Today is a day for musing. 12 hours at work, running day camp and walking dogs and home to my husband and the cats I sit wondering why it is we are drawn to Steampunk. When you read discussions about Steampunk, especially from non-Steampunk people, you see at first a certainty of its briefness, and now bafflement in its longevity and growth. Why is that shocking I wonder. The other thing I see is a complaint that it is poorly defined. Genres and sub-genres are rarely defined, specified, structured and then developed – they just happen and grow. Natural growth is what creates a genre and what keeps it alive and thriving through time. It is an oddity of human nature I think to want to define, categorize, and label everything.
This seems one of the very things Steampunk is rebelling against – the strict categorization of life, science, religion, people, and culture. When those in Steampunk fight this, they could be leading themselves into a frustrating pattern. Does this mean there are no boundaries? Of course not, but it is a concept, a theme, a style, a need, a creativity that by its nature reaches into several other genres at least.
What I see is that Steampunk, by its very nature cannot be a sub-genre, it reaches into too many genres even without leaving the written and cinematic focus.
Cyberpunk is strong and clear but it doesn’t have the potential reach and longevity of Steampunk for several reasons. One, it is based in present and future. Present issues and technologies are not as well known, not universally relatable or understood, not pervasive, and not connected to an emotional part of people. Future is nebulous and potential not universally agreed upon or accepted. On the other hand, Steampunk has its core in a period known very well and deeply connected to cultures around the world by the very nature of what went on in that time. Key terms like Victorian evoke immediate imagery, feelings, and thoughts in everyone even if they are widely varied. This is another reason it will remain varied and branching in styles and focus. Two, the basis of what might have been is very different and emotional to people than what is going on or where we are going shown in darkness. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cyberpunk in every form I have dealt with it, but sentiment of what might have been or what could have been is natural to most people. In their personal lives or families people often speculate on that very thing, thus drawing on a strong natural sentiment anyway, Steampunk has a good chance of touching them if they give it half a chance. Three, simple aesthetic appeal cannot be ignored. Cyberpunk has a strong, deep impact and visual strength; but it is not a universal appeal. Steampunk on the other hand has elements to appeal to a hugely diverse audience. The materials, the style, the ethics, the creativity, the science, the culture, the mad-scientists, the history, the reality blended with wild fantasy these reach out and find their targets and touch minds, hearts, and imaginations.
Almost Victorian is really a better description than Victorian, and that is why it is appealing – the differences are just out enough to draw you in.
Individual achievement, individual ability, individual strength, individual rights, individual identities are all incredibly important in Steampunk. People in need of something will often find this appealing. People already holding these concepts as important are obviously going to see the appeal. Why are they important in Steampunk? Scientific development, scientific leaps, acts of heroism, and creative actions are done by individuals not committees. A person willing to step out of the boxes of others, and leap into an idea will risk more but has great potential. Risk is inherent to the point of almost being irrelevant in Steampunk – of course one willing to step out is under more risk, why discuss it. Some say Steampunk is hopeful and ignores the ills of society, but I do not agree, it simply focuses on those people acting, doing, changing, developing not on those destroying, wallowing, following, or changing from within the box. If you focus on society you are not focusing on Steampunk, you are using Steampunk in a fiction about society. Yes the dark reality is there, but what might have been? Besides, there is always people at every level of society, which ones have the materials or funds to actually build Steampunk devises in most periods the stories are set in? You cannot break the logic of the story to create a false focus. It is a what-if not what was or what is, just accept that and work within that and you could get a more realistic view of reality.
Many of my furniture designs are done taking a piece of material or a piece of furniture I have or see and modifying it to fit my idea or a theme. This one is just a small wood spice shelf, seen in the center of the piece. It could be done with that piece or be redone in metal in the same color or tone. I have been redesigning pieces we have to fit the Steampunk Alice theme. I have not really been able to work on making them yet, but will have all the designs when I do. Not sure why the sides look so Klingon but they kinda do. The lines and the idea of the lines came from a gate or castle in Alice I think, not that it was like this at all, just where I went with it. Somewhat of the mirror mirror tone looking at it now isn’t there? Lots of influences and things blended. Maybe not strictly Steampunk but the materials and lines fit so it goes.
Photography and Victorian science is on my mind this evening. My curiosity arose initially on the subject of how photography impacted science of the age and expanded somewhat to how it impacted both culture then and our view of the age. ”
“Any dodge, trick and conjuration of any kind is open to the photographer’s use…. It is his imperative duty to avoid the mean, the base and the ugly, and to aim to elevate his subject…. and to correct the unpicturesque…..” Henry Peach Robinson
Two primary directions of thought seem to stand from the period regarding photography and it’s use when you are not looking at those simply opposed to it’s use in the area under consideration. One is seen in the quote above and relates to the artistic form and use of photography designed to please others and trick the eye. The other is one you see more in scientific arenas both formal and in the large amateur practitioner field of the time, though mostly concentrated in upper class groups. Bacteriology owes much of it’s development and direction to photography. Naturalism and the natural sciences that impacted many fields and aspects of life both owe a great deal to photography and by means of photography they impacted many fields of study and development. Meteorology in Europe found direction in photography and those looking to find technological answers to society’s ills found concrete images of their issues. By the end of the century, cameras were widespread and in common use. Many of these layman images were used in scientific studies such as meteorology, naturalism, and social and criminal studies.
“To understand the special burden of representation borne by photography as a witness in meteorology, however, we must reflect not just on the parallels that Victorians invoked between scientific photography and legal witnessing, but also on the impact of transformations in meteorology…” Victorian Science in Context edited by Bernard Lightman
My readings indicate several factors as dominant in the impact of photography. Accurate representation free from artist interpretation and viewer skepticism allowed experiments, observations, images of life, and models to be shared across distances and with many people. They also allowed a view that was held to be more trustworthy and true to life than even the human eye. Acceptable in life and word seems drastically opposed to what was acceptable in photography of the time. Victorian erotica and pornography stands beside a culture that held and taught such strict codes of social conduct whole languages of innuendo, plants, and fans grew. Courts accepted photographic evidence and many researchers used the images.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 saw a major explosion of photography and its impact as it showcased the new development of visual arts. Queen Victoria herself was the first monarch to be photographed and families began to more commonly have photographic family records. Families at more levels of society could have photographic records, when only limited access to good painted records existed. As photography spread, this grew increasingly true. Thus we see one area the spread of photography impacted science in culture simply by involving the middle classes. One no longer needed to be specialized to contribute or to see the results of another’s work, they simply needed to have access to an image and/or a camera. Combine this with the spread of individuality in backlash to religious and other wars that were devastating to middle and lower classes, with no regard for them whatsoever, and you see potential for a vast explosion of ideas and information distribution.
Steampunk is a culture based on the explosion of creative scientific ideas and the individualistic willingness to try and to experiment. Even before photography became widespread, the use of imaging technology was there and having the beginnings of this very change. Suddenly there was a known, concrete method of accurately recording and sharing images of how things really looked. Think of the impact on the minds of a frustrated populous on the edges of an explosion of ideas all boiling over. Obviously, a major change occurred in impact when photography moved away from exclusively prepared, considered views and images into the frozen moment as it happened of the cameras released late in the century. Even as a prepared piece or time consuming process, images returning from abroad and published in newspapers and magazines captivated the mind of much of the public. Archeologists, Trade expeditions, military excursions, and expeditionary hired someone often at great expense to document moments or discoveries of importance and return them from across the empire to England. These came accompanied by letters, artifacts, prisoners, animals, drawings, and verbal descriptions. Emotionally and mentally the world was both much larger and yet smaller than a few years before. Faraway places in the empire became more real, thus ideas from there or from the idea of there also became more real. We now look back on these descriptions, on the authors that inspired us and our mind connects images from the time and drawings from and about the time to those words.
Early exhibitions such as the one in 1842 spread the artifacts and descriptions of China but one cannot help but wonder if the much greater impact of the Japanese culture on the period late in Victorian age was related to the emergence of improved imagery. Many people relied on the drawings and reviews of the early exhibitions to learn what they brought. China was seen as to far gone from their period of greatness and held no appeal for a populous bound into rapid and unceasing development at all costs. Japan, on the other hand was only recently out of their high point and embraced the Western 19th century. This leaping headlong into the period and technology was appealing to the sentiment of the time. These exhibitions were becoming extremely popular and very well visited, thus they led to the Great Exhibition we all know. This would be the place that allowed the explosion of photography by showcasing it with the greatest technologies of the time and the best developments of the time. Many people when they think Victorian age, thing first of the Great Exhibition or the period right before or after that when so many of the technologies loved by the Steampunk world emerged.
All photography done by me. All images property of Bethany Jordan, as always. thank you.
- The World of Francis Cooper: Nineteenth-Century Pennsylvania Photographer
- By Jay Ruby
Today’s pieces are all developing ideas. They are complete pieces in themselves but based on drawings by others. Probably the storage shelves are the least recognizable from original. However, I chose these because they each inspired drawing or images in my mind I want to develop more before working on. The shelves use the Chinese influence that was growing in Victorian times because of the newly acquired Hong Kong. I also want to do some using the other influences that were entering the design and furniture heavily at the time and nearby. I quite enjoyed studying those influences in design classes. These influences appeal for several reasons: one, the styles tend to be dramatic and interesting, and they go well with steampunk. Two, the travel and incorporation of things from other cultures and places really fits my approach to life and Steampunk. Three, the influence of a newly emerging global society and the impact on life, science, design, economy, and more fascinates me and is a very helpful study when trying to understand people, culture, economy, and more. Four, they are interesting cultures and designs in and of themselves, and the aspects from their history that have similarities to Steampunk are work finding. without further ado…
Wood-burning and leather-burning are something I have always liked and wanted to do more of. Lacking an actual wood burning tool, I used a cheap soldering iron I had to burn the design into the box ( see right), top only. I wanted to see what it will look like stained, so I uploaded into GIMP. I like it. I will stain it as part of another day’s project, when I do the sides I think. The soldering iron’s single tip took a bit of getting used to and practice to get the strength, depth, thickness, and tone I wanted in each line.
I really like the combination of working by hand and computer for some things. I think I may do a version of the recent pieces in my art programs as well.
On a side note, I used my metallic paint to continue the painting I started the other day. It really is becoming a long term project.