff, and Jude whined obscurely in my garret; Heathcliff stood naked in the rain, howling on my moors (or maybe that was King Lear;  different period I know, but it was a long time ago and these things start to blend together); Whitman sang and celebrated himself in my shower, while Emerson strode, a long-legged eyeball, across my desk; Ahab stabbed at me straight from hell’s heart, the mermaids did not sing to me, and the fog was everywhere: fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. There’s something about that century, or at least the second two-thirds of it, launching from the ascension of its titular Queen, reaching its zenith in the Crystal Palace and a century of confident and sunny Empire, and sliding on into the next century’s early years as its complicated construct of diplomatic niceties intended to tame the world led it directly and inexorably to its end 1918, its future buried in the bloody mud of silent French and Belgian farms.

Dearie me, that was a paragraph, now wasn’t it. Somebody’s showing off for sure.

Speaking of showing off, let’s return, then, to steampunk and the point of this (as will be revealed shortly) extremely cleverly-titled blog. So steampunk is a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, it’s dark and strange and swaddled in brass and steam and alchemy and not a little madness, levened by a touch of whimsy, and all made possible by an orderly, enlightened, and progressive culture of science and invention, presided over by a serene Victoria. At the same time, I’m concerned about the inevitable social stratification (even with the new influx of scientific and engineering nobility), or the air made unbreathable by a thousand thousand engines (that fog isn’t just a “marine layer” rolling in from the fresh and sparkly sea, and those goggles are for seeing through the coal dust as much as for discerning aetherial composites and magnifying tiny gears). I can’t help but think of the coal miners across the globe, toiling in the dangerous, acrid dark to power the engines if Empire, or the masses of unemployed laborers thrown out of their livelihoods by the phenomenal explosion of industrialization. So it’s not all shiny goggles and silk vests and lacy corsets and fancy fascinators.

Oh that’s right: corsets. Back to business.

It has come to my attention, the more time I spend in the glorious and wonderful subculture of steampunkery, that there’s a significant thread of something not altogether modern about the neo-Victorian mindset. Specifically, in the world of steampunk photography, it has quickly become obvious to me that the preferred aesthetic is comprised of upper-class white men with fantastical firearms and busty upper-class white women in corsets and not much else. (In point of fact, actual Victorian women, while perhaps overly susceptible to the vapours, women’s complaints, and occasional fits of dithering over whether or not the incident with the handkerchief in the hedgerow really meant something or simply meant something (oh yes, I’m looking at you, Jane Austen, with your misplaced billets-doux and ambiguous hankies) rarely went out and about having forgotten their skirts.) Google “steampunk” and sort by “Images” and you’ll see what I mean.

In short, much of steampunk art that depicts persons tends to depict persons in a thoroughly stereotypical, traditional gender-roled, male-centered manner. Now, while this may be in keeping with the general notion within steampunk of the need for–within the context of the fantastical alt-hist that’s been created–verisimilitude to the point of obsessiveness (steampunk crafters have told me the specific season of the specific year their clothing represents, and are sticklers for eschewing fabrics and sewing techniques dating after 1890). That only goes so far, though, as I am personally keenly aware: my more Wildean inclinations would, if we’re being strictly versimilitudinous to the Victorians, land me in hard labor for the next ten years, so let’s not get carried away. The simple fact is that steampunk is artifice, a history that is being created and told and spun out by steampunkers all the time. I bloviated on about my vision in the first two paragraphs here; others will have very different stories to tell. But all of it magically blends together into a subculture of Steampunk, and we have control of that subculture.

Here’s the thing: I am second to none in my admiration for a woman in a corset (well, OK, maybe second to some). But something in that cheesecake, pinup aesthetic has always struck me a little…not right. Now, I am not opposed to depictions of strong, brilliant, adventurous women looking fabulous, but when all the strong, brilliant, adventurous women appear to have cascading bosoms and an aversion to clothing, I have to wonder just a bit about why that is. I think (to get theoretical here for a moment) it’s not dissimilar to the way female superheroes are depicted: in ridiculously restrictive and inefficient costumes that expose a lot of skin (see, e.g., Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Batgirl, Laura Croft), whereas Batman, for instance, is covered from head to toe in more armor than King Arthur. So there’s a cultural thing going on, and it bothered me (just a little bit), and I thought to myself, “Someone ought to do something about this. And then I thought back at myself, “hey, stupid.” So I was going to do something about it.

So, being of a jolly-natured, tradition-disruptive character, I did this:

Muscular shirtless male model in steampunk costume

and this:

Muscular shirtless male model with tools and rope

and this:

Steampunk Jose 440d

And this:

Steampunk Josh 435

 

And also this:

Steampunk Shayim 195a

 

And I’m working on some more. (You’ll be delighted to know that there will be a print and digital photobook,  and possibly a pin-up calendar if purely for irony’s sake). But for now, I wanted to try a little experiment.

I love my fellow steampunkers. Every single one I’ve met, without exception,  has been smart, funny, kind, and creative. I suppose it comes with the territory. But I felt the need to see if I could poke at this thing I saw, so I did. I posted a couple of those images on several of steampunk-related Facebook pages and websites, and the result was exactly in line with my working hypothesis:

I’m no Lady Gaga in the social media sphere, so when anything I post gets over fifty responses it’s a very good day. In this case, a whopping 58 women “Liked” the beefcake-steampunk photo on Facebook; only 7 men did so (and most of them are friends of mine). All the comments from women were positive: “Thank You!” and “Hooray!” and “So refreshing to see something other than a size 00 model wearing a corset and little more. Bring on the steampunk man candy” and so on. On the other hand, there were virtually no positive comments from men. Men had this to say: “Porn.” they said, “sexist,” and bandied about words like spam, exploitive, and unnecessary. One male commenter wrote, apparently without perceiving the irony, “but if they were scantly-clad girls all these women would be bitching about sexism and exploitation…… funny how that works.”

What’s good for the goose is apparently not always good for the gander, but sometimes the goose likes to take a bit of a gander herself, I guess.

 

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…

Image

Model: Jeremiah Hein

Image

Model: Jeremiah Hein

Image

Model: Aaron Avila

Image

Model: Jeremiah Hein

Image

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:

Image

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)

Sometimes a dark and disturbing idea for a photo gets lodged in my skull and won’t go away. Fortunately for me, there are some highly professional and amenable models in the world with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. So when I got a dark and antiquated steampunk idea, coupled with a slightly nightmare-y mask thing, I was lucky to have model Jeremiah Hein around. Here are a couple photos from that shoot. (Both images were taken with my Nikon D7000 in a studio setting.)

The first is steampunk-inspired, and includes a conglomeration of props, jewelry, and costume pieces I’ve collected over some time. There’s also an antique drill (outfitted here with a medical syringe, of course) and some of my own clothing (tweed and wool seemed called for, under the creepy Victorian circumstances). In Photoshop, I processed the photo to look faded and used a warming filter to for an antique sepia tone. I applied a “soft light” overlay of an existing image of a rusty wall to provide the look of an image exposed to a century of damage, and added an image of nineteenth-century script pulled from the Web to complete the look.

antiqued steampunk image

The second includes a mask that Jeremiah brought to the shoot himself, and which worked far better than what I’d planned, so we used it. (One thing I love about working with professional and semi-professional models, by the way, is the unique ideas and perspectives they bring to the shoot.) Here, I wanted an image of the model covering his eyes, holding a mask that was actually looking at the viewer. In this image, I took a separate photo of Jeremiah making “big eyes” and then carefully Photoshopped them into the mask’s eyeholes. (I could have used a photo of Jeremiah wearing the mask, and then cut-and-pasted it into this image, but doing the eyes separately allowed me to make them more visible, without–I think–losing verisimilitude.)

Model holding a mask

 

So over the past several months I’ve been doing some photo work with professional models. For someone whose previous work primarily focused (heh) on birds and cats and rusting objects, this was new and interesting territory.

Oh, I’ve done photoshoots of people before, of course. I’ve had friends pose for me so I could play around with lighting and style and explore the human aspect of photography. But a few months ago I joined a website called ModelMayem, which connects professional and semiprofessional models with photographers and other professionals. Through that site, I’ve met some remarkable people, who also happen to be both amazingly good-looking and talented at their craft as well.

Ivan Bohman

Ivan Bohman

And modeling is, in fact, a craft that must be carefully honed. Any ol’ body can stand around in front of a camera and smile and have their picture taken: what I’ve learned is that modeling is about more than that. A professional model knows their body, knows how to move, and knows how to work with a photographer to achieve both professionals’ visions.  It’s not a naturally-occurring skill, but one that comes with experience and careful self-awareness. (I am also keenly aware of my body and its motion in space, which is why I stand on the viewfinder side of the camera, thank you.)

Andre Chambers

Andre Chambers

Photos taken with nonprofessionals can be and often are exactly what’s called for. When I’ve worked with models, though, the experience is more efficient, easier, and (this is true) more creative.  So here are some things I’ve learned in my admittedly brief history working with models:  three basic rules to live by.

1. Relax. My best experiences with models are when everyone’s comfortable and relaxed. This is particularly important if at some point one of the parties will be wearing less clothing than the other. I’ve met models for coffee before a shoot, just to chat and get to know each other better away from the backdrops and umbrella lights. Even if I don’t meet them beforehand, I make sure to welcome them as a guest, not a client or coworker.

Javoroce

Javoroce

2. Be clear about what you want to have happen. I learned very quickly that it’s much easier for a shoot to work well if I’ve written down generally what I want the model to do, and shared that information with the model. That list has become more specific the more I work with models.  Being inspired by the moment is very nice, and sometimes happens, but it’s both more professional of the photographer and more respectful of the model to have a plan. So have a plan. It doesn’t have to be shot-by-shot or pose-by-pose, but should at least give everyone a roadmap of what you’re looking for. The more the model knows about the point of the shoot, the more likely he’s going to not only be able to deliver, but be able to contribute to the creative process as well. Working with professionals has proved to be a symbiotic creative process. Because the model has experience with a number of other photographers, they know some stuff. If they’re relaxed and if they know about what you’re after, they often have really interesting ideas to share. Listen to them. (Of course, this assumes that the model is working for you; if a model has engaged you to do photos for their portfolio, or headshots, or whatever, then they’re the boss and you absolutely need to listen to them.)

Aaron

Aaron

3. Be respectful. Models are not, contrary to popular opinion, emotionless hunks of meat on which a photographer gets to hang bits of cloth or twist around into interesting positions. Not all models are willing to work nude, for instance, and the photographer should not pressure them to change their minds. It’s perfectly acceptable to push an artist’s limits, of course, but no so far that they are seriously uncomfortable. This rule goes hand-in-hand with Number 2: if you’re clear about what you’re looking to do up front, the model has the opportunity to decline the job or suggest acceptable alternatives without anyone wasting time. The same rule goes for models, too, of course. A model should remember that they’re working with a human being, and that the person behind the camera may in fact have something to offer other than the ability to push a button.

James

James

There’s a fourth thing, but that would interfere with my nice tidy threesome, so I’ll handle it separately, even though it’s the most important:

The Release

Any model/photographer relationship absolutely positively must include a written, signed release. I say this not just because I went to law school and thing I’m all smart and lawyerly and stuff, but because it just makes sense in a potentially complicated legal relationship: the model is the owner of his or her image, and the photographer is the owner of his or her photographic work. So a photo done with a professional (or nonprofessional, it doesn’t matter) model potentially has two equal owners: the maker of the picture, and the person whose image is captured. That’s never a good thing, and has the potential for disaster and calamity written all over it. To avoid future distress and misunderstanding, then, this little legalistic nicety must be observed. It’s often just the slightest bit awkward (i.e., you’ve established a relaxed relationship with your model, and welcomed them as a guest in your studio, when suddenly everything comes to a screeching halt when you whip out the release—kind of like following up a romantic marriage proposal by presenting the prenup with the ring, I guess). But don’t be fooled: the photographer/model relationship has a business component, and businesses work because of legal relationships.

The release simply states who has which rights to what, regarding the photos. A release can be pretty one-sided (“the photographer owns everything” or “the model owns everything”) or a mutual exchange of rights (“the photographer owns the nude photos for portfolio purposes but can’t sell or distribute them”). A release gives the model the opportunity to clarify the terms of the engagement, and can of course be negotiated. Below is a simple release, admittedly very one-sided, that I use. But first, this:

PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM NOT PROVIDING LEGAL ADVICE, OR MAKING ANY REPRESENTATIONS THAT THIS RELEASE IS APPROPRIATE OR LAWFUL IN ANY JURISDICTION. YOU MAY USE THIS FORM AT YOUR OWN RISK, AND YOU HOLD ME HARMLESS FROM ANY LIABILITY FOR, OR DAMAGES ARISING FROM, THE CONSEQUENCES OF ITS USE.

Yeah, I kinda have to say that, in order to (a) protect myself and (b) to ensure that you have absolutely no confidence in me or anything I say whatsoever—usually a safe bet anyway. So here’s the form I use:

Model Release

In consideration of my engagement as a model, upon the terms herewith stated, I hereby give to ______________________, his heirs, legal representatives and assigns, those for whom the photographer is acting, and those acting with his authority and permission:

a)  the unrestricted right and permission to copyright and use, re-use, publish, and republish photographic portraits or pictures of me or in which I may be included intact or in part, composite or distorted in character or form, without restriction as to changes or transformations in conjunction with my own or a fictitious name, or reproduction hereof in color or otherwise, made through any and all media now or hereafter known for illustration, art, promotion, advertising, trade, or any other purpose whatsoever.

b)  I also permit the use of any printed material in connection therewith.

c)  I hereby relinquish any right that I may have to examine or approve the completed product or products or the advertising copy or printed matter that may be used in conjunction therewith or the use to which it may be applied.

d)  I hereby release, discharge and agree to save harmless _________________, his heirs, legal representatives or assigns, and all persons functioning under his permission or authority, or those for whom he is functioning, from any liability by virtue of any blurring, distortion, alteration, optical illusion, or use in composite form whether intentional or otherwise, that may occur or be produced in the taking of said picture or in any subsequent processing thereof, as well as any publication thereof, including without limitation any claims for libel or invasion of privacy.

e)  I hereby affirm that I am over the age of majority and have the right to contract in my own name. I have read the above authorization, release and agreement, prior to its execution; I fully understand the contents thereof. This agreement shall be binding upon me and my heirs, legal representatives and assigns.

Signed:________________________________

Dated: _________________________________

Shane Hammontree

Shane Hammontree

Note that the Model Release is not the same as a contract for the shoot. Payment for the model (or the photographer), waiver of fees, form of compensation (hourly, time-for-photos, a nice blueberry pie) and expectations regarding the model’s access to the photos (digital or print, quantity, media) should all be discussed and agreed upon prior to when the model arrives.

Shane Hammontree

Shane Hammontree

So anyway, that’s my current wisdom on the subject. I’m sure I’ll learn more as I do more work with models, and being not especially shy about such things, I’m sure I’ll share that wisdom as it occurs.

James

James

Back in law school, in my legal ethics class (Yes, they taught ethics in law school; we will pause here briefly for anyone who wishes to make any clever jokes, or clean up from their spit-take. Done now? Good. Let us proceed.), I had a professor who was fond of using the analogy that a lawyer was a taxi not a bus. A taxi, he would say, doesn’t have to stop, and doesn’t have to take a fare. A bus, on the other hand, stops at established points and anybody who has a token or a card or a dollar or whatever it takes to get on board can, well, get on board. Lawyers, like cab drivers, can choose their clients, was his point. I guess that also means that lawyers can scam tourists for inflated fares.

At this stage in my photography career, however, I am a bus.

When it comes to an utterly untalented actor who wants me to do a headshot or the hideous and massively delusional person who wants sexy nude boudoir portraits, or the friends who ask me to photograph their vile-tempered child’s awful wedding, I am not in a position to say No. After all, I have a portfolio to build.

Ideally, my portfolio would be full of talented actors and attractive nude studies and perfect events, but life, I’m finding, is not that way (although I hasten to point out, and will repeat later on, that the models whom I’ve included in my portrait portfolio are without exception attractive and talented people.) When I recently advertised for models on a time-for-pictures basis, my immediate responses were from, well, not just the most beautiful people.

However, the world is full of not entirely beautiful, self-confident people who love having their picture taken. In fact, the world is mostly populated by those of us who are, or who think we are, somewhat less-than-modeltastic,  and whose faces freeze into a horrible rictus of faux-smiling terror when we are confronted by a camera-wielding fiend (such as the self). It is those people, however, who are clamoring to get on my bus at the moment. They are attracted no doubt as much by my reasonable pricing terms (um, like, free under standard time-for-photos arrangements) as by my eclectic portfolio and genial, comfortable, reassuring manner. Possibly moreso. Perhaps in spite of.

In any case, my point here is that a photographer’s role is to be, as Emerson wrote in Nature, an “attentive eye” that finds how “each moment of the year has its own beauty, and…beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before and which shall never be seen again.” And not just each moment of the year, but each individual who inhabits those moments. There is beauty somewhere in all of us (this would be where I would start singing, were this a popular Broadway musical rather than a spectacularly un-read blog) and it’s my role to find that — at least until I have the luxury of being able to pick and choose my clients. At which point, of course, to hell with the fat, unattractive, and unpleasant.

(This would probably be a good point at which to remind my reader (hello, you) that I tend to be sarcastic and snarky at times, but only in pursuit of what I may at the time perceive to be a good joke. No offense is intended toward the Weighty Community nor the Unconventionally Attractive Community, nor the Socially Irksome Community, all of which are objects of my immeasurable respect, celebration, and, dare I say, admiration. Thank you for being you so very thoroughly.)

Back to my point. The challenge in finding aesthetic beauty in unexpected places is really pretty cool. I tell everyone all the time (and may have mentioned it here someplace) that I really enjoy the challenge of finding the aesthetic prettiness in a pile of rusted boat chains or a greasy gear or old piece of wood,Nude male model with black censoring bars so why should it be any different with the myriad of human types abounding in the world?

It’s easy to take photos of an athletic young man, for instance, in which light and shadow play all sorts of pretty games across the planes and slabs of his torso, to have him bend in highly uncomfortable ways that reduce his lean, masculine form to a series of geometric patterns. It’s a simple matter to create accessible, amusing nude studies when the model is as comfortable in his skin as in a suit. It’s no problem at all to create a photographic portrait that captures the subject’s wry wit and ironic comprehension of life’s comedies and tragedies when the subject has a dry wit and sense of irony and knows how to convey those traits with just a few facial muscles.

But those people, for the most part, are not knocking at my door, because they can afford to seek the services of established talented professional photographers, who have actual artistic and technical skills honed through training and time. I, who have nothing of those, need the experience. This is neither a surprising nor a sad thing, and I’m really not complaining.

What I’m doing is learning. I’m learning to talk to my models, to gauge their self-confidence, to build (in a relatively short time) a sense of trust and comfort with me staring at them through a Nikon. I’m learning to celebrate them as they are, not as I’d prefer them to be or as they envision themselves in their deluded minds. Through placing the emphasis of the photo on something other than the model’s inarguably enormous and hirsute derriere via clever cropping or a distracting object is a vastly better approach than trying to somehow veil that undeniable fact with pretty drapings or casting the whole subject into squinty shadow. It’s a big, hairy butt: Celebrate it! The model knows full well that he’s not a slim little sylph; better to show what he is, in all his curvaceousness. A face that’s not “conventionally beautiful” can of course be interesting, compelling, and uniquely appealing; my role is to help the nonprofessional model be comfortable enough with me to let those qualities show. I just have to be fast enough to capture it when it happens.

Obviously, I can’t in good conscience include sample photos of unappealing models in this blog: that would be unnecessarily cruel and  mean-spirited, even for me.  Plus, of course, what’s unappealing to me might be quite someone else’s dreamy dreamcake, and then they’d wonder what I was going on about, and it would confuse whatever little point it was that I was so intent on making here. So I leave it to my reader to fill in the photographic blanks. However, my more successful portrait work, with individuals who were all highly attractive and talented, can be checked out here if you’re interested, which I hope you will be.

As for me, if any of this comes off sounding like a whine, it’s seriously not meant to be. I’m doing now what many photographers no doubt have done in their early days; my early days are just a bit…later than most. In any case, this is all new and interesting and exciting for me, so please excuse any excess or simple stating of the patently obvious. And if anyone has anything helpful to suggest, other than that I should stop being such a smug and judgmental old poo, please feel free to let me know!

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