Interview with Photographer Evan Butterfield, Part 5

Welcome back for the conclusion of our chat with Evan Butterfield, creator of Gentlemen of Steampunk.

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.

Read Part Three here.

Read Part Four here.

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AA: We were talking about the other interests which fill your time. Any favorite steampunk authors?

EB: You know, I’ve tried reading specifically “Steampunk Literature” and it just doesn’t catch hold for me. And no, I won’t give you examples of authors whose work failed to grab my attention! Part of it may be that in any “genre fiction” there’s a wide range of authorship skills, and with digital technology making it easier for anyone—like me!—to self-publish, the quality factor becomes, um, a little dicier. But I think a bigger part for me is that because I have such a specific Steampunk world in mind, anything that doesn’t fit that image just doesn’t make sense.

 

AA: How do those interests influence your work?

EB: Well, I’d point to China Mieville as a major influence—his New Corbuzon is a weird, cruel, steampunky world—and the reading I do on 18th and 19th century England is very informative of my work. Anyone who gave it more thought than I’m prepared to do might trace influences from the fairly violent video games I play to the undercurrent of cruelty that’s hinted at in my photos—and some of those can get pretty dark, with masks and rusted cutlery and dark alleys. And of course Gimli-the-cat makes an appearance in Aether & Rhyme as the Cheshire Cat!

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AA: Are there people you consider an inspiration, role model, or other motivating influence?

EB: Oh sure. In my standard bio I refer to my grandfather, Elvin Butterfield, who was a small-town professional photographer (he specialized in gauzy, hand-tinted portraits of Gladiolus Festival Queens and beaming local brides). He had a shingle hung in front of his house announcing “E.Butterfield Photography,” so I come by the name honestly.

I used to spend hours as a small child inhaling the yummy-smelling chemicals in his darkroom, which may account for a lot. My great-uncle Hugh Butterfield was a photo analyst in WWII, and my father, John, refuses to retire in his retirement, and he’s a photographer for a suburban Chicago newspaper. My husband, Durrell Dew, is a huge influence and motivator. He bought me my first serious camera a decade ago, so it’s really all his fault. And he’s very supportive even when I mess up the dining table with super-glue or make him go hide in the back bedroom while I do a shoot.

Influences I’m not related to? It may sound weird but there’s a Canadian filmmaker named Guy Maddin, whose movies are modern in content but filmed and processed to look like old silent movies or antiquated filmstock: they’re over-lit and grainy and scratched. I think watching his films may have inspired me to take a similar path in my Steampunk photography. And I’m going to mention China Mieville again, along with Charles Dickens, of course.

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AA: What event or situation has had the most positive impact in your life? What has been your greatest challenge?

EB: Oh my, that’s a huge question! Well, at the risk of being all treacly, I’d have to say meeting my husband, Durrell, thirteen years ago (we got married in 2013, once the Supreme Court said we could). He got me started in photography, and he’s my best, most remarkable friend. I wish I could point to big challenges I’ve overcome, but I’m afraid I’ve had a pretty smooth ride of it so far. My childhood was not fraught with conflict and turmoil, my professional career has been pretty fulfilling.

I suppose coming to terms with who I am as a human being in midlife was a challenge—and I’m sure it created challenges for others—but even that was not too stressful either. I guess at the moment my greatest challenge is making sure I don’t spend so much time in my Steampunk world—creating photographs and building props and stuff—that I neglect everyone and everything else. It’d be easy to get lost in here, I think.

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AA: Three quick fire, random questions – what is your favorite film, music composer, and fabric texture?

EB: Oh you’re not really expecting quick simple answers from me at this point are you? I think we both know that’s not going to happen. Favorite film is tough; I taught film at the University of Illinois a very long time ago, but I have kept a firm grip on being an insufferable movie geek. I think I’d point to Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander as being probably the most perfect movie I know of—it’s beautiful, and magical, and scary, and sad and really quite wonderful. And weird sci fi like City of Lost Children and Dark City; the Alien movies, Toho Godzillas. I’m a Bach guy in terms of classical music, but my playlist is heavy on pop, dance music, and Lady Gaga, so I’m pretty eclectic. And fabric texture? That’s a weird one! Soft, I guess. Unlike the Victorians, I’m all about comfort, so lightweight, soft, natural fabrics are my friends. I make other people wear the heavy, scratchy, brocade-y stuff.

 

AA: Any final thoughts to share with our readers

EB: I do want to say something about digital versus printed books generally. My day job is complicated (I handle publishing, conferences, and education for a technology nonprofit), but I’m in part a publisher, and so I’m very aware of the mess that digital content delivery has created for print publications, and the big divide that rages between print purists and folks who are happy to read books and magazines on their phones. (We just moved all of our magazines—there are, like, thirteen of them—to digital-only, and I’ve gotten my share of “attaboy’s” and “I’ll-hate-you-forever’s” in my email.) The writing’s been on the wall about that for a long time, and there’s really no arguing how it’s going to end up.

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As an author, though, especially as a photographer, I have to say that I really, really prefer to see my books on tablets and phones versus in print. My experience with printed editions of my books (which, of course, everyone should run to Amazon to buy because they’re more expensive and I get a better royalty) is that the quality is very uneven, and the photos never look the way I really want them to. They’re digitally processed by me, though, and when I see them on a Kindle, for instance, I’m very impressed with the depth of color and the crispness and the, well, purity of the image. So even though it’ll send me to the workhouse, I really encourage people to buy the digital versions of my books. Sometimes the layout gets a little hinky, depending on the device, but the words are all there and—more importantly to me—the images are pretty much just the way I want them. If someone wants a printed photograph, I can fulfill that through my site, and I’m very happy with my photo printers; but for books, digital is the way to go, at least in my opinion.

And one final plug: People should go “like” me on Facebook, and visit my website a lot (I check my analytics pretty obsessively, and it gives me such delight when people show up). They should also sign up for my blog, “LensCaps,” —I’m not a terribly reliable blogger, but I do try. And email me if you have ideas or want to do some work together or have questions. I also accept lavish praise, of course.

 

Thanks, Evan, for joining us for this interview and for sharing all of your thoughts. We look forward to hearing about your next projects!

Keep up to date with Evan Butterfield’s latest news on his website.

You can support Evan and our community by getting Gentlemen of Steampunk here and Aether & Rhyme here.

 

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Published in: on December 18, 2014 at 8:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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