Read Part One here.
Read Part Two here.
Airship Ambassador: Authors and artists often talk about how elements of their own lives make their way into their work. How did this play into Gentlemen?
Evan Butterfield: Well, I already mentioned my English Lit background. There’s a lot of Dickens in there, especially in the tone of the narration. And the long, ponderous footnotes full of bluster and self-importance, well those are totally mocking a certain kind of scholarly writing. I suppose I’d be ignoring the mastodon in the parlor if I didn’t admit that as a gay man I’ve always had a certain…appreciation for the athletic male form, and I suspect that that played a part in my choice of subject matter. I also love photography, and this is a good outlet for that. And honestly I quite like building props and processing the photos in a way that makes them part of the story, so it’s all about feeding my personal pleasures.
AA: What were some memorable, or infamous moments, during the whole project from inception to delivery?
EB: I have to say that I was very fortunate to work with the models I did; they were professional and creative and collaborative, and that made for very few “infamous” moments. Oh, there was the occasional no-show, which is annoying, and a wardrobe malfunction or two, but nothing very noteworthy. I generally prepare a shot list and share that with the model ahead of time, so the shoots tended to go very smoothly and efficiently. I sometimes wonder what my neighbors in the condo complex thought about the continuous parade of big, handsome young men who kept coming to my condo, disappearing inside for 90 minutes, and then leaving; those might be amusing stories!
AA: How did this project compare to other projects? What are some key differences?
EB: I already mentioned the difference in tactics between Gentlemen of Steampunk and Aether & Rhyme. This project, though, was the most focused of any I’d ever done: because I had a specific goal in mind, the beefcake thing, it was quite different from previous shoots in which I had a number of “scenes” or “characters” in mind, and the model and I would build out from there.
AA: What differences are there in shooting on various sized budgets? What freedoms and limitations are there?
EB: I wish I knew! My projects tend to be done on a shoestring, and I contract with my models on a time-for-photos basis (known as “TF” in the modeling world). That means I basically trade photographic services for modeling services—a kind of artistic bartering. The labor is all mine in processing, and I use Amazon’s free CreateSpace tool for composition and publishing. So the only real spending items for me are acquiring the costumes and props and the bits and pieces for stuff I make, and I can keep those costs low because I’m not concerned about long-term wearability like someone who’s engaged in serious cosplay.
I do have a few very nice, fairly expensive pieces, I admit. But very few of the costume items are specific to one project, and they get used over and over again. An exception might be the very nice wolf mask I bought for the “Little Red Riding Hood” shoot, or the pig mask for “The Three Little Pigs.” Those may not be used a lot in the future, lovely though they are. Anyway, the bottom line is I don’t really have a budget. Since I’m only marginally commercial (though interviews like this sometimes help!), it makes sense to keep things on the cheap.
AA: A no-budget limitation is what many steampunks face in their projects, too, so you aren’t alone! In setting up a shot, what are the key elements that you are looking for?
EB: Well, there are the technical elements, like light and focus: those are kinda important. I shoot mostly against a neutral backdrop, black or gray, so there’s not much decision-making there (the neutrals let me drop the models into more interesting settings later in post). I also try to match props to the model—which eyewear will look most interesting on the head-shape and skintone, for instance, or which models should hold guns and which ones will just look silly. There’s also the sort of hard-to-quantify things, like the moment in a model’s slow movement where they hit just the “right” pose. It’s hard to describe, but I know it when I see it.
AA: How did you find the models and attract them to the project? Did they have an interest in steampunk before the project?
EB: I subscribe to a website that connects models and photographers, called ModelMayhem, and Craig’s List is helpful, too. I basically post a call that specifies what I’m after—steampunk and muscle—and let them come to me. In some cases, I’ll browse MM and send individual invitations to local models I’d really like to shoot with. Mostly, though, I sort of like the random element of seeing who responds to the casting call. Also, the people who respond tend to be the most excited about doing a steampunk shoot—it adds a unique new look to their portfolios. So I end up working with a really interesting range of models: from people who are just starting out, building their portfolios, to professionals who want to do something different. Some are signed with agencies, and that’s fine as long as their contracts let them do some amount of unpaid work, which most agreements do—at least at the levels I work at.
AA: What was the actual photo shoot like?
EB: I try to keep the shoot light and fun for everyone. Sometimes it’s challenging to get a model to relax, and let’s be honest: some models are just better than others. So an ideal shoot would have an engaged, relaxed, creative model—who arrived on time. I tend to map out the shoots so they’re organized, but then I don’t hold to that shotlist religiously. Models have ideas, and sometimes I think of things while we’re shooting.
Anyway, so the model arrives and I’ll show them the costumes, which I’ve laid out ahead of time in the den—so they have private changing space if they want it. We look at any clothes they’ve brought, and discuss how to use them. I try to chat a little, and make them feel more relaxed.
After signing a standard release, the models do their first costume change and we’ll start a series of shots. For Gentlemen, I tended to do full-dress costume stuff first. Partly because Steampunk is cool, and partly to put the models more at ease. Speaking of that, if I’m going to touch them in order to get a specific positioning I tell them first what I’m doing. I’ve heard the horror stories about “handsy” photographers, and want my models to come back again—well, most of them, anyway. There’s nothing worse than a model who doesn’t know where his body is in space, or the poses that make him look good, or who has just one “face” and can’t really follow posing instructions, or who has some specific idea in mind and can only focus on what he wants. Really, there’s nothing hot about a dead-eyed, flat-faced model, no matter how many abs he’s got or how cool his goggles are. Those ones don’t come back.
So back to the shoot. After the full-costume poses, we move to the “beefcake-y” open-shirt and shirtless shots, with accessories like vests or cravats and gauntlets along with various props. I’ll spray the really muscular ones lightly with baby oil (which they rub in!) to get a little more shine and contrast.
We tend to do the most risqué shots last. Not that any of my photos are really that risqué or erotic, but it can be necessary to get the pants a little low to show off the oblique and transverse abdominals (the ones that make that “V” shape on a guy’s pelvis), and even though I crop and shadow in post to keep my Steampunk photos modestly in the PG-13 range, the raw shoot can be a little expose-y for some models.
It’s interesting: there are male models who are uninhibited and totally comfortable with showing off their bodies, and it’s all I can do to keep them in costume; and there are others who have very strict limits on what they will and will not do. I try to work constructively with both kinds to get the shots I need—holding back the first type a bit, and maybe gently pushing the second type to test their own limitations. I never try to talk someone into doing something they clearly are uncomfortable with. Again, I want the good ones to come back!
Still more to come in this interview, so we’ll pause here.
Keep up to date with Evan Butterfield’s latest news on his website.