moments in miniature

such a sweet heist

Someone complimented one of my photos on IG saying that it seemed like all my photos told a story. I thanked her but really I was thinking “Of course! Why bother otherwise?”

I’ve written before about how, most of all, I want to capture a moment. If my camera can capture thousandths of a second, why am I setting up shoots like I’m going to be working in oil paints? It’s why I love shooting fire and dance and burlesque.

And you can do that with toys. Kind of. It’s tricky. Photoshop is helpful, or patience and a bit of wirework.

good hit

But lacking that, what am I doing with toys where moments as such don’t really exist? And, let’s face it, Lego is not known for its “lifelike” range of motions. Well, you stage them, obviously. But what better way to do that than to set up a story? It doesn’t have to be an epic generational tale, something simple. Whether it’s with established characters:

oh dear...

Or, y’know, just a common idea.

here comes the DRAGON!!!

Do I need to tell you precisely what’s happening here? Well it helps if you know Harley and the Joker, but apart from that, I think it’s pretty clear, yeah?

But this is why I got in to toy photography in the first place. I love the story telling. A single picture can hold what my most sappy writing could never convey. Or at least enough so that I don’t have to write descriptive text about how he walked in to a room that was so big and yea high and… nah. Here’s a picture. Hell, here’s a comic. Have fun.

That’s why Lego really opened things up for me. Two dinosaurs fighting are interesting but limited. But a Doctor Who fig and a Batman fig and… well how would that work? What about the Joker and Emperor Palpatine? I did that one, it was fun!

Remember, if you can’t make a moment, tell a story. You’d be amazed how easy it can be.

Mostly.

[to be continued]

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new tricks…

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Learning curves are fun. Mostly. And terrifying. Usually.

At the beginning of the summer I started selling some of my Lego photography as blank cards at a local(ish) bookstore and I’ve had a relatively strong response to them. If I’m not rolling in the cash, I’m making my costs and expanding the line a little each time.

A couple weeks ago, I opened up a shop on Etsy (which you can find at BlakeleyPhoto.Etsy.Com) and, again, not lighting up the skies yet but I’ve enjoyed sending out a couple cards to complete strangers. And this week, I’ve arranged to drop off some samples at another local bookstore with a price list and, well, you never know. And I’m certainly hoping. Who knew you could type with your fingers crossed?

Just a quick update. I’m still taking pictures and thinking about this weird stuff. Had the strangest experience of doing a headshot shoot for someone a couple weeks ago and another friend is picking up her first dSLR, so I’m going to be… teaching-ish? Teaching adjacent?

Stay tuned. I’ve got some brainstorms…

 

calm

profiles

I volunteered at PAX West again this year. I spent four days demoing games and helping sell things to a vibrant, shifting mob of cosplayers, game fans and nerds in all their lifestyle plumage and loved it, taking pictures as I could while on my break or as someone caught my eye in the crowd.

Needless to say this may be my favorite picture from the weekend. It stands out in its simplicity and quietude. This was taken in an adjacent location that was just a little quieter, just a little more reserved. As usual, I guess I was looking for the out of place.

Street photography for the win, even when its in a hotel.

And now that I’ve recovered from PAX and its attendant con crud, I’ll get back to this, shall I?

eclipsed

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I take a weird kind of pride thinking that while most people were looking up to the eclipse, I was looking at the ground.

Lacking the fancy glasses or a pinhole box/”camera”, there wasn’t much to see here in Seattle. Which is weird if you think about it. I mean we were at something like 92% totality and yet apart from an eerie diminishing of light, it was essentially a Monday. At least, if you didn’t look down. All those tree leaves served as pinholes, all those shadows dopplering at the edges.

I may have looked out of place but damn me if this wasn’t cool!

 

the catalog of jade…

And we’re back. After a month of frustrations, I’m back in a place to expound. So tonight, I’m going to start with a Doonesbury strip that I keep going back to whenever I feel especially jaded.

The set up is this: It’s 1978 and Boopsie visited Graceland a year after Elvis’s death. After the tour, after seeing the souvenir stands, she went to buy an arrangement of flowers for his grave.

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Boopsie is looking for meaning and depth and emotion and the story while the florist has heard this so often, so regularly, that it exists entirely on its own in a vacuum. It’s emotion, it’s deep, it’s feeling, it’s… an E-47, without the motor.

Somewhere, someone has come up with the idea for an image that is filled with subtext and meaning, emotional heft and philosophical considerations of the world and the role of women in the state of the planet with regards to…

Naked woman in a forest #5,105,147.

No, I get it. It’s supposed to be a metaphor wrapped in a simile with a soupçon of balderdash but all I’ve got is the image itself and it’s, well, naked woman. Forest. In the center of the frame.

And?

And it may be the first time you’ve had a chance to take that picture and make that tableau. Good on you. Sincerely, congratulations on pulling it all together. But look at the image again and consider if you’ve not at least seen it before?

I get frustrated with sameness in creativity, the lack of change or challenge in work. When my toy photographer friends on Instagram post their favorites of a month and three of them are essentially an action figure posed on moss without context. Or some of the photographers online who post nudes with waterfalls or bikini clad blondes with motorcycles with such regularity that I wonder how much of the thought process is simply autopilot.

They’re pretty. They’re essentially the same. Blonde this time, brunette the next time. A Lego stormtrooper this time and a Lego hiker next time.

E-47.

I wonder if we don’t get so wrapped up in the concept of the image that we forget what the image itself is going to be in the end. We love the idea and forget to check the composition or the framing or any of a thousand elements that could bring some freshness to the picture.

Trust me, I’ll be ranting about minifigure on moss real damn soon.

So maybe the next shoot, the next time you’re pulling everything together for an image as opposed to capturing some random tableau, think about how you can shake things up even a little bit. Higher angle? More light? Close-ups?

Anything but E-47!

burlesque: a personal history

The Atomic Bombshells - Jazz FuneralThe Atomic Bombshells @ The Triple Door

In writing here, I realize I’ve written around my burlesque experience more than I’ve written about it. Christ, if I’ve made a post without referring to it…

I spent six years shooting Seattle’s burlesque scene before burning out. I have a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for it anymore (much to the chagrin of some of my friends) but I can’t deny that it spoiled me in a lot of ways. More than that, it’s where I made my bones as a photographer. It’s how I learned, how I built my skills to capture movement and dance that still serve me to this day, not least of all in shooting fire.

So let’s talk about it.

I first learned about burlesque in the late ’90s when Dita von Teese was just starting to make waves and I was honestly captivated. It sounded titillating and captivating and classy as all hell. It also sounded like something that would never come to my college town. So file that away and move on.

Fast forward several years, I’m living in Seattle, playing in a samba batería when I meet a woman who says she dances burlesque and she’s doing a show that week. I’m the only one from the group who shows up and it was remarkable and mind blowing and I definitely felt out of place and impolite for the act of seeing someone… you know… in… *ahem* that is to say… she wasn’t… with the clothes? Eventually I got comfortable with it. Eventually I could enjoy the show for what it was, the nudity for what it was and cheer with the best of them.


Belle Cozette - Urban Fan DanceBelle Cozette @ The Pink Door

A year later, I’ve actually taken a class to perform burlesque and, in conversation with a local producer, I mention that I like taking pictures. When she asks if I’ve ever considered shooting burlesque shows, I think she’s kidding. And like that I’m the official photographer at the Pink Door for two and a half years. Everything followed from there.

I shot the first four years of the burlesque Nutcracker, went to Las Vegas to see Miss Exotic World, met up with performers from across the country and took probably hundreds of thousands of photos of it all. I was on stage, off stage, back stage, worked with burlesque related events like Dr. Sketchy’s and more.

And I was spoiled by it all. How could I not be?


The Heavenly Spies - Welcome to CampThe Heavenly Spies @ The Can Can

I loved the dramatic lighting (although those bastard orange spotlights could die the death). The performers were fantastic and gorgeous and the personalities they displayed were spellbinding. Never mind the energy and vitality to boot!

This is why I get frustrated by photos staged like water colors, lacking life or motion. Fine the composition is great and the exposure and blah blah blah. Why is she just standing there? Hell, why is she there?

For about three years, I was everywhere. Almost literally. I’d see more shows in a month than most fans would see in a year. And as the scene grew, I went to even more shows. Which is when the burn out really started to kick in.

Paula backstage
Paula the Swedish Housewife in the wings @ The Triple Door

I can’t say precisely when I started to burn out, but I think it related to the growth of the scene. We went from one or two weekly rooms with three (or so?) semi-regular troupes to more and more of both. What was once kind of rarified became commodified and with that, the standards changed as the audiences grew. For every show that pulled from the cream of the crop, there were two more

I started to feel like I was seeing more burlesquers and fewer performers. Most of the performers I’d seen had a background in dance or drama before they started bedazzling and stripping so the show had more to offer than just casual nudity. There were tap dancers and torch singers and vaudevillians and just plain weirdos on stage making it about the journey, not just the destination.

But with more eager graduates from the “academy” forming troupes and taking the stage, the bar for entry was lowered. All you needed to perform was be willing to take off your clothes. It felt like a ritual. Because the audience cheers when a stocking is removed Just So, more people would remove their stockings Just So. Tassel twirling went from a signature move for one or two performers to a common standard because it was expected. All you had to do was take off your clothes.

I knew it was over when I got sick of hearing emcees telling the audience: “You might even see some titty!!!!” And as the audience roared, I found myself thinking “Yeah but you probably won’t see much talent.”

Because I’d seen those tits already. Hell, I’d seen plenty of tits. And when that was boring, what were you left with? Everything else that was brought on stage. Terrified eyes, half-assed routines, cliched scenarios, the same moves, the same journey, the same destination.

And, yes, I know, nudity is great and sexy and all that. But without the context of intimacy or, at the very least, interactivity (*ahem*) it felt like gross anatomy.

So I left after a spot of personal drama. I left because I was tired of being told that this thing was sexy, told that the only polite response was a rousing cheer (because criticism wasn’t welcome in the community) and that the best thing about burlesque, when it wasn’t being vaunted as a historical art form of great esteem and culture, was that you got to see tits. The same tits. Artlessly. Again.

If I miss anything, I miss the personalities and the stage lights. I miss the big, bold moves and kinetic dance acts. I don’t miss the polite applause or the acts that endured due to inertia. I certainly don’t miss the ritual of it.

I actually went to a show about two or three years after I quit. A good friend was performing and I went to support her and, yep, ritual. Sexy because it was. Sexy because the ritual. Sexy because.

And that’s burlesque for me. It was real, it was fun, it was informative and it’s something I’m glad I don’t have to go back to any time soon.


Randi Rascal - GiftingRandi Rascal @ The Jewel Box

same as it ever was…

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Ever feel discouraged that you’re taking the same picture over and over again?

I try to take at least one picture a day.

It’s not a planned thing, no Instagram challenge where you’ll see me tagging images “x/365” or apologizing because yesterday was busy or whatever. I’m not trying to create Art or prove a Point about creativity, the pictures are candids as often as they’re Lego displays as often as they’re a moment that caught my eye. If anything, this has become a mental health check during the past two years of craziness. Taking a picture means I’m doing OK. Not taking a picture means either I was insanely busy (which happens) or I was so wrapped up in my head that Something is clearly Amiss.

But I’m starting to wonder.

The picture here is one I took today at a cafe I frequent. I’m pretty pleased with it, it’s got a nice feel and mood for me. But I took one very similar to it a couple days before because I was there having coffee, sitting at the same table and someone was sitting there and, lo.

Similar.

Not exactly the same. Different time, different person, they were sitting in a different stool. But they were hunched over their books and their computers and wrapped up in their work and I shot it in black and white and…

Similar.

I believe there’s value in taking the same picture over and over again. It’s how you learn what all the buttons and settings on your camera or flash do. It’s how you figure out that this is almost the right moment and this is the best moment. It’s how you can chart your life, selfie after selfie. It’s how you can record a neighborhood. Hell, I love the movie Smoke specifically for the scene with the photo albums, year after year of the “same” photo that changes over time. That’s absolutely beautiful.

Here:

Love that.

But seeing the similarity across the span of days bugs me because I get frustrated when just seeing the “same” photo again and again. The photographer who takes pictures of models and motorcycles almost all the time. The trend in boudoir that any woman in lingerie on a red satin cloth is sexy. It’s a naked woman in a forest. But this time, she’s blonde.

So it’s not good to bore yourself with your own work.

It’s time to train my eye away from this particular tendency. Refocus, in more ways than one. Either go to new places (which would probably be good too) or take in a different view, look for something different than profiles and people.

Is it weird to see this as a challenge? Is it weird to find it kind of exciting?