brolly blues

Wet? Darling, no!

A month or two ago a store in near Pike Place closed because it just wasn’t drawing enough business. This in itself isn’t all that surprising (times being what they are) but the nature of the business made the story go national.

Because the store that closed dealt in umbrellas.

And the websites that carried this news were aghast. It rains in Seattle, right? All the time, right? So clearly if ever there was a business that was destined to thrive in Seattle (where it rains) [all the time!!] {no really!!!}, surely it would be… dealing with umbrellas.

To quote that great philosopher of the 21st century: “the fuck???”

Well first and foremost is the issue that umbrellas in The Big City (or even the Big Quaint Fishing Village that is Seattle) don’t mix. You need to have some Matrix-esque kung fu to be able to bob, duck and weave your umbrella around everyone else’s umbrella at the best of times. Forget that when you’re dealing with a lunch rush or the crush to get out of town at the end of the day.

But more importantly you need to know that Seattle doesn’t have “rain”. It really doesn’t.

Oh sure, my weather app is predicting the rain will stop at 5ish this afternoon and the radar indicates precipitation…

… but that’s not rain. And you don’t really get that until you’ve lived here for a while and learn that while you may want to keep an umbrella with you, it’s usually overkill. Or worthless. Or both.

Seattle gets two kinds of precipitation:

  1. “Mist with a mission” – It’s sort of sprinkling, sort of not. It’s intermittent but steady enough to be annoying. And unless you’re walking a lot, it’s easier to deal with this with a hood or a hat and a good coat. Otherwise you’re running the risk of the strangest kind of RSI ever.
  2. “INCOMING!!!” – The rain is coming down in buckets and the wind off the Sound is so intense you’re spending more time trying to ensure that your umbrella doesn’t dramatically implode than trying to stay dry. The last time I had to buy an umbrella was during something like this. I popped off the tag, walked out the door of the shop and *FWOOMP*, it was an ex-umbrella. Thank god for receipts… and cashiers who saw the whole damn thing happen.

Oh yeah, I carry an umbrella. A small thing that fits in my bag that I use mostly for those bus stops that don’t have a shelter. The rest of the time, it’s better to just endure.

Welcome to Seattle. Save yourself the bother: wear a hat.

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recharge

OLFF3956

Oof.

This weekend went from quite a lot of work to a lot of work to “We’re Sorry, But The Human You Are Trying To Contact Is Unavailable” of work.

On Saturday, my friend Maddie and I went down to Tacoma to vend at a goth/dark themed arts & crafts fair. This was my first time taking my kink Lego cards out on the road and on its own that would have been enough. I’ve devoted no small amount of brain power on getting everything ready and pulling together the this and the that to make it happen. Tablecloth and signage and finding my old Square card reader and oh yeah the actual cards that I’ve been knocking out.

That on its own would have been enough and I’ll write about it later. But two days after I sent in the paperwork and the money to vend there, another friend who runs a massage therapy clinic wanted to hire me again to shoot at her new location, would I be free on March 31st? The day of vending? The day… oof. Fortunately we managed to schedule everything on April 1st.

And that would have been enough. Except on Tuesday of this week, Maddie asked if I’d be free for a last minute shoot at a haunted house she volunteered at last year. Seems they’d be tearing down a scene for the season and she wanted to pull something together quickly. And of course I said yes, because we do weird and wonderful things together.

But add it all up and… frankly I’m amazed I was able to walk upright today. Not so much from physical weariness as mental and emotional exhaustion. There were a lot of people and a lot of creative energy and a lot of expectations that, while really low key one at a time added up over the span of three days. Totally worth it.

Friday’s shoot was the right kind of dramatic insanity I’d been hoping for. Maddie wanted to shoot something in the haunt’s asylum so we had a crazy girl in a straitjacket and a creepy plague doctor with stark light to make it properly horrific. I only got enough time to tease a couple of images before I had to crash because the next day was getting up at the crack of dawn.

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So Tacoma! This was Maddie’s first time vending ever and while I’ve vended before, this was new. This was my Lego kink cards. This was something I haven’t really seen before and would anyone like it or would I be lucky if I made a sale or……

As it turned out, I did really well there and not just in sales. The response was very positive (not counting the usual assortment of people who nodded and smiled at my weird shit, of course) and the organizer said I had a lot of buzz going. And it was so much happening and so many conversations, all I’ve got are postcards and moments.

One woman walked by and stopped on seeing my booth. “Oh my god, it’s you! You’re the guy!!!” It turns out she bought a bunch of my cards when Doghouse Leather stocked them last month. Because she loves Lego, her partner is a full-on Lego Builder (currently working on a five year project of some Star Wars ship) and she thought the cards were fucking fantastic. I had a fan and I didn’t even know it. The only thing keeping her from buying more was that she couldn’t remember what she already had. But I got some great pointers for other places to vend, notes on what to pitch to Doghouse in future (I need to get started plotting Pride cards).

Actually there was a really fun overlap between kinky people and Lego fans. I think I may have found a market. And most of the kinky people seemed to share my reservations about kinky art, which was wonderful.

There was the undeniable pleasure of watching parents steer kids of a certain age away from my booth. There weren’t supposed to be children at all (no one under 12?) but there were vendor friends and friends of friends so a couple were around and oh, it was hilarious. “Look kids, Legooooooo… and over there, look it’s a clown!” I was dying of laughter.

I brought postcards of my Postcard design and made my costs back in one day, with a bunch of people wishing I had more designs in that form factor, so I’m pondering. I actually put out more of my Seattle cards and got a decent response from them. And the few Dia de los Muertos cards I had sold out before noon.

There was another vendor there who dug the hell out of what I was doing and gave me some direction in terms of touching base within the kink scene. I may have a couple of other leads through her for other projects as well. Meeting her alone was worthwhile. I’ll be dropping her a line tomorrow to see

To cap it all off, I’ve been invited to vend again at another event in July. I can even share space with Maddie to save costs, which sounds really bloody good. I mean, I was expecting to be stared at like a dog that’s been shown a card trick and instead I found people who dug me. Or knew people who would. Or took my card and…

It was wonderfully reassuring.

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Portrait of the artist as an exhausted vendor

And finally yesterday’s shoot consisted of headshots, some pics of the new space and not a lot more. Better, it was with people who I’d worked with before so it was actually really simple. And then an impromptu business seminar with my friend giving me some good pointers on how to build my business. While I still have to work on all those photos, it’s not like a mass of Spinurn shots. Or even a typical shoot with Maddie for that matter.

But that’s tomorrow. Tonight…

It’s been real and it’s been fun and I’m so glad it’s over. Not least of all because I haven’t had a lot of time or energy to focus on the next batch of schemes, y’know? So much has been building towards vending that I haven’t had time to shoot or plot or even plan new shoots. Just accumulate elements and tools for those shoots. Or plan to accumulate stuff.

Now I can do. And the ideas are there, waiting. I went to the Lego store today to get some more minifigs for the next wave of cards, both kink and regular. I have ideas of how to brand two different card lines, my photography business, a mailing list and maybe even more?

Is this what confidence feels like?

Watch this space. I see a mailing list in the works, at least.

process

It’s rare for me to have a paper trail for my work. Not that there aren’t variations or versions when I work with Lego (or occasionally a lot), but the differences are usually so minimal that they’re not worth commentary. This time the arm was like… this time the light was reflecting on the minifig head so I adjusted…

So when I find one, I tend to want to talk about it. Especially when the results are good. Like, I’m kind of impressed I managed it. This may not change the world, but it was a challenge when I needed one, so…

Of my more mundane cards, the most popular in the local shops are the ones of distinctive Seattle sites. While I’ve got one of the Hammering Man outside the Art Museum (not THAT Seattle) or the new ferris wheel (it’s neat but not distinctive), the cards that sell out are of the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. They may not be the most creative cards I’ve ever designed but I’ll follow the market.

But not another “minifig in front of stuff” image again. It may sell (mostly. Like I said, I’ve got two dead designs) but it’s boring and limiting and quickly becomes minifigure on moss. And since I’m not a big Builder, I didn’t see much hope in trying to build, say, the Space Needle for a card, so I needed a new angle.

Funnily enough, I built the Space Needle anyway.

Make something distinctively Seattle while steering clear of just one landmark? I thought of those old postcards. You know the type: vista, name in big letters, “GREETINGS FROM”…

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The idea came together from there. And I made it up. The easy part was picking a few locales to shoot potential pictures for the letters, even if I didn’t quite know how I was going to do that. The harder part was the vista.

Everyone knows the Seattle skyline. Even if you’ve never been to Seattle, you know it, thanks to Frasier. Everyone who comes to Seattle wants to go to Kerry Park to take The Picture of the skyline. I know this because I used to live a couple blocks away. Enough to have more fun taking photos of the tourists than the view itself. Not that I didn’t do that too.

Clear sky

Like I said, you’ve seen this.

So start there. Imagine the letters, what can be done with that?

I went a little… weird with it.

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Start with a sketch. Then run through Stud.io and come up with something that’s… close?

[I love that under the sketch I wrote “Can I manage this?”] [Yes I can read my own handwriting, thanks.]

8 Things Formatted Manuscript Print v1.pdf1.1 MB.webloc

Well it’s not going to win any prizes for scientific accuracy, but when you order the pieces from Bricklink and run over to the actual Kerry Park…

PVNV6255

Bingo. And like that, I never have to go to Kerry Park again (yeah right). Although being asked what the hell I was doing was kind of fun.

From there, a painfully rough draft done on my phone to make sure this could work. Roughly.

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This is where I started to believe this was doable. I wasn’t entirely sure how, mind you, since my Photoshop skills are very rough and learned piecemeal. And although I found a pretty good tutorial on a couple of tips and tricks involved, it was an admixture of Photoshop and Illustrator and would involve the library and….

PostcardPostcard

I managed to do it all in Photoshop anyway. And if it wasn’t exactly like the tutorial it was good enough that even my tendency to fret and quibble shut up long enough for me to be happy with the result. Really happy.

Happy enough that I took money from another recent wholesale order and ordered cards and postcards that arrived in the time I’ve been dithering about this entry.

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These are going down with me to Tacoma on Saturday. We’ll see how this crazy idea goes. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe not.

Either way I think the journey’s been worth it and I’m pleased that I challenged myself just a little bit.

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.

Perfect.

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!

 

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

rules for photography (or, a simple preposition)

The Party

I credit grammar with saving my bacon as a photographer. And if not my bacon, at least my energy and sanity at times. It’s a simple trick so I’m going to share it with you. When considering large social events (i.e. your local pride parade, folk festivals, etc etc), are you

A) Going to take pictures, or
B) Going in addition to taking pictures.

And that has made all the difference.

During my last year in burlesque, when the burn out was building, I found myself going to shows that I absolutely did not give a fuck about. Whether it was lackluster performers or… no, actually that was about it, really.  When the thrill of nudity is gone, you’re left with the talent brought to the stage and a lot of those burlesquers didn’t bring much more than enthusiasm and a willingness to get (mostly) naked on stage.

But I went! I made myself go because I felt I had a reputation or an obligation. Because I wanted the ego stroke of “Oh my god, thank you SOOOO much” and I didn’t want anyone else to get that rush I needed. Insecure much? Oh yeah.

When I was done and caught my breath again, I felt such a relief from that lack of responsibility that I started to apply it elsewhere in my photographic sphere. Did I want to go just to go and also have my camera? Or was I going specifically to have my camera with me? Was I going to Pride to celebrate and eat crappy festival food and party or to take pictures of the colorful people like I was on safari? Was Folklife for me or my camera?

Burning Man is the most extreme example of this for me. Every couple of years, someone I’ve met recently will pitch the idea of going to Burning Man as an amazing experience and, oh, “could you imagine the pictures you could take?!” And yeah, I can. I’ve seen a lot of them and at their best, they’re amazing and inspiring. But I don’t want to go to Burning Man, ever. The desert, absolutely, but the idea of camping out for a week with a crowd I’ve never wanted to be a part of? No thanks. I’d be on safari, play acting, never actually playing.

Life’s too short. Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely try new things and you should definitely push your comfort zone on a regular basis. But if you’re staring at your camera with a sense of dread because you’re going to the Albanian Headcheese Festival only because, hey, you might get a good picture? Give yourself a break, get a coffee and read a book. You’ve earned it.