Archives for posts with tag: steam punk
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.

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.

 

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