pin-up push back

I mean, really, the thing that I love most of all about pin-up photography is the creativity.

The boundless variety involved. You can have a brunette or a blonde or even a redhead!

And the poses! Don’t get me started.

Lowest common denominator sexy. Take model, put in retro clothes and styling, pose in a style that Vargas made famous with a facial expression never seen in nature….

Just add Pose 16-b in Outfit Bikini 4 (red) holding a Prop from the Closet.

Believe it or not, I love pin-up artists. Give me an Elvgren girl any day of the week. But that’s because they’re working in sheer fantasy, regardless of the photo references involved. And I like that fantasy because I can buy into it.

It’s the translation into the real world of three dimensions where I can’t help but wonder if it hurts to sit like that or walk in those shoes for too long that I get lost. And yet, because the modern translation is aping those classic looks, there’s the expectation that, hey, isn’t she…?

I always liked the idea of intellectual pinup. The idea of making it personal to the model or subject instead of forcing them into the mold. I haven’t managed it yet. Maybe this summer?


resting fire face

Spinurn 09/07/16

I’m deeply amused whenever anyone complains about how they’re never smiling in their Spinurn pictures. “I always look so serious, y’know?”

Dude, you’re playing with FIRE! I get it.

Spinurn 08/23/17

Don’t get me wrong, as a photographer I love it when someone plays to the camera or looks like they’re having a blast. But as a fellow flow… person… thing… I also understand how hard it can be to relax enough to look at the audience or a photographer or, say, anything but the BALL OF FLAMING MATERIAL YOU’RE SPINNING PERILOUSLY CLOSE TO YOUR FACE!!!!!

Because, trust me, no matter how familiar you are with your prop, no matter the safety training you’ve done, it’s fire and I think our hind brains will never stop reacting to it as such, because to do otherwise would be potentially perilous.

Spinurn 11/08/17

So yeah, I’m happy for the pictures of people having fun and laughing. But if they’re not expressive…

Don’t we all kind of get why?

Welcome to 2018

tumblr_nxrm46oD4w1r5v028o1_1280.pngCan we agree that resolutions kind of suck?

They’re so easy to self-sabotage. Getting a gym membership doesn’t mean you’re actually going to use it, which gyms frequently count on. You may have the best intentions ever to write that Great American Novel, but writing?

It’s daunting as fuck. And for everyone who finds motivation in their artist’s journals and their scheduled times or whatever, there are countless others who just can’t make it stick no matter their intentions. Myself included. The Artist’s Way might as well have been a guide to anxiety for me. “Did I…? Oh god no, and then I have to…”

That said, I have taken a photograph almost every day for the past two years but it wasn’t a challenge or a resolution. I just noticed that it was kind of happening after I got my first iPhone, so I kept doing it. They’re not all great artistic works, but they’re pictures. They force me to keep my eye open, even if I have to make the tableau myself with a bunch of Lego. It’s so regular it’s practically a barometer for my mood. Did I take a picture? No? Something’s up and I should mention it to my therapist at the next appointment.

And that’s what works for me.

So yeah, no novels here. No Great Works. And I think we would all do well to not get bogged down in Big Epic Dreams With No Small Steps.

That said…

I think we should stop being tired. I think we could maybe stop with the excuses and justifications for why we aren’t doing something. Anything. Stop saying that because the rest of the world is doing the same thing or doing something to a larger audience than you that, really, why bother?

And maybe… do it instead?

Instead of automatically bingeing the next show on Netflix, take five or ten minutes every day to do whatever the hell it is you want to be doing. Take pictures? Write the novel? Learn the dance? Sketch?

Plot, plan, scheme and then do!

Because as tired as we are, as weary or drained as we are from the day’s efforts, I think we owe it to ourselves to do something. Anything. And by breaking it down into manageable chunks, we can build up our tolerances and our endurances and our instincts to a point where we might be able to do these things with pleasure or instinctively or better or longer.

You don’t win a marathon the first time you put on a pair of sneakers. Hell, you don’t run a marathon with your first pair of trainers. I have friends who run marathons, they trained and practiced and watched their diets and so on and so forth. And we hear about that and think yeah, well, that makes sense for running.

But I want to paint! And the museum is already full.

I want to dance! And I’m not going to be cast in Swan Lake.

I want to take a picture of a woman wearing that outfit in that lighting… but someone else took it and I think it sucks but it’s been done so fuck that.

And we’re all… so… tired…

Me too. Take five minutes. Take a picture. Sketch a coffee cup. Write a scene of dialogue between two characters. Then try for ten minutes. Then write a chapter. Try NaNoWriMo! I did that years ago and had a blast.

Take that damned picture and make it yours!

And if you don’t like it after a chunk of time, if you’re not getting That Rush of Creativity, give yourself permission to try some new thing. And also kick your ass to try some new thing.

I just took a picture a day for a while until that picture a day became two years with a couple lapses. And now, with exceptions because I have some shitty fucking days where I can’t pull my head out of my ass or see anything but my own anxiety, I have my eyes open for a picture. Or an idea after seeing a Lego minifig.

Because I showed up enough that the muse is usually there waiting.

2018: Show up, Show up, Show up.

merry kinkmas

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Two things about these images.

First, yes, I know I’m going to a very special hell when I die. Obviously. But there’s something appealing and fun about coming up with such odd things.

Second, this is why I kind of love Lego photography.

I had the idea for the first image, set it up, snapped it and walked away. Then some marketing part of my mind kicked in and thought that, y’know, there’s probably an audience for the same sex/leather daddy version of this image. A quick swap (and no small amount of angry muttering as things kept falling over) later and I took the second picture. And I was done.

What happens next? Eh, maybe cards next year? Or at SEAF? I dunno. But I dug the hell out of the process.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

let’s get critical

I fancied myself something of a poet when I was in college. I wrote a lot, hit a bunch of open mic and went through the standard cliched Bukowski phase (because of course). When I moved to Seattle in 1999 I imagined that here I would find my artistic transformation and take over the scene. I got published a couple of times, which was cool, but after a while I just drifted away and got bored. Shades of things to come.

But I think of it all now and again, particularly in terms of constructive criticism and the best bit of advice I ever got as any kind of creative person. Something I still use to center myself and wish I had the chutzpah to pass on in the proper setting.

Long story short, I was a member of an online writer’s forum and I had just posted my Epic to a criticism group. Looking back, it was an angsty bit of twaddle full of adolescent rage and “You don’t understand MAN!!!!” rhetoric. At the time, though, I thought I’d cracked something and the praise would just come pouring in.

The first comment has stayed with me to this day, decades later.

“I’m glad you got that off your chest. Now go write a poem.”

Of course I was furious. Didn’t he get it? Didn’t he see? OMG!!!! I had feelings!!!!

But eventually I calmed the hell down and I thought about it. And while, at the time, I was still quite smitten with what I’d written, I began to see it for what it was. That it was trite and monotonous and, ok, yeah, fine…

It wasn’t a poem. It wasn’t good.

But maybe next time…?

In a weird way, I think this is the best constructive criticism I’ve ever gotten. I’m serious. It didn’t faff about talking about the imagery or the emotions involved. It was blunt and it knocked me on my ass and it made me think. Eventually.

And I think about it now whenever I’m in any kind of creative group or community that doesn’t have room for constructive criticism. Where everything’s great and everyone’s amazing and, oh my god, where did you get your ideas to post yet another picture of a naked girl by a waterfall? Again?

On the one hand, everyone has different goals in their artistic journeys. I get that in my fire spinning groups. I’m pretty content to flow and call it good while others will practice for hours at a time to perfect every move. Hell, there’s room for fine art and coloring books, selfies and studio photography, Bob Ross and Pablo Picasso. Who am I to critique someone who’s just having fun taking pictures? Hell, honestly I wouldn’t like people to inundate my Instagram feed with unasked for criticism.

On the other, I think a little criticism would do us all good as creative people, especially in groups or communities dedicated to the arts. It doesn’t have to be mean or dickish, but a little bit of bluntness maybe? Or even the freedom to respond to someone asking “what do you think?” with something other than just a polite “nice!”

Or, more frustrating to me, being silent because, as we all know, if you can’t say anything nice…

I’d like to say something honest. I’d like to say something constructive. I’d like to say that I can’t make out the model in the chaos of the background. That the photo isn’t “mysterious” so much as I just can’t tell what the hell is going on. Or that it’s minifigure on moss. That the colors are great but how is this different from the last picture? Or the pose is great but the composition could’ve used some work.

On the one hand, the artist doesn’t have to do a damn thing about any of it. But maybe the next time they approach a concept, something will resonate? Or maybe someone else will read it and think of it the next time they plan a shoot? And maybe we can all develop thicker skins and grow?

Just by being honest.

looking back on burlesque

The other night at my regular fire spinning gathering, I was talking with a friend I’ve not seen in months and I mentioned burlesque in passing.

“Don’t you miss anything about burlesque?”

This being a very amorphous group with people coming and going I didn’t actually get a chance to answer, but I did think about it.

And to be honest I do miss parts of it. But not necessarily the bits people think about.


The Red Queen

Kitten LaRue, Burlesque Through The Looking Glass, Triple Door


It’ll come as no surprise that I miss the spectacle and grandeur of the best of it. Productions by Verlaine/McCann or almost anything at the Can Can would leave me breathless. Or the performers who brought such a strong dance background that what they did could transcend “just” burlesque.

But I also miss the joy of the people who couldn’t perform and owned that shit. I shot for Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque for about five years, which was a mixed bag. There were experienced performers and neophytes. Some could rock the stage, some had never even considered it. And oddly enough, the students who knew their limitations and embraced them were phenomenal and memorable. Hell, I remember an act from the very first graduation class ever simply because it was so simple, silly and joyous. They may not have had the chops, but it was clearly fun, which was the best.

And as much as I loved the Triple Door, I missed the intimacy of places like the Pink Door. I hated having to shoot on the floor and management could be flighty, but the pictures were amazing.


Aerialista Ornament

Aerialista, Triple Door


I miss the variety of some of the venues. The ones that would bring in opera singers, aerialists, actors or even (ugh) performance artists to break the sameness of evening. Burlesque, burlesque, burlesque… and now a blues singer? Cool!

I miss the good emcees, whether classy like Jasper McCann or crass as fuck like Armitage Shanks. The ones who gave the audience a chance to breathe before the next Big Number. And I miss the time Jasper helped me mess with my parents when they came out west to visit me one time.

I made a lot of friends and I miss them. But I couldn’t share their enthusiasms anymore and it was painful to have to bite my tongue.

Belle Cozette - Bedtime for Belle

Belle Cozette, Pink Door

I miss the weirdly wonderful surreal experience of backstage or post-show conversations. It’s where the ephemeral and the mundane collided. Beautiful women, scantily clad, it’s a teenage boy’s wet dream… and they’re talking about the weather and holy fuck, that coworker? Or talking with Vienna la Rouge, a gorgeous and amazing performer, at the bar at the Pink Door about traffic. It was rarely about anything truly bizarre but it never felt normal either? So it was wonderful.

I’ll admit that selfishly I miss having a pool of talent to work with in the studio. But can you blame me?

Jesse Belle-Jones

Jesse-Belle Jones, in studio

Beyond that, I don’t miss anything. Granted, a lot of that is a function of having been intensely active in the scene for six years. I was on and off stage. At some points, I was going to more shows in a week than most people would see in a month or two. Familiarity bred contempt, weariness, boredom…

I don’t miss the de rigueur nudity or the hype. It’s too much like being shocked to see a fight at a hockey game, and the odds of that happening aren’t as good there. The odds of a fight are more like 90%. Or the crass, long-winded emcees who relied on that hype.

For that matter, I don’t miss the performers who only brought a willingness for a certain, specific form of exhibitionism and nothing else. Half-assed props, flimsy costumes and no choreography to speak of? Pass. Hard pass.

I really don’t miss the hypocrisy of such an “edgy” scene. You know, the kind where everyone wants to push buttons and test boundaries until they’re the ones who are offended? I saw a lot of that there.

I don’t miss the feeling of obligation to go to every show.

And ultimately I do not miss the culture of extreme politeness that seemed to preclude any kind of criticism. That everything was OK. Don’t believe me? Go check out Dan Savage’s review/critique of three shows in three nights from 2010 and then go read the comments. I love the people complaining that he didn’t go to have fun but, oh my, to be critical? How dare he!

Vienna backstage

Vienna la Rouge, Re-Bar (backstage)

Don’t get me wrong, for all my grousing on this topic, I neither expected nor wanted every performer to have Juilliard training or corsets covered with Swarovski sequins. But we are talking about an artistic community whose only real barrier to entry is a six week course. After that, you can perform for a long time.

On the one hand that’s great and encourages steady growth in the scene. On the other, would you see a band that had only ever played their instruments for six weeks? Really?

I think I’ve been in karaoke bars that had higher standards.

Would I go back? No. I did go to a show to support a friend of mine three or so years ago, but apart from her act, it was so ritualized and anemic. You know. Tits. Except my friend’s, which was about her breast cancer, so… kind of different emotional arc there.

Of course I miss the spectacle. But now I shoot fire. Hell, I play with fire. When I want to. With no expectations and no need for an audience.


toy story (or, why I hate moss)

Last time I wrote here, I was talking about using photos to tell a story when you can’t capture a moment. This becomes important when I’m working with Lego minifigures that, let’s face it, tend to just stay there without a lot of inherent dynamism. So Batman v. Joker or robbers robbing or even a staged “conversation” can make all the difference.

But crucially, I think the story needs to be explicit in the photo. It’s not enough to simply put an action figure on the ground and say “Oh yes, it’s Daredevil and he’s running from the Hand and…” without anything else in the frame to fill that narrative out.

Case in point, here’s a picture I took earlier in the year.

to the temple

It’s pretty, the red and green are a nice contrast and the composition is OK. But what’s actually happening in this photo? Yes, I had a story in my head, something about a noble lady going through the woods to a temple somewhere but without that, what’s really in this photo? Minifigure. Moss.

I don’t think I would have noticed this if I hadn’t taken two pictures that, despite featuring different figures, were essentially the same. Minifigure on moss. The story I told was different, the images were the same.

By the way, this is something I find frustrating with a lot of things, seeing the same cliches and tropes treated mostly the same with only cosmetic differences. In burlesque it was  performers who used essentially the same choreography for most of their acts or the same set-up of “She’s an innocent little $JOBTITLE but really she wants to be $BURLESQUESTAR!” In pin-up photography it’s the same ten poses but different hair colors. In genre fiction it’s particular set ups or character types. It all adds up to a point where I can only see the cliches.

In toy photography… moss and minifigures.

Moss is great for toy photography because it serves as natural scenery at any scale. It looks right, it’s not jarring, it’s just green and lush and beautiful. It’s great.

Until you see it in almost every photo.

Which happens, especially in the Instagram tag communities that ask people to post their favorite photos of the month and you get layouts like this:


Each image on their own is fine. Seen en masse and I feel overwhelmed by sameness despite the slight differences.

Moss. Minifigure. No moment. No story. You could swap the subjects around without losing a thing.

And dammit, the most polite I can be when confronted by tedium like this is silence, which can be frustrating when I think everyone can do better or at least push their art in different directions than this.

We all love a visual art, yeah?

Then next time, show me.