Archives for posts with tag: Photography

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]

OK so it’s not Father’s Day, exactly, but it’s a day when I’m posting a little post about my dad, so it kinda is.

In my last post, I wrote about my ongoing “Old Red Chair” series. Well, on a recent visit to my dad’s home in Las Vegas, I was showing him some of my recent work, and one of my experimental photos grabbed his attention. It was this one:

Light coming through abandoned house's window

 

From time to time I’ve been known to manipulate photos in Photoshop more than the usual cropping and adjustment that one normally does. Usually, my diddling is limited to ageing and antiquing Steampunk portraits so they look like “found” objects that have been carelessly left lying behind someone’s great grandma’s dresser for some time. But I’ve also occasionally done more elaborate work, combining different backgrounds and filters to create unique scenes, like these:

Here, I placed the model (flipped) into a photo of an old, abandoned room, and desaturated the whole thing to create what I hoped would be a vaguely melancholy, slightly surreal dream image titled Dreaming in a Never Room and captioned thusly: “When I dreamed, I dreamed I was naked and alone in an old abandoned room. The window was barred, and there was no door, no way in or out. I knew I would never leave. I knew the room wasn’t really there. I curled on the hard wooden chair that was the only furniture, and occupied my eternity drawing mystical signs in the thin dust on the rough floor.”

Pretentious and self-important enough? I think so, yes.

Anyway, back to my dad.

My father has painted for as long as I’ve known him, which is a fairly long time these days. His preferred subject matter tends toward locomotives, snowy scenes of central Illinois, antique military aircraft, and the small town in which he grew up. But something about Dreaming in a Never Room grabbed his imagination, and he promptly produced his own version, in his own medium. He did, however, choose not to populate the room with a model, nude or otherwise.  While he’s remarkably accepting of my own personal proclivities (I sometimes think he prefers my husband’s company to mine…), I think the nude young man on a chair was just a step too far for his comfort. So his Never Room is unoccupied. I also suspect that he did not burden his room with self-conscious dream-talk, since that’s not really his thing, either. I suspect that if you asked him about it, he’d say “It’s a painting of an old red chair in an old empty room.” Well, in fact, I more than suspect it. Here’s what he said about it in the note he included with the photo of the painting he sent me:

E- I really liked that photo, so got right after a small (9×2) painting. Encl. photo. An interesting little project and came out kind of “16th century.” Of course I left out the model, and call the piece “Red Chair (without Naked Guy).”

His vision was obviously a little different from my own: a little warmer (although suggestively autumnal). More real than surreal. But I was seriously pleased that something I’d done had spoken to him in a way that motivated him to produce something in a medium he loves, and so I share it with you here.

jkboriginal

 

 

 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE IMAGES IN THIS POST CONTAIN ARTISTIC, TASTEFUL, NON-EXPLICIT MALE NUDITY. However, if you’re annoyed by such images, please click here to see a picture of a cat standing in a bathtub instead.

Still here? Good.

So just before Thanksgiving, a neighbor put out a perfectly nice oak dining set on trash day, clearly in the hope that some worthy scavenger would give it a new home. And indeed, someone came by and took the table and two of the five chairs. After driving past the diminishing set a couple of times on errands, I finally decided to throw dignity to the wind and nab a chair for myself. (I thoughtfully left two behind, since someone who needed chairs for something other than photo props might need a pair of chairs. I’m always thinking about others that way.)

The chair wasn’t particularly old and in fact looked relatively new-ish, with a lovely natural oak stain. But I had other ideas. “What if,” I thought (because that’s how I think), “this chair was red, and kinda beaten-up? And what if,” I thought further (because that’s what usually happens when I start thinking), “I had some fancy, handsome male models interacting with this chair in every way other than how it’s intended to be interacted with?” (Because sometimes, when I’m thinking, I thoughtlessly end sentences with prepositions.) “And finally,” I thought (because usually this is where my thoughts lead), “those models were wearing not a stitch of clothing, so the photos would be all about color and texture and shape and form, but not–” (and here my thoughts turned fairly prissy) “–at all prurient or particularly erotic?” Because non-erotic art nude photos of men trying to figure out how to use a read chair are obviously what the world has been waiting to see. I congratulated myself on my keen market savviness.

So I took the chair into the garage, and quite literally beat up on it with a hammer and some chain. Then I sanded it and painted it red, and then beat it up some more with a hammer and some chain, and some other tools that I used in ways entirely other than how they are intended to be used.

And this is what it looked like, in my studio:

The Old Red Chair in my studio, ready for its close-up

The thing about this Old Red Chair is that, for all the aging and distressing I did, the resulting gouges, bumps, and irregularities that add interest are really only visible up close. From a distance, it’s just a red wood chair. The “oldness” part, though, is still important, because it helps inform and inspire the models–who are, as you will see below, very up close and particularly personal with this piece of furniture–in establishing a mood, and helps keep me mindful of what I’m after. So if viewers can’t tell it’s beaten up, well, that’s their loss.

The point of the Old Red Chair series is to explore the male form in “conversation” with a specific object; the poses change, the chair stays the same, the focus is on the interaction between linear and organic forms. One of my models suggested that the point is that there are multiple ways not to sit in a chair, which is certainly appropriate. I also have been doing some experimentation with selective color, desaturation, and black-and-white images. Anyway, a picture being worth a lot more than my words here, let’s take a look at the Old Red Chair series…

Thanks to the first models who bravely jumped into this series, Anthony and Quinn. There will be more to come as we explore the possibilities of the Old Red Chair. As always, your thoughts and opinions are welcome.

 

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)

Here’s an interesting notion: Say we’re looking back at a different 19th century, one in which steam-driven machinery achieved unheard-of technological leaps; where Babbage’s Difference Engine did not lose its funding, but–spurred by an open-handed Treasury and Lady Ada Lovelace’s unfettered programming imagination– launched the Computer Age a hundred and fifty years ahead of schedule; and where alchemy, mysterious invisible plasmas, and a weird sort of rational magic all made the world a very different place. That, of course, is a pretty standard Steampunk vision. Or at least it’s mine.

For just a moment, though, let’s go beyond the steamy science and gear-driven tech (and the fetching goggles) and think about that culture from a different perspective. What, for instance, might depictions of children’s fairy tales or classic works of  literature look like in such an alternate Victorian society? How would dark and mechanical steampunk tropes and stereotypes leak into that world?

Well ponder no more, inquisitive seeker of steampunk symbology! Here’s a random selection of possibilities:

Belle and the Beast

“Beauty & the Beast” (La Belle et la Bête)

Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland

The Mad Hatter from “Alice in Wonderland”

Rapunzel

In “Rapunzel,” the Prince climbs to Rapunzel’s rescue

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

“I have done the deed.” (“Macbeth” Act II, scene ii)

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven"

“Nevermore.” (Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”)

Prince Charming and Cinderella

Prince Charming tries the steampunk slipper on a scullery maid whose clothes mysteriously disappeared sometime earlier, in “Cinderella”

(Special Thanks to my models, Jeremiah Hein and Natalie Campbell, and Michael Graham as the Mad Hatter)

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…

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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)

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