So recently I attended BentCon, showing some of my steampunk-beefcake photos. BentCon describes itself, with some accuracy, as “the premiere convention that celebrates and recognizes LGBTQ (and Allies) contributions to pop-culture and geekdom.” Think of a much smaller, less chaotic Comic-Con, in a Burbank airport hotel rather than the San Diego Convention Center, and you’re there. If you’ve read my more recent posts (“recent” in terms of the geological timescale, given my rather alarming failure to post with anything approaching regularity, consistency, or timeliness) the you’re familiar with my current explorations of “Steampunk-beefcake“–a turning-on-its-head of the traditional Steampunk photographic aesthetic of a buxom lady overflowing her corset and wearing a skirt of vapour-inducing, swoon-worthy petticoatless microscopy. As you might guess, faux-antique photographs of lean, muscular male models wearing goggles and top hats proved to be just the thing for the Bent-Con demographic. (Although to be truly, geekily precise, BentCon’s focus is more on comics and superheroes than Steampunk, but there was enough genre overlap that, in the vernacular, “my peeps were there.”
I was delighted with the reception my photos received, which was highly positive (a particularly surprising occurrence in a gallery that included photos and other graphic artworks that featured a more, shall we say, “intimate” image of the male form). And I was especially delighted that four of my seven pieces sold–a function no doubt of their awesome artistic merit as well as their price-point, which the curator suggested could have been boosted a bit. But pricing is an interesting puppy, and I have some thoughts on that. While I may be long of tooth and ancient of years, I am quite baby-fresh and new as a photographer, so I am not at all comfortable with pricing my work–regardless of its undeniable beauty and artistic merit–as if I were Steichen or Liebovitz. Some artists in the gallery with me clearly did not share my relativistic view, and their work, sadly, did not especially sell. In the end, it proved once again that it pays to be cheap. (In this case, since you may be wondering, “cheap”=$25 for an 11×14 print.)
Scroll down to take a look-see at my photos that appeared in the BentCon gallery.
The current photo book project I’m working on is a follow-up to the beefcakey Gentlemen of Steampunk:
“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…
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. …
…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?”
“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.
… 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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
“‘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.”
“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.”…
…“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….
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:
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
Repainted tot assault rifle modified with gears, hardware, clock parts, drawer pulls, and a doorchain
Handgun constructed from a fishing reel, empty acetylene tank, painted plumbing pieces, and assorted watch parts and a vacuum tube
Capt. Nemo’s breathing apparatus, from augmented swimming goggles, watch parts, old knobs and drawer pulls, and a snorkel, Photoshopped.
Mad Hatter’s Hat: top hat augmented with geared decoration and tag with context-appropriate printing
Elbow-length fingerless gloves augmented with a decorated toy telescope, gears, watch parts, and chain
Personal Illumination Device: stick-on LED light painted and augmented with gears, watch parts, and chain
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:
(Models: Jamaal Lewis and Shayim Todman)
Here’s an interesting notion: Say we’re looking back at a different 19th century, one in which steam-driven machinery achieved unheard-of technological leaps; where Babbage’s Difference Engine did not lose its funding, but–spurred by an open-handed Treasury and Lady Ada Lovelace’s unfettered programming imagination– launched the Computer Age a hundred and fifty years ahead of schedule; and where alchemy, mysterious invisible plasmas, and a weird sort of rational magic all made the world a very different place. That, of course, is a pretty standard Steampunk vision. Or at least it’s mine.
For just a moment, though, let’s go beyond the steamy science and gear-driven tech (and the fetching goggles) and think about that culture from a different perspective. What, for instance, might depictions of children’s fairy tales or classic works of literature look like in such an alternate Victorian society? How would dark and mechanical steampunk tropes and stereotypes leak into that world?
Well ponder no more, inquisitive seeker of steampunk symbology! Here’s a random selection of possibilities:
Prince Charming tries the steampunk slipper on a scullery maid whose clothes mysteriously disappeared sometime earlier, in “Cinderella”