Back to the past

A steampunk experience

I heard the sounds of the steam train only once before in Wellington, hissing steam, the clickety clack of wheels on the track, and the loud, long whistle announcing its arrival.  Palmerston North’s steampunk weekend experience was a chance for me to see this train up close, a relic that used to journey from Manawatu to Wellington (and still does on some occasions). The steam train wasn’t the only attraction though.  Seeing people garbed in fancy steampunk fashion, I felt transported back in time to the pages of a science fiction novel set in the Victorian era.

However, my aim was to take photos and as soon as I arrived at the place I had to decide quickly what photographic theme I wanted to take on. The dilemma I first saw was that the lighting – an element most important in photography – was a mixture of incandescent, fluorescent, and natural. Also, the event was held inside a hall that had of course, modern elements (un-steampunkish!) that I couldn’t use as backdrop for my images. This means I had to get closer to people to focus on their faces, highlight tiny details of their costumes, and manoeuvre through crowds to aim my lens at my subjects, ensuring all the time that any unwanted background wasn’t in the picture.

Lastly, I was beginning to see things in black and white. Long ago when I still used film, I would have pulled out an Ilford HP5 plus 400 or a Kodak Tri-X 400 and process the black and white prints with silver sulphide to produce a sepia tone. This would have been apt for the subject and theme I had in mind. But the convenience of post-processing led me to use Aperture on my Mac to render these images in sepia.

Steampunk as they say, is a mix of past, future, science fiction, and retro-futuristic technologies. So I suppose the me in the science fiction Victorian era novel would have approved of what I’ve done.

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Sculpture by Kevan Barry Hill (1965–2016)

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