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Sir Christopher Felding-Vendenner and Mister Mendacity Crick, displaying a mutual Affection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The calendar looks like this on the outside:

2015 Gentlemen of Steampunk calendar

and like this on the inside:

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

Thank you for your patience.

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

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

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

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

Gentlemen of Steampunk calendar

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

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

And, somehow, so can you.

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

Aether & Rhyme:

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

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

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

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

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

FOREWORD

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

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

For tales of  magic, and aethers, and rhyme.

We’ll summon the plasms that brighten your dream

And drift you away on soft vapours of steam….

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

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

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

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

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

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

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

Little Red Riding Hood was very surprised to hear this.

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

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

(c) EButterfield Photography

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

(c) EButterfield Photography

 

THE TALE OF THE THREE LITTLE PIGS

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

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

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

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

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

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

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

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

  THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT’S FATHER

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

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

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

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

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

THE FROG-PRINCE

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

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

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

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

 OLD MOTHER HUBBARD or THE AETHERICALLY-ANIMATED  CORPSE!

(c) EBUTTERFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

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

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

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

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

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

gauntlets and jewelry

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

Little Red Riding Hood's gun

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

binoculars

Modified opera glasses

pistol

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

goggles

Goggles with gears and watch parts on eyepiece

breather

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

 

box and ring

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

autoinjector

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

 

shoe

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

cryptology box

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

hatter hat

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

gloves

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

cane

Collapsible hiking stick painted and augmented with gears and hardware

wrist light

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

 

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

Gentlemen of Steampunk

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Steampunk Jamaal 249

 

Good Morrow Sir

Shirtless male model in Steampunk gear

 

(Models:  Jamaal Lewis and Shayim Todman)

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.

 

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

I should warn the unwary reader that this blog post most emphatically does not include pornographic photographs or anything particularly rude or lascivious—at least not as defined by the US Supreme court in Miller v California (1973), which established a three-pronged (heh, he said “pronged”) test: 1. “Average-person-applying-contemporary-community standards; 2. Activity defined by state law; or 3. Lack of serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. (I knew those years in law school would pay off someday, if only in the ability to write a very thorough Disclaimer.) One photo does, however, include a Very Naughty Word printed on the subject’s t-shirt, but I’ll give you fair warning and you can feel free to close your eyes at that point.)

I suppose from an SEO standpoint I could hardly have chosen a better title for this entry. Other than getting fairly specific with metadata references to specific body parts, orientations, and fetishes, the title alone should generate a fair amount of traffic to my little backwater of occasional bloviations. No matter that breathless web-surfers who find their way here expecting one thing will be almost immediately sent storming away by the mere fact that there are words here rather than freeFreeFREE video clips; I will have captured their eyeballs for my web analytics and boosted my usage metrics, which would be significant if I were running a particularly commercial site, which for the most part I do not appear to be doing. Never mind that the bounce rate will be Rather High; I just want to be seen. More than just lookyloos, though; I want people to link through to look at my photos. And a pony; a pony would be nice too. Glitter. Also world peace.

But that’s not the point here. (By the way, I’m starting to notice a pattern in my writing of these things, which is I tend to start off almost instantly with a digression, then wend my way back to the topic, take several darting trips elsewhere, and end up more or less where I’m supposed to be. (I knew those years of structural and semiotic literary analysis as a graduate student in English would pay off someday!) For this, I apologize, although I do not promise any particular relief anytime soon. I am, as they say, what I am.)

I have 2 photographic presences on the Internet: On the “public” site, Flickr, I tend to post lots of photos of vacations, events, pets, or other stuff. It’s sort of a social media thing. At EButterfield Photography on Photoshelter I focus more on the best-of those, and more commercial, editorial, and (though I hesitate to say it) artistic photos. It’s a bit schizophrenic, but it seems to make sense to me. Flickr tracks views and other activity very visibly, so it’s easy for me to see which photos people seem to find interesting (more on that in a moment). Photoshelter is a bit more complex to track, but the tracking is much more granular and statistically useful. The point here is that on those occasions when I post photos to my Flickr site that include any amount of exposed flesh, those photos skyrocket in viewership. No matter that they may be photographically inferior to other, less fleshy photos, or that the shirtlessness involved may not even be central to the photograph’s actual subject, the views pour in.

Everyone, it seems, likes a nice set of pecs and abs.

What’s interesting to me is that on an Internet with so many flavors of full-throated pornography for those so inclined to enjoy, there would be any particular prurient interest in relatively demur photos of semi-naked gentlemen not engaged in particularly erotic behaviors, and generally wearing more clothing than they would on a typical day at the beach.

(I’m referring here, obviously, to varieties of street photography, not to posed nudes. Those latter, for the most part, I keep secured behind a password on EButterfield Photography, with only the most innocent included in my public portfolio.)

So here’s the thing: Regardless of the quality of the photo involved, a photo of a half-naked guy will always, forever, without exception generate more views on Flickr than a photo with any other subject matter, regardless of the comparable artistic or topical nature of the two images. A photo of President Obama walking down a street in Long Beach eating an ice cream cone would simply not generate as many “views” as some anonymous and not necessarily buff young man dancing on a flatbed with his shirt off.

Let me be clear: I’m not in any way condemning photos of athletic and handsome young men dressed only in jeans and hiking boots. It is totally true that I have taken those photos, and equally true that I have chosen to display them, legitimately, as images from public events (and not for sale). I posted them, and assigned tags and accepted invitations to link them to various groups. So I’m not saying I’m a poor abused innocent whose gentle artistry is being hijacked by Morlocks. I’m merely observing.

Some of these photos are posed, some are “street photography” in the sense that the subjects were out and about in public, engaged in public activities. I’m not lurking in the bushes taking random photos of unsuspecting sunbathers (at least not any more). To my mind, surfers are engaged in a public activity and are fair game. A parade is “street photography” at its most obvious: People are walking down the middle of the street, and their expectation of privacy is low. Ditto for street performers tumbling around on a pier. And the photos aren’t, in my view, entirely prurient either: These young men have worked hard to look like they do, they’ve gone to some trouble to display themselves. That I enjoy looking at them through the viewfinder is, to my mind, sexually irrelevant; I like looking at kittens and birds and snails, too, and I have no wicked intentions about them at all. Sadly, perhaps due to my relentlessly advancing age, the gentlemen are merely objects for collecting light and shadow more than anything physically alluring. I know pornography when I see it, and this ain’t it.

Anyway, case in point, this photo from the 2012 Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride Parade:

three muscular young men posing

The young men in this photo were in the parade on behalf of a local moving company, which obviously has a marketing person who knows about how to appeal to specific audiences. Within seven days, the photo on Flickr had generated over 600 views, which is a fair number in a short time. Three months later, that has grown to 2,076, with additional views in the double digits still being added every day.

This photo, on the other hand, which I think is more interesting, was posted last year and still has only 265 views.

Drag nun from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Sister Ida Know

This one is from a similar parade in Chicago in 2007, and has been viewed nearly 11,000 times:

Go-go boy on a float, Chicago Pride Parade 2007

Not all the photos from Pride events have skin, and some of those even generate activity on Flickr. This one, for instance, (which I call “Diversity” for obvious reasons) is from the 2010 parade, and has racked up 1,212 views (a nice number, but hardly in the shirtless realm):

Leather daddy and femme drag queen in Pride parade

And this photo, which I just love as both a photo generally and a character study in particular, from the 2009 parade, has been looked at only 802 times:

[NSW BAD WORD WARNING]

(Seriously, a photo with a Very Bad Word in it is coming right up)

(Also, there’s a Rather Rude Gesture, too, so Be Warned)

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Yelling biker lesbian with "fuck love" t-shirt making a rude gesture

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[ALL SAFE NOW]

It’s interesting that on my Flickr site, of the top-twenty most-viewed photos, 17 are of random attractive men, 16 of whom are shirtless (accounting for over 135,000 individual views).  The two that don’t fall into that category are outliers in more ways than one, and I’m at a bit of a loss to explain their apparent wild popularity.

One is a not-spectacular photo of the late Jonathan Frid (he who played Barnabas Collins on the original US soap opera in the late 1960s) at a Dark Shadows Convention in Burbank (yes I was there and you just be quiet).

:Dark Shadows" television series actor Johnathan Frid

There are many elderly Frid fans out in the world, I suppose; plus he recently enjoyed somewhat heightened visibility thanks to the fairly dreadful Tim Burton “Dark Shadows” movie starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas. (Immediately prior to the film’s release, Frid had the good sense to shuffle off his mortal coil and retire permanently to a locale in which his legacy was, presumably, less egregiously disresepected.)

The other one is a real head-scratcher. It’s a photo of a 1939 painting, “The Awakening of the Forest” by Paul Delvaux, displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Photo of surrealist painting by Paul Delvaux

While it does arguably include vastly more nudity than my Pride Parade photos, we’re talking lithe little fairyfolk here in a surrealist setting that’s generated over 7,500 views since late 2007. Either some people will go way out of their way to seek out nudity online, or there’s an art history class somewhere that’s using a link to this one.

I maintain the Flickr site because I’m obsessed with eyeballs, and my “serious professional” site, EButterfield Photography, has generated just under 2,000 views (and a few commercial sales and portrait jobs) since it was launched with moderate fanfare almost a year ago. On that site, interestingly, shirtless men do not drive viewership. My most-viewed image is this one:

cat peering over the edge of a table

And this generated as much activity as the movers from Pride on the same site:

Macro photo of snail on glass, showing "teeth"

The ultimate point for me, I guess, is that dammit I have some really nice arty, editorial, and worthy images on the Web; why do folks flock to snapshots of boys who’ve taken off their shirts to show that they’ve been to the gym in recent memory? (I suppose I could also ask why, if I’m so annoyed by the behavior of that particular audience, do I persist in posting the things? That, it seems to me, is an impertinent and impolite question, so we’ll just pretend that no one asked it and just move on.) For now, I’ll just opine that generating views on Flickr has become one of my hobbies, related to photography, and that overall my Flickr site (yeah and I’m shilling it here by constantly including links, so aren’t I just the big old hypocrite) has generated over 2 MILLION views since I first started populating it five years ago, and that just puffs up my ego all over the place. I’m a sad and shallow man, reliant on external approval to confirm my self-worth.

Oh well.

It recently occurred to me in a rare moment of clarity that I haven’t posted on this blog for a while. I know that both my readers were despondent about this, and after initially assuring themselves that I was enjoying a fabulous eco-tour of some exotic location, undoubtedly fell into the inescapable conclusion that I’d been abducted by bug-eyed and throbbing-brained alien invaders with a proclivity for probing; or been dragged off by gaily-clad gypsies and forced to participate in traditional woodland dances and fits of fortune-telling; or perhaps I had fallen into a deep, deep hole. Rest easy, gentle readers, for none of these terrible things befell me. Nope, I’m just Lazy. And don’t think for a moment that I haven’t been thinking about you all this time, and scolding myself for being a Bad Blogger.

I can only offer the following series of excuses:

1. I spent several weeks in breathless anticipation of the London Olympics, and then sat glued to NBC’s selective coverage, utterly enthralled by all the leaping, bounding, diving, and whatnot; and/or

2. I spent several weeks in breathless anticipation of the Mars Science Laboratory (“Curiosity”) landing on Mars, and became so obsessed that I forgot to eat, and then sat riveted to NASA-TV’s livefeed from Mission Control, becoming alternatively misty-eyed and hysterical as Curiosity survived the Seven Minutes of Terror; and/or

3. I spent a great deal of time in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel conference rooms being all Serious and Business-y; and/or

3. I spent several weeks mesmerized by the civil, adult, substantive and insightful policy debates engaged in by the various candidates for US President, and had to take many days just to parse the intricacies of the detailed and thoughtful plans they’ve laid out for the nation’s future.

(OK, that last one’s just silly.)

Whatever the reason for my Bad Bloggerishness (Bad Bloggeritude? Bad Bloggery?) there has nonetheless been time to do some photography, which is what I write about here. And since I continue to bask in my delusional, narcissitic, and potentially psychotic fantasy that anyone in the world cares about what I’ve been doing, I shall then proceed as per usual to revel in the minutiae of the minorest of my daily activities.

Southern California Blues. The biggest benefit of having to travel quite a bit for work, aside from the whole meeting-new-people and broadening-one’s-horizons thing, is the opportunity for more (I think) interesting aerial photography. I try to make it a point to sit by a window (this is a wise move for three reasons: 1) for photographic purposes; 2) because no one climbs over you to get to the lavatory;  and 3) because the bulkhead is nice to lean against, and adds an inch or two more personal space—you’re welcome for that little Travel Tip.) Anyway here’s the coastline of Southern California shortly after takeoff from John Wayne International Airport in Santa Ana:

Southern California coastline

Tentpole. I like architecture, and this photo from Denver International Airport is a good demonstration of why: Not only is it functional (the pylon is holding up the tent-like roof of the terminal) but it’s attractive. And what’s more, given the right angle of approach, it becomes a nice display of abstract geometry, divorced from its actual purpose. As a photographer, that’s one of my favorite things to do: get so close up to something (in the case of macros), or so far away (in the case of aerial views of the desert Southwest) or so particularly angled (like here) that the thing being photographed loses its “thingness” and becomes something new: a collection of lines and angles and colors, for instance. But enough about that. Here’s a picture from DIA:

Support pylon at Denver International Airport

Please Come to Boston. I took a little business trip to Boston, and snuck out on a rainy morning to see what was up in the Public Garden. This swan boat seemed a lovely thing, and the water droplets are, to me, quite nice.

 Swan Boat iin Boston's Public Garden

OK, possibly Shocking Displays of Skin below (probably safe for work, unless you work in a church).

You’ve been Warned.

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Tough Guy. I continue my efforts to pursue portrait photography using the nice little home studio equipment I acquired not all that long ago. James wanted a series of photos taken that looked “model-y” and showed off his physical assets, so that was a fun project for a summer afternoon. (More of these here)

Shirtless male model with sunglasses

Daddy Bear. One thing seems to lead to another in this interwoven, interconnected, interdependent world we wander through, and shortly after James I found myself photographing Andre for what were to be some more…personal photos. This is one of the tamer ones. Interestingly (although not surprisingly to anyone who’s been to an International Mister Leather event and heard the big scary-looking S&M guys chatting about recipes and window treatments) Andre is not nearly as intimidating as he looks: he’s actually quite sweet and funny (I think this actually captures that a little bit), and the shoot was a lot of fun. (More of these here)

Male model in leather vest and codpiece

So that was what I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. I shall endeavor to be a more courteous and consistent correspondent in the future. With upcoming business trips to Beijing, Florida, New Jersey, and Belgium, plus whatever photogenic models wander my way, there will no doubt be much more to write about. And anyway there’s always Gimli The Cat:

Cat staring, reflected in tabletop

OK so I admit I’m Bad: Sometimes I do not carry a full array of lenses with me when I go out into the world. Sometimes I just grab the Nikon D-90 and slap on whatever lens seems most appropriate to where I’m going, and make do. I know this makes me a bad example, a poor photographer, and probably should prohibit me from writing any blogs about photography, but who am I to run afoul of the current cultural abhorence of competency. I have a computer, dammit, and that qualifies me to blog about whatever I want to.

So this brings me to what I’m on about today: the wrong lens, and the right photographic opportunity.

Surfer surfing near Huntington Beach, CaliforniaI  set out last Sunday for Huntington Beach Pier, where I expected to take sports-action photos of surfers from the pier, which, because the surfers are actually some distance from the pier, would require the Sigma DG 70-300mm lens. That would  result in photos more or less like the one here.

I’ve actually had very good luck with surfer photos using this lens. While I covet the enormous, bazooka-size telephotos I occasionally see being hauled around by other photographers, this one does the trick well enough, at least until I find myself stringing for Surfer Magazine. They have not yet knocked on my door, however.

Anyway, I digress. The point here is that I went to Huntington Beach prepared for one sort of photography (and even, in my mind, also prepared for some bird photos, for which the lens du jour was also sufficient), but, as sometimes happen, another opportunity presented itself.

At the street end of the pier, we encountered three muscular young men who were preparing for a street performance, loudly busking to rustle up a crowd suitable to the occasion. They were The Flying Tortillas, a group of performers  who proceeded to engage in breakdancing, acrobatics, and tumbling (followed by a spirited passing of plastic buckets and not-so-subtle pleas for financial support). They spun, leaped, and hurled themselves through the air quite impressively. The problem, obviously, is that I was in a small circle of onlookers, no more than five or six feet from the performers, with entirely the wrong lens.

The solution, obviously, was to change how I looked at the Tortillas. Instead of thinking about their performance as whole people hurtling themselves around, I tried to think of them as patterns, or disembodied parts. So I used the zoom as it was intended, and got in close. By not trying to force the whole scene into view (which would have required that I leave my sweet spot at the front of the crowd and go stand twenty feet away, where I would be unable to see the performers at all), I was able to capture some interesting, unique perspectives of what the boys were doing, even from up close. As it happened, I even managed to get acceptable action shots, like this:

street performer upside down in a mid-air somersault

The lesson, then, I guess, is two-fold: One, don’t be lazy by avoiding having the right lens for a variety of unexpected opportunities. Two, if you’re going to be lazy (as I undoubtedly will continue to be, being generally weak-willed by nature), then be flexible in how you use the tools you’ve got. I could have just enjoyed the Tortillas’ show and not bothered with photos, since I had the wrong lens. I could have given up a prime viewing spot to stand back father to accomodate more traditional framings using the lens I had. Or, as it turned out, I could just force the lens I had to accomodate the moment, and be flexible in how I viewed the event. Not having the right tool for the job, it was OK to use the tool I had.

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