Interview with Photographer Evan Butterfield, Part 4

Welcome back for part four of our chat with Evan Butterfield, creator of Gentlemen of Steampunk.

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.

Read Part Three here.

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Airship Ambassador: We were just talking about how the photo shoots go. What challenges came up during shoots? Any interesting behind-the-scenes stories to share?

Evan Butterfield: Security can be a challenge, for the models. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t be surprised) the stories I hear! There are some seriously creepy people out there claiming to be “photographers,” who are not really interested in photography, and make it a lot harder for semi-amateurs like myself. Nearly all the women I’ve worked with insist on bringing a companion—another woman, or sometimes a boyfriend. One model brought her father the first time, although she came alone on subsequent shoots; I guess I passed the “dad-test” for un-creepiness! Companions are fine as long as they stay quiet and don’t try to supervise the shoot; somebody has to lace that girl into her corset, and it’s kinda nice to have some assistance!

For men or women, I’ll always show them around the condo so they can see there are no gangs of thugs waiting to pounce on them—it’s risky for them to go to some stranger’s house, after all. (Of course, it’s risky for me, too, but I spend a good deal of time chatting with models on the phone or via email, and I always meet them at the condo community gate and have a good opportunity to sort of check for red flags as we stroll back through the grounds.)

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AA: Putting together a book doesn’t happen overnight. What of schedule and scheduling issues did you and the models face?

EB: I wish it happened overnight! Well, the main scheduling issue is that, unfortunately, doing steampunk photography isn’t my job. My work is pretty demanding, so I have to shoot around that. Then add the fact that for most of my models, modeling isn’t their primary vocation, either, and in many cases their jobs are at night or odd day hours, or they’re students, so we have to coordinate all sorts of work schedules to make this happen.

That’s probably the biggest logistical issue. Then after the shoot, it does take some time for me to do all the magical Photoshop gymnastics to get the vintage look I’m after—I know a similar effect can be achieved in a click with an Instagram filter, and that just annoys me. So time is not my friend.

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AA: You posted a blog sharing some thoughts about the whys and wherefores, and feedback, on this book. What are some memorable reactions to Gentlemen which you’ve heard about from the steampunk community and outside of it?

EB: My favorite thing, which I think I mentioned in the blog, was the reaction of most of the men, at least to the first set of photos, which was outrage and shock. The women (and a few men) posted very positive remarks, but some of the men felt the images were “pornographic” and “exploitive.” I thought that was very funny, especially given how women have been portrayed. Now, I have no problem with anyone showing off skin, I just think there should be…equal opportunity voyeurism.

The funny thing is, I’m a gay male, but I initially entered into this project with a female audience in mind, and much of my speechifying on the subject reflected that. I received a number of emails from other gay men, though, who reminded me that my audience was not just women. Overall, though, over time, the reaction from both men and women has been very positive, and the complaints have pretty much faded away.

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AA: What kind of attention has Gentlemen generated? Any new opportunities because of it?

EB: I think so. Photos from the book were featured on a gay-news website called Queerty and activity on my website went up quite a bit. Seven of the GoS photos will be in a juried exhibit at Bent-Con (November 7-9, 2014), and I’ll be doing special Con pricing on the digital versions of Gentlemen and Aether. Also this interview. A number of people have urged me to do panels or something at cons, which is very nice, but I’m not sure I really have anything useful to say in that kind of venue. I could show pictures and do readings, I guess, but would anybody show up for that? I don’t know.

 

AA: Everyone has to start somewhere and build from there. What can you share about the sequel?

EB: Well, I can share a photo that will be in it. To some extent, Gentlemen of Steampunk, Version the Second will be very similar to its predecessor: some skin, some steampunk, some text describing the various characters and world. As I said, though, my model pool is randomly selected by choice (though the specific models I choose from that pool is my call, obviously), and some interesting things have happened. There will be a bit more ethnic diversity, for instance, and a couple of older models.

Not all the models have gym-bodies, but one in particular is phenomenally sculpted. The models are skewing a bit younger. Interestingly, maybe as a result of that, I have a lot of models with buzz cuts and shaved heads, which makes for an interesting overall aesthetic.

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AA: Looking beyond steampunk, photography, and working, what other interests fill your time?

EB: I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that I quite enjoy PC gaming. I have some very specific requirements for what I’ll play: first-person shooters set in very large, open sci-fi or dark fantasy worlds with a weird, idiosyncratic look and some dark humor. So the Bioshock series, the Fallout series, Skyrim, Dishonored, the Wolfenstein reboot, that sort of thing. I don’t do MMOs because I prefer to keep my incompetent gameplay private.

I read a lot of history: I just finished a great book called Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy, about the alarming number of assassination attempts made against Queen Victoria, and The Faithful Executioner by Joel F. Harrington, about a 16th century German executioner, and Peter Ackroyd’s amazing London: the Biography. Also science fiction (Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Haldeman, Rajaniemi, Ken MacLeod, Ian M. Banks, Frank Herbert; I go back to China Mieville all the time—I love his work because it’s so strange and complex and interesting and compelling!). I subscribe to a great online magazine called “Clarkesworld,” and it has an really fine quality of fiction that it delivers with amazing consistency.

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I can’t do fantasy, for the most part—George R.R. Martin and Tolkein…I just find those worlds impossibly complicated to wrap my brain around. But I do love reading, and I love my Kindle, and it’s fed my reading habit very wickedly. Because I can carry around hundreds of books, I end up reading multiple things at once.

I love movies, too, and traveling. My husband and I have been to Iceland, Argentina, and most recently honeymooned in the south of England. I travel quite a bit for work, and have a real fascination with China—even though it takes forever to get there! I’d be lying if I didn’t say we like watching TV probably more than’s good for us. And we have a cat, so of course serving his whims takes a good deal of my time, too.

 

And there is still one more post in this interview, so we’ll pause here.

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.

 

Published in: on December 17, 2014 at 9:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Photographer Evan Butterfield, Part 3

Welcome back for part three of our chat with Evan Butterfield, creator of Gentlemen of Steampunk.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

Published in: on December 16, 2014 at 4:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Photographer Evan Butterfield, Part 2

Welcome back for part two of our chat with Evan Butterfield, creator of Gentlemen of Steampunk.

Read Part One here.

 

AA: Why is steampunk the aesthetic for this shoot and book? What benefits and limitations did that choice present in creating the images?

EB: I liked Steampunk before I knew it was a thing. I liked old machinery, big steam-driven devices, rust. In graduate school, my area of focus was 19th century English literature, and Dickens’ Bleak House, with its fog and grit and creeky bureaucracy totally informs my alternate reality. Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age, and the Gibson/Sterling collaboration, The Difference Engine, are two of my favorite books ever.

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I’ve already talked about the “political” motivations for doing Gentlemen of Steampunk. Overall though, I think Steampunk is such a rich and creative and liberating aesthetic that it’s just wildly appealing. It can be so many things, and offers so many alternative paths, that it’s a virtually limitless concept. I think that’s part of what makes it so appealing to so many creative, imaginative people: they can explore very idiosyncratic, very personal aesthetic and cultural niches while still enjoying being part of a larger group, or subculture, or cult, or whatever we are.

Anyway, the short answer to the first question is “because I like Steampunk.” The short-ish answer to the second question is that the creative benefits of working in Steampunk are highly attractive, and the only limitations have to do with staying within the general, flexible parameters of the aesthetic.

I also have to mention the manner in which the photos are presented. I purposefully process them to look old and battered, as if they’ve been forgotten in a desk drawer. Sometimes there’s writing “on the back” that’s bled through, or they’re marred with stains, or drawn on, or sometimes have stamps or postmarks. They look faded and wrinkled and, well, old. In my mind, that makes the photos themselves part of the Steampunk aesthetic, and not just the subjects or the narrative bits. It’s a total package, a coherent piece. Sorry if that sounded a little artsy.

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AA: Not at all, it adds to the visual presentation and emotional quality of the images. What are the steampunk elements that were specifically included, either for setting or for ‘feel’?

EB: Oh, OK. Well, obviously I included a number of costume elements. I purchase the costume items for men or women from various sources, usually online, although some—like a beautiful gold high-collared vest that’s probably more Georgian than Victorian, but I think some anachronism is fine, as long as it’s something that could have been leftover from a past period—were purchased at cons. I picked up that vest at this year’s Clockwork Alchemy, for instance, where I was participating in the Artists’ Gallery.

Aside from clothing, I use a lot of props, and for the most part those fall into three categories: things I’ve bought, things I’ve made, and rusty old stuff. I’ve purchased a few goggles, but I tend to do additional modifications to them. I’ve also bought a couple of fantasy pistols. I’ve made some very nice gauntlets with various things attached to them (in my Steampunk reality, they’re referred to as “pembrookes” after their innovator (see Gentlemen of Steampunk), unless it’s one with a telescope attached, generally used by prostitutes and referred to as a “lucy” after Miss Lucy Tutter, their inventrix, who is discussed in the footnote to “There Was an Odd Woman” in Aether & Rhyme).

I’ve also made clockwork- and gear-augmented spectacles and goggles, and some jewelry as well. And for the “Little Red Riding Hood” chapter of Aether & Rhyme I altered a toy M16 into a very steampunky firearm. Finally, the tools I use are pretty authentic to the period. I am fortunate to have inherited really old tools and farming implements from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Long Beach Flea Market has filled in gaps in my rusty implement collection.

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I have to say that I’m amazed by the phenomenal work some folks do in Steampunk: the costumes and props made by hand that are not only beautiful but as meticulously appropriate to the 19th century as they can possibly be. I don’t tend to dress up myself (I do have an alternate personality: the noted photographer Luxet Tenebrae, but he tends to show up more in my books than walking around the halls of some Marriott at a con); it’s just something I’ve never felt really compelled to do. But I love seeing other people who do it, and I certainly love dressing up other people.

 

AA: What were your guidelines in selecting the final images?

EB: Well, ones that are in focus are good. I look for images that are the most compelling, really. A lot depends on the model. If he’s looking at the camera, I want his eyes clear and sharp, pulling in the viewer. If it’s a moody, shadowy shot, it still needs to be clear what’s going on, and if the model is really defined, with abs you can peel a carrot on, then I want the light and shadow to really show that off. And they have to be—I don’t know how to say this more delicately—hot, sexy images.

The point is beefcake, after all, so there needs to be a balancing of a Victorian look-and-feel and a more modern concept of what’s attractive. Another important consideration, though, is how the image will hold up under the weight of all the layers and processing that it will go through to get to the final look. Some of the photos are minimally mucked-with—they’re desaturated and sepia-ed, and little more. Others have tears and wrinkles and folds and coffee cup stains and scribbled writing, so the underlying image has to be good enough to survive what I put it through.

 

AA: Even with having all great images to choose from, the book can only be so big. What images didn’t make it into the final book?

EB: Um, the bad ones?

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AA: LOL! Well, I suppose that’s as good a filter as any! When people see the images, aside from the artistic components and merits, what would you like for them to take away from them?

EB: I love how you refer to the “artistic components and merits”! I mean, we’re talking about pictures of shirtless guys, really. But thank you.

Seriously, though, I hope that in addition to the simple prurient appeal and topical uniqueness, people will come away with their imaginations tickled a little. The point of both my books has been to provide glimpses of an alternate Steampunk world; just enough hints and clues that the reader (or the looker-at) can construct a version of what I have in mind myself.

Going back to my grad school days in English Literature, we were all about the reader-author interaction, and how a novel gets constructed as a collaborative effort between the words the author writes and the idiosyncratic meanings that an individual brings to those words. So because I’m a big ol’ pedantic poser, that’s what’s happening in Gentlemen of Steampunk and Aether & Rhyme the author, the photographer, is dropping hints about the story, and the reader or viewer is supposed to pick up the pieces and arrange them in a way that makes sense.

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The same world that I hinted at in the first book is continued in the second (even with references to some of the gentlemen characters), and it’s continuing in work I’m doing now. I guess I’m basically too lazy to write a cohesive novel; I’d much rather just leave a bunch of breadcrumbs and let someone else do the legwork.

 

There’s plenty more to cover in this interview, so we’ll pause here.

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.

 

Published in: on December 15, 2014 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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