Archives for posts with tag: Victorian
For I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.

Steampunk is all about the past; an alternative past, of course, but the past nonetheless. Victoria, and massive steam-driven, gear-whirling complexities; the apotheosis of Science and Engineering, and all the applied wonders they provide, augmented by the burgeoning alchemic technologies. It’s the streets of 19th Century London with an overlay of leather and brass, or the streets of Wild West America with piston-driven, steam-churned equinomatics and smoke-belching multi-barrelled firearms with laser and plasmid enhancements. But it’s all the past.

“What if…?” is a question that echoes throughout steampunkery, and it’s one that echoed around the emptier parts of my brain recently: What if that past existed, but not frozen in time like a bit of clockwork in amber, but living and evolving and changing with the passage of time? What would a steampunk future look like? If, like Alfred, Lord Tennyson in “Locksley Hall” we “dipt into the future,” what would we find?

So with the help of a good deal of spray paint, random plumbing supplies, and a copious quantity of superglue, I took a peek in to the Future of Steampunk. Like all steampunk visions, it’s an idiosyncratic conceit, unique to its creator, and has little or no bearing on anyone else’s vision. I make no claims to have defined the steampunk future for anyone but me. It’s a let’s-pretend timeline that I’ve been slowly constructing through random asides, footnotes, captions, and images in the Gentlemen of Steampunk (and its sequel), and in the steampunk/Mother Goose mash-up, Aether & Rhyme, and in occasional postings on steampunk social media. It’s my world, and welcome to it. Thanks to the models pictured here: Michael Justice, Hollywood Hawk, Richie Olson, Louis Daprile, iFlyRobin, and Morgan McDonnell.

Below, you’ll find some glimpses into the technology and culture of the steamy future, and a few illustrative photographs, both of which derive from a dip into the future currently in progress…

I. VICTORIA RESIN & GOGGLES EVOLVED

Perhaps the foremost technological advance of the past century was the development and subsequent perfection of Victoria resin. Invented in the alchemical laboratory of Professor Redalard Monsuvial (MPE) in 1918 (and named in honour of Victoria II (1901-1934), and not–as myth would have it–for the first Victoria, the resin’s adaptability, hardness, and ubiquity are legendary, and most common household items, industrial tools, and even personal accessories and augments are today comprised at least in part of Monsuvial’s substance. Definitionally, it is an alchemically-manipulated blend of coal-combustion by-products with natural aetheric effluvia that results in a non-metallic, non-Newtonian solid with significantly higher tensility than alloyed steel. In addition to its remarkable strength, Victoria Resin is a thermosetting plastic, and (in its pre-set state) liquefies at a relatively low temperature (660oC/1220oF) for easy casting and forming. Once set, however, Victoria Resin is heat-resistant to well over 1510oC/2750oF, and highly insulative, making it an attractive and appropriate vessel for micro-steamaegines incorporated into modern personal devices and firearms. VR quickly supplanted brass and steel in clockwork mechanisms and gearage devices, and by the mid-20th century its use was commonplace and uniquitous.

Hadther & Gully

Hadther & Gully “Ventura” spectacle augments include traditional alloyed-steel and enhanced brass componentry mounted on a lightweight frame of Victoria resin

DSC_7059C (2)

Above and below, Denbarr Monoculars are manufactured primarily from Victoria resin (with some metallic components). The pembrooke device (below) is also constructed almost entirely from lightweight VR, making wrist-mounted informatics far less burdensome than the originals.

DSC_6161Ab

Benten, Phermick & Bunsun Labs'

Benten, Phermick & Bunsun Labs’ “Personal Observatorie” spectacle augment is primarily composed of a variety of Victoria resin pieces, including the frame, enclosed recording lensorium, and the observatory-grade telescopular. Some minor couplings are metallic, and the lenses themselves, of course, are glassite.

II. ROYAL ALBERT ORBITAL PLATFORM

In the late 1960s, His Majesty’s Near-Earth Manned Orbit (N.E.M.O.) Programme established the first permanent “space station,” dubbed the Royal Albert Orbital Platform (R.A.O.P.) in honor of Victoria I’s Prince Consort. Access to the R.A.O.P. is a three-stage process: “Nemonauts” (the appellation accorded to participants in the N.E.M.O. programme) are lifted aloft using adapted Aegyptian solar thermi schooners launched from high-altitude dirigibles. (The Aegyptians have used papyrus balloons covered with a sheathing of thin solar-heated metal panels for clean, silent flight for more than a millennium. The “nataro”–or “thermi schooners” as we refer to them–are pleasant commonplace sights in the sky above the Aegyptian imperial capitols of Ramses, Thebes, and Amarna, where they are used to convey travelers and cargo across the vast deserts of the Aegyptian Empire.). The schooners moor with cables trailed by R.A.O.P., and the Nemonauts are brought up to the platform in slender box-shaped elevators that run on the cables. R.A.O.P. orbits the Earth circularly at 330 km (205 mi). At any time, the RAOP, which resembles a short hatbox, may host up to fifteen Nemonauts in its 55 m (180 ft) diameter disc.

Nemonauts can walk on the outer hull of the R.A.O.P. with the use of magnetical boots. They can also travel off the surface of the platform via skiffs, one-man shuttles propelled and maneuvered by focused, high-intensity steam jets. Nemonauts typically wear deep blue shirts with gold piping, and carry a multi-purpose tool. Nemonauts are intensely trained and prepared for occasional excursions into the vacuum of space to conduct Scientific experiments or perform repair and maintenance activities. Nemonauts are also armed with deadly aether-propellant rifles specially designed for orbital use, in the event of uninvited–and unwelcome–visitors.

DSC_7281a

Orbital Group Captain Sir Inslef Margrynton (a direct lineal descendant of the illustrious Commodore Lord Jovial Margrynton, hero of Tinderton, the decisive battle of the brief but bloody Restoration War (1939-1942), which ended the Whitbury Regency and returned Victoria III (the present monarch’s mother) to the throne) is seen here in his official photographic portrait aboard the Royal Albert Orbital Platform. Rising to become one of the Empire’s first Nemonaut officers, Margrynton served on the original design and test team that constructed the platform under the auspices of His Majesty’s Near-Earth Manned Orbital programme, and flew the first manned mission into the upper thermosphere, conclusively demonstrating that human habitation in orbit was possible. In this portrait by the illustrious (and enduring) photographer Luxet Tenebrae, Margrynton is show holding his helmet along with an aether-charged rifle designed specifically for use in the near-vacuum of space. 

DSC_4872AB

Unbeknownst to his commanding officer, Flight Lieutenant Denderly Phipps III ventured out from the comfortable confines of the Royal Albert Orbital Platform and maneuvered his steam-propelled skiff (commonly contracted by seasoned nemonauts as a “spiff,” it was a type of small, open-topped one-man craft designed for short-distance travel in the vacuum, utilizing a highly efficient compressed steam-jet propulsion system developed by Dr Fensworth-Bruel especially for use by the Near Earth Manned Orbital programme) to a point a few kilometers away from the platform. After enjoying a spectacular view of the Earth, its Moon, and the wonders of the heavens, Phipps shut the valve to the steam-jet and allowed his spiff to drift languidly, turning gently in the mysterious particle eddies. It was at that moment that he observed the approach of an object that caused him serious alarm, and he was seized immediately with regret that he had only come armed with his standard-issue maintenance tool and not a more persuasive firearm…

A young man aboard (or apparently not quite aboard, if we are to believe his headgear) the Royal Albert Orbital Platform. As a member of the Near-Earth Manned Orbital programme, he is referred to as a

A young man aboard (or apparently not quite aboard, if we are to believe his headgear) the Royal Albert Orbital Platform. As a member of the Near-Earth Manned Orbital programme, he is referred to as a “Nemonaut.” The wonders of the heavenly firmament abound about, awaiting Man’s next noble steps into the cosmos!

III. MASK-MOUNTED AUGMENTATION DEVICE (MMAD)

The recent fashion trend, particularly amongst young people, is the MMAD (Mask-Mounted Augmentation Device), a more sleekly stylish variation on the traditional goggles and augments that continue to be a life-style accessory staple. It seems that the appeal lies not so much in the identity-concealing nature of the masks, but rather in their flush-to-the-face flatness that, counter-intuitively, actually conceals character less than their bulkier counterparts. Thanks to micronization of technology and Dr Wintner’s work in Neural-Confluent Aengeneering, the MMADs can be needle-pricked into the wearer’s skin, and information exchanged directly with the suboptic vision centres of the brain—eliminating the need for artificial displays. Not everyone, of course, is comfortable exchanging this degree of intimacy with their devices. “I worry,” said Lady Custerfield in a recent telephone-interview, “about the little things, like how clean are those pins that I’m popping into my face? I really can’t be sure, so I prefer the old-fashioned spectacle-augs, myself. I think they’re prettier in any case!”

Underweil's limited-edition

Underweil’s limited-edition “Forebear” MMAD is a VR mask with both aelectrickal and traditional gearwork mechanisms (note the use of recovered 19th century metallics in the main frontal lobular drive)

DSC_7076a

The “Venturi GH” MMAD was Bishopp & Wraithington’s top-line augment at this year’s International Exhibition at Ketteridge, with an innovative suspended isenglass monocular incorporated into the VR mask matrix. Lobal interfaces are set at the mid-temple regions, but the insertion pins branch once introduced subdermally. This permits a sleeker visage and minimal weighty metallics. Also pictured: Chrittensheim’s “Escalator” aetherplasmic carbine, featuring an easily-replaceable aether ampoule and VR-insulated body to prevent unpleasant heat-generation. The Parkridge & Shyoak pembrooke is driven by an incorporated steam engine with minimal off-smoking thanks to a tubular recapture system that recaptures coal particulates suspended in the engine-generated gases and returns them to the integrated firebox for refiring. The P&S pembrooke includes standard wrist-augment functionalities along with a unique “categoriser” aengine.

DSC_5755a

The mandibular MMAD patented by Academy Arts provides the wearer with enhanced vocalisation and auditory recording augments. Paired with optional headphones, it permits subvocal communication across substantial distances. The subdermal pins lock to the masseter and orbicularis oris muscles, with an internally “swallowed” wire-anchored pin that autonomously seeks and attaches to the vocal chords. Also shown, Benten, Phermick & Bunsun Labs’ “Personal Observatorie” spectacle augment.

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.

 

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…

Image

Model: Jeremiah Hein

Image

Model: Jeremiah Hein

Image

Model: Aaron Avila

Image

Model: Jeremiah Hein

Image

Model: Ivan Bohman

Image

Model: Jeremiah Hein

In these “antiqued” photos, the process in Photoshop was relatively simple, if many-stepped and a bit time-consuming. Basically, I initially reduce the original image’s vibrancy, creating a faded, hand-tinted look. I then proceed to use soft overlay to combine the original image with images, colors, and textures of wrinkled paper, parchment, rusty metal, and peeled paint, making adjustments to the different layers to reduce or enhance vibrancy, opacity, and contrast to achieve the effect of an old daguerreotype that’s been left in a desk drawer for a century, or a rare color photo that’s faded with age, or a valuable antique image thoughtlessly mistreated and used as scrap paper by misguided previous owners. Sometimes I overlay bits of handwriting, ink splashes, or other signs of exposure to the years. I really kinda like the results.

Not all of my Steampunk work is manipulated in post-production to that extent, of course. The clothes and props are really quite lovely, and sometimes a color photo shows that best:

Image

Model: Jeremiah Hein

Image

Model: Andre Chambers
Image

Model: Ivan Bohman

Image

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)

%d bloggers like this: