My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Saturday, 23 July 2016

My Reaction and Analysis of Lisa Ladouceur's 40 Years of Goth Style Video

This is a response to ::this:: video by Liisa Ladouceur, author of 'Encylopedia Gothica' and 'How To Kill A Vampire'. It is entitled '40 Years of Goth Style (in under 4 minutes).

Originally I had a (not much) shorter version of this as a comment on YouTube, but it was still pretty long for a YouTube comment, and I don't anyone wants to read a miniature essay as a YouTube comment, so I am posting my full critique here.

Personally, I didn't really feel like the video fulfilled its own purpose. I think for the most-part it's a good show of different sub-styles, but it's not very chronological and doesn't really seem to show 40 years of Goth fashion. It's vaguely chronological about when the various sub-styles came in, or peaked in popularity, but that's about it. Part of the problem is that Goth fashion is not a linear procession, but a complex 'family tree' of interrelated and divergent styles, so it will not fit easily to the format, so I feel like the video is trying to force it into a sense of linearity, of one thing following on from the other, rather than concurrence, that was never going to work. I am certainly not first to notice this.

I understand the decision to include Punk as the progenitor of Goth, but I can't really comment on its accuracy because it's outside my knowledge base. I would like to have seen some sort of information on screen informing non-subcultural types about Goth and Punk being separate, but related.

The Batcave look is definitely more Batcave than general 1980's Goth - when I see picture of 1980's Goths outside the specifically London club scene, I see mostly thrifted or DIY outfits which definitely share aesthetic inspiration, but which aren't sourced the same way. That DIY creative spirit is something I hear 'Eldergoths' mention so much, and which is still an important part of the scene, and I would loved to have seen this video honour that personal creativity, that 'if you can't buy it, make it' ethos. Personally, while I understand why the PVC-and-bondage gear sort of Goth look would be chosen as both being a leading edge in fashion at the time, very reminiscent of what musicians of the period were wearing, and in being more easily replicable in the age of Goth-specific clothing retailers, it just does not seem really reflective of the period as a whole, more of those who had the money and the means to access things like PVC skirts and bondage harnesses, instead of wearing pet-shop dog collars and thrifted clothes dyed black. As far as the wigs go, I think the foofy back-combed effect wig doesn't look too bad, and I think the make-up is definitely good. I would love to have seen a few chunky bangles and thrifted silver necklaces on the model, too.

The Deathrock look was more a hybrid of Deathrock Revival and Nina Hagen's hair than Deathrock to me. The hair style is definitely Nina Hagen inspired, but doesn't quite seem right even for that. It's certainly not a style that comes to mind when I think of what was happening in the US at the time, and the braid wrapped around the cone seems more 'Madonna' than Nina Hagen. The make-up, however, looks about right to me. The clothes seem far too recent and made-for-Goth, which is what makes me think 'Deathrock Revival', although I'd say that usually involves far more layering than this style. I certainly wasn't around for the original Deathrock era or its parallel evolution before it began to cross over with Goth, and unlike with British Trad Goth, I don't have the option of asking to look through the archives of various 'Eldergoths' to have a view of photographs of the style, but from what I have managed to research online and in a few books, the fashion at the time seemed to owe more to punk, and the outfit shown in the video looks more like what I'd see in a UK Goth club 5-10 years ago. The inverse cross print skirt, especially, seems just too recent. I think the bat necklace is from the '90s, too. It is an Alchemy Gothic piece, and one of the most ubiquitous of their designs (I have one), but I think it's too late to be Deathrock, and perhaps would have been suitable for the next outfit instead.

The Romantic Goth look has the perfect sort of dress - initially I thought it was a skirt and top, but it's clearly a gown now I've seen it the second time. I know how coveted the corsets were in the '90s (and how expensive...), but I do wonder if the gown without it would have been enough? However I think it's still pretty representative with the corset, and would be either way. My main criticism is that Romantic Goth is pretty broad and long lived category, and this isn't communicated or displayed in the video. Romantic Goth certainly existed before that, although I think it probably was most popular in the '90s. I'd have loved to have seen an evolution of the Romantic Goth look from the Morticia Addams inspiration and medieval/fantasy-inspired to the elaborate baroque and Victorian stuff that is seen now at Whitby or WGT or Me'ra Luna. There's been a definite evolution and diversification of Romantic Goth, something I would partly attribute to the more and more professional seamstresses/tailors/people making the elaborate historical and fantasy inspired dresses/clothing, and the headdresses, accessories etc. I'd also love to have seen some of the directly New-Romantics inspired Romantic Goths. Romantic Goth has evolved as much as any other Goth style, perhaps as much as the every other Goth style combined. I do the whole goblet and vampire novel thing... I definitely do that!

There needed to be a late '90s Goth with the big Tripp trousers or those layered miniskirts, New Rock boots, lots of chains, mesh or striped gloves and a Marilyn Manson t-shirt! That was such a big shift in the subculture, the whole shock-rock and Gothic Metal addition, at least as big as the influence of industrial/EBM and cybergoth. It might not have been something that all Goths are proud about, because I know some of the teens, especially, at the time were seen as 'mall-Goth, as pretentious teenagers trying to shock their parents and society, divorced from the origins of the subculture, especially as Manson's music isn't Goth (I'd say that he's a Goth, but his music is shock-rock/metal), but they included other hybrids such as Cybergoth, Gothic Lolita and Steampunk, which arguably could be said to have just as little, if not less in common with the '80s origins, but a lot more of that style, in terms of fashion, has become more ubiquitous as to how the average Goth dresses now than any of the more niche hybrids.

The Cybergoth definitely looks like the sort I'd have seen at clubs in the middle '00s onwards. Good job on that one, but no explanation on how it evolved from a mixture of the industrial/EBM scene, Goth and rave - it is its own branch, not just a time-specific look. The wig/falls look a little on the cheap side, however, and I don't quite get the dots above the eyebrows; I would think gluing down and obscuring her real eyebrows and putting dots over them would have been more accurate. Combining two accent colours is definitely not unheard of, but my personal preference would have been for more black and to pick either green or pink as an accent colour, but that is probably more my personal tastes than historical accuracy. Years before I ran this blog, I had a Cybergoth phase, but I found it very expensive, and also too futuristic for my tastes - it was fun for the odd club night, and I got into some of the music but it's not something I could wear regularly or the branch that was really for me. My partner Raven on the other hand...

The Steampunk look is pretty good, but it's own subculture, and although there's a lot of Goths who also like steampunk, there's a lot of people in Steampunk who have nothing to do with Goth - especially people who've come to it through geek/sci-fi/LARP culture rather than spooky Victoriana. Personally, I think it is too distantly related to Goth to be in the video. It's a bit like Emo, or certain genres of Metal; definitely plenty of people interested in both Goth and that subculture, but still a separate subculture.

The 'pin-up' is a Gothabilly/Psychobilly. Looks correct to me, but again, it isn't a branch that I am familiar with to be certain. Not entirely sure if that's considered Goth, however. The whole vintage thing is something I am not very knowledgeable about, as I'm not generally particularly interested in it, so whether it's Goth or not is something I can really say.

Lolita is a separate subculture - Gothic Lolita is where Goth and Lolita overlap, but the other styles of Lolita are quite different from Goth; Sweet Lolita for example, is probably the most popular Lolita style and is pretty much the polar opposite of Goth. A lot of Goths did get into Gothic Lolita, and there's a lot of influence in both directions, so I feel it does have a place in this video, just perhaps with more explanation. What really irritated me, however is that the version shown has utterly wrong make-up; even Mana didn't do anything like that. The eye-makeup should be more subtle and smokey, and definitely NO KISSY DOLL LIPS. I get what they were going for with the wig, and it's the right style, but either the lighting is too harsh and making it look awful, or it's a cheap wig. The bow on the head is the right idea, but the wrong design. The co-ord (Lolita term for outfit) is approximately there; if it was posted to Closet of Frills it would get constructive criticism. It certainly looks like it was done by someone only relatively new to the aesthetic rather than a Lolita; the dress and shoes were right, but the socks would have done better with ruffles at the top, and the gloves swapped with lace wrist-cuffs, and the red contrasting petticoat is not something often done in Lolita; petticoats are usually discrete, hidden under the skirt and only there to give shape. 

Pastel Goth looked right (I'd have added a pastel strapped spiked necklace, but that's nit-picking), I am a little surprised at there not being anything galaxy print involved. Personally I would have swapped the leggings for either galaxy print or those ones with the cats or bats at the bottom. The glittery hair-clips were perfect.

As to the Nu-Goth look, it seemed more like it was 'Strega' or whatever they're currently calling 'witchy' fashion on Tumblr - Nu-Goth would have plain black leggings or perhaps the kind that look like they're wrapped up your legs, but the boots with spikes on the heels look right, and the top's about right with the hood, but the big 'Lydia from Beetlejuice' hat might have been more appropriate. Those big felt hats were SO popular last year; even I got one! Nu-Goth is more minimalist than that. Also one of those chokers with the heart at the front or an o-ring connector would have looked good. Also, a lot of actual witches, myself included aren't very happy with the 'witch' concept being used as fashion statement when that uses our religious symbols inappropriately and with 'edginess' as a primary concern. Prancing around with the black salt circle and red candle really grated on me as an actual witch.

Something that It's Black Friday mentioned in her reaction video (::here::) is that there's quite a few styles that were left out - I would definitely say that 'CorpGoth' was one of them, and that the hippie/Goth hybrid also.

I think perhaps the styling errors were more about what was available at the making of the video than Liisa not knowing how to do it; perhaps this is another fault of following the format set by Buzzfeed. Liisa's a very knowledgeable person, and I really enjoyed 'Encyopedia Gothica'. Personally, I think it would have been better to find people who were willing to model for the video who wear each of the styles regularly rather than make-over one model, or at least find people from each sub-style to style her. The wigs didn't look right at several points. The V-fringe on the Romantic Goth one, for example, looked frizzy at the edges rather than crisp, and the Lolita wig looked VERY Hallow'en and not suitable for the fashion at all. However, I also know that good quality wigs are expensive.

I understood what was meant to be conveyed, but I just don't feel like the video fulfilled its brief, and that in places there were errors in the styling. The Romantic Goth, Pastel Goth and Steampunk styles were pretty accurate, and the 'Nu Goth' and 'Pin-Up' styles were very good representation of 'Strega' and 'Gothabilly/Psychobilly' even if misnamed, but I think it did also have its flaws.

The usual response to these sort of critiques is that I should do it myself if I think it's so wrong - firstly, I don't think it's awful by any means, and secondly, I am planning to do my own 40 years of Goth fashion, but to avoid the practical issues that come with trying to style a model, I will instead illustrate each style, and probably produce eventually a blog entry, and perhaps an infographic. I know the sub-styles have already been explored in illustration by Black Waterfall as the 'Goth (stereo)Types' ::here:: but I plan on both a more realistic and detailed illustration style, and adding more information both on history and on the fashion.

Obviously, to do the best possible version of this is, I am going to be doing a lot of research. I've been talking to a lot of Goths who have been around in the subculture longer than I have, looking through archives of photos from the scene (I recommend 'Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace' by Andi Harriman, and the associated Tumblr ::NOWTHISISGOTHIC:: as a starting point).

I'd love to hear other people's responses to the video, and if Liisa Ladoceur's reading this, feel free to rebuff my critique! I'd love to discuss the history of Goth fashion in the comments, and I especially want to hear from '80s and '90s Goths who were actually there. If you think I'm wrong, feel free to correct me, too. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

My 10 Favourite (Fiction) Books & Series Of Books

This is in no particular order. I was asked what my favourite book was, but have the problem that I have too many books I really like to pick one clear favourite, and how much I like a specific book really depends on what mood I'm in.

1) The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake (1950)
This set of books is a sprawling epic, and like many Gothic novels, the setting is key to the novel. The sprawling Castle Gormenghast and the surrounding ramshackle town and Twisted Woods are certainly one of my favourite creepy settings in literature, and how Mervyn Peake describes all of it is delicious descriptive prose. The story is part coming-of-age, part Gothic horror and part satire and social commentary on the society of the time. It follows the life of Titus Groan, son of Sepulchrave Seventy-sixth Lord of Groan, and the intrigues of his weird noble family and their scheming servants, who live lives of ancient rituals whose meanings have long since been obfuscated by time. It is spread across 3 long books, but I think they are well worth it. The first two books are set at Gormenghast, and the third is set in a weird science-fiction city that will appeal to fans of older science fiction and Steampunk

The BBC made an adaption of the first two novels, involving Christopher Lee as Flay. It's very good for a series produced in the year 2000, but it is definitely a product of its time as far as things like effects go, but I think this lends it a theatricality that is quite appealing in its own way. It also inspired the Cure songs 'The Drowning Man' and 'All Cats Are Grey' on the album Faith - which I think was definitely a return to the Gothic for them.

2) The Lord of The Rings Trilogy (and the extended tales of Middle Earth) by J.R.R. Tolkien
Popularised again recently by the two film trilogies by Peter Jackson, with a vast fandom, both of those who fell in love with the books long before the films, and those who were first introduced to the stories by the two film trilogies, Tolkien's works make him, alongside fellow 'Inkling' C.S. Lewis one of the fathers of modern High Fantasy. It's elves, orcs, wizards, ancient evils and men in armour, shield-maidens and folk that can turn into bears, an epic tale of good and evil, with a dragon, some things that aren't quite dragons but are big mean flying beasties, and creepy undead Ringwraiths. It's got plenty of content that will appeal to the Gothic heart (Shelob's lair, and Shelob herself, the vast arachnid horror that she is, the Barrow Wights, Sauron himself, the aforementioned Ringwraiths, and there are werewolves and vampires in the tales of the 'earlier' history of Middle Earth).

Personally, I think for Tolkien to be fully enjoyed, one needs to read The Children of Hurin, the Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, etc. as well 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings', as it is so much more beautiful as the long and sprawling sagas of a rich and detailed world; a level of history and world-building that makes it seem like it could almost have been real. I went as far as trying to 'learn' - or at least piece together as much as can be learned, because Tolkien never really completed the endless task of compiling his languages, and all the lexicons are partial and the grammar left in a state of construction - various forms of Elvish, but I am a very, very nerdy nerd.

3) Interview With A Vampire by Anne Rice (1976)
Oh, the modern Gothic vampire tale... Of all the 'Vampire Chronicles' is the first and in my opinion the original was the best. It is sprawling in how it goes through time and it is glorious in its purple prose. Louis and Lestat are decadent, and a fascinating pair of vampires, strange opposites - Lestat's definitely the more predatory and classically vampiric, and Louis was angst ridden, but not to the point of being whiney - at least not in this volume, where he recounts his long and tragic life to a reporter. It was adapted into a film in 1994 (has it really been that long?)

I did enjoy most of the series, but I feel some were certainly stronger than others - 'The Vampire Armand' and 'Memnoch the Devil' being my least favourite. When Anne Rive went through a period of writing things with an overly religious tone it came over as a bit like she was bludgeoning the reader with her personal faith, rather than writing a narrative set very deeply into a Christian cosmology and Heaven/Hell dichotomy. I enjoy plenty of fiction set in a universe where Heaven and Hell are locked in a millennial conflict, just not when the author seems to be preaching without subtlety. There are other issues I have with some of the series, especially 'The Vampire Armand' and Marius' pederasty seeming almost glorified, but for the most part, I love the detail with which she paints the very sensuous Gothic world her characters inhabit, and the scale and historical scope. It reads more like the saga of a long-lived family than  a series with a linear plot, but sometimes it is important to have read the key novels in the series for others to make sense

4) Oryx And Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003) 
A dystopian tale of genetic engineering, love and the human condition this book is Margaret Atwood being the literary genius she can be. Nearly everyone knows of 'The Handmaid's Tale' and it is taught in schools (in fact, how I first encountered Margaret Atwood's work) as an icon of social commentary in dystopian science-fiction (or 'speculative fiction' as she prefers to call it), and one with a decidedly feminist angle, and a good few people know 'The Blind Assassin', but Atwood's more recent dystopian science-fiction seems less well known (or at least in the circles I travel, few have read it or even heard of it), and I do wish to mention it for that reason, but also because it is hauntingly dark. I will mention that it deals with sexual abuse from the perpetrator's perspective (which is all the more chilling, I feel) and has a lot of content some people might find disturbing, but I suspect most of my readers err on the darker side of fiction, and this will not be much of a bother. There are two sequels, 'The Year of the Flood' and 'MaddAddam', making this the first of a trilogy, but it also stands alone as its own novel (as I think it was first envisaged) and which I enjoyed far more, if 'enjoyed' is the right word - it left me haunted for a good few weeks after. 

6) Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Murakami Haruki (1985)
Murakami Haruki is more famous for 'Norwegian Wood', which is a classic, but is certainly not the sort of genre I really enjoy reading. This book is something deliberately confusing and twisting on itself - it is a book for fans of films like 'Vanilla Sky', 'Inception' and the like, and is about the conscious and subconscious, and in two parallel narratives (some editions involve you having to turn the book upside down and read the other version in the same book but running 'backwards' while seeming forwards), and is a mixture of cyber-punk and surreal fairy-tale, and both dark and fascinating, and also in turn beautiful and unnerving. 

7) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
I had to include at least one Gothic horror from the genre's hey-day. I doubt that the novel requires much introduction to the readers of this blog, what with it having become ingrained in popular culture through various film adaptations. It is the tale of the mad-scientist who builds a person by re-animating the re-assembled parts of several corpses, and the results and ramifications of this act. Mary Shelley wrote the novel when she was only 18, and it was a work of inspired genius. 

8) The Ocean At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (2013)
It's not my favourite Neil Gaiman book (that is probably 'The Graveyard Book, which is technically an older children's book, but which I love dearly. Part of me wishes I had grown up in a graveyard with ghosts and a caring vampire, but most of me realises how terribly impractical that would be!), but I am going to put this on the list because I will do a list of children's books separately, and because it is a bloody good book. It deals with a boy who lives near two women and a girl who are pretty much the Maiden, Mother and Crone, and his adventures with the young girl after evil spirits find a gateway into the world. The story is told from the perspective of the boy as a grown man, as if it's a faded memory, one that seems true to him yet impossible. The whole thing has quite a few Neo-Pagan undercurrents about the Maiden, Mother and Crone, life and re-birth, and the spirit world - but they are handled subtly, more there for those who recognise them rather than announced in the text. 

It won Book of the Year in the British National Book awards in 2013, and was the third time Neil Gaiman won a Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2014,  and thoroughly deserves both. I went to see Neil Gaiman talk about it and read some, which can be read about ::here::

I would actually recommend all of his books. 'American Gods' is amazing, 'Neverwhere' is a weird and really rather Gothic tale of 'London Below' and I loved the collaboration with Terry Pratchett 'Good Omens' and all of the Sandman Comics, and Coraline... Oh, just everything he has ever done, really!

9) Mort by Terry Pratchett (1987) 
Terry Pratchett is another author where I love pretty much everything he has written, especially the Discworld series. Out of the Discworld series, I actually like some of the earlier books better. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of time for some of the newer books, but there was more word-play (and silly foot-notes) in the earlier books, and while the later books were longer and more immersive, the shorter books were often quite densely packed with brilliance. Mort is about a young man who ends up being apprentice to Death (the grim reaper) and is set in the Discworld. It's also not one of the meatier books, and I think is the sort of Discworld book you can read again and again and pick up funny little details you missed the first time around, rather than the sort for getting lost in a long and glorious story. For a book about death-themed stuff, Mort is riotously funny - it is a book where I cackle when reading it. 

It is the first introduction of Death as a lead character in the Discworld universe, but he's a memorable and returning character (as is his amazing grand-daughter.) and he is one of my favourite characters, alongside Granny Weatherwax and the other witches. Other books featuring Death as a main character include the more philosophical 'Reaper Man' about death, industrialisation and progress as much as character interaction, and 'Soul Music' which is not just about motorcycles and the magic of rock music in the middle of a surreal fantasy world, but is certainly also about that too.

10) The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (1980)
This is mostly a detective story, but it is an unusual one. For a start, it is set in a medieval monastery, but this is not a Brother Cadfael mystery. In many ways, this novel works a bit like the sort of Gothic horror where all the supernatural horrors turn out to have a rational explanation, and the isolated mountain-top monastery certainly gives it a claustrophobic and labyrinthine setting - with the library's arrangement of rooms being a deliberate puzzle/maze and the architecture itself quite a feature of the novel (the prominence of atmospheric setting of this nature is a classic feature of Gothic horror), and the deaths in their strange and gruesome manner again give the novel a macabre twist that makes the whole situation seem like it borders on the demonic, as does the story being told from the perspective of a very religious Medieval novice monk. It's quite a deliberately intellectual novel, and it is one of those books where erudite readers will probably catch who the murderer is pretty quickly from clues within the story, something I can find a little pretentious at times, but it is still a very enjoyable book, and certainly one for those who enjoy Gothic novels but not necessarily supernatural tales.

For those who are interested in the architecture in the novel, it was inspired by ::this:: real life remote monastery in Italy.


An honourable mention goes to Dracula by Bram Stoker, which I love for its place in history, but never really enjoyed as a book. I think the way it hops between perspectives due to its epistolary format meant that I couldn't really get into a 'flow' with it. I have re-read it several times to make myself understand it better, and now that it is familiar territory, it has been much easier for me to immerse myself in it and the characters presented. I love many of the Dracula film adaptations, and much else that has been inspired by the novel, but the novel itself is something I had to grow to love, rather than something I loved with from the moment of turning the pages. I collect editions of 'Dracula' with interesting covers. This is theoretically quite pointless, as they're all the same story, but aesthetically it all makes me very happy.

Another honourable mention goes to Michael Moorcock's Elric novels - the sadistic, terrifying and yet beautiful Melnibonéans, something akin to elves with the personalities of vampires, are creatures that I thought very fascinating for the same reasons I love reading about vampires. I wasn't so keen on Eternal Champion books set in other periods and worlds, but the almost dream-like surreal high fantasy worlds of Elric really captured my imagination. Elric's cursed sword Stormbringer that drinks the souls of those he slays, the immortal knight who longs for death, the ancient, beautiful and decadent city falling into ruins, all common tropes in modern Gothic fantasy (and all with much older literary histories - Stormbringer brings to mind both Kullervo's sword and the myths about swords with evil spirits from Japan), but when the Elric books came out these were much fresher, and when I read them they were new to me, plus Moorcock's style made me feel like I was travelling with the doomed Lord himself. Elric is somewhere between a Byronic anti-hero - full of angst, introspection and both tragic and heroic.

There's a few books I enjoy reading that didn't make it to this list - Jim Butcher's 'Dresden Files' series, 'The Brutal Art' (a tragic tale of murder, ableism, and abuse - half detective novel, and half family saga) and Robin Hobb's 'Farseer' novels, and of course J.R.R. Martin's 'Game of Thrones' saga... I hear he also wrote a vampire novel, so I'll have to track THAT down. I like high fantasy nearly as much as I like vampire novels and dystopias.

My guilty pleasure is reading spy/assassin/international intrigue thrillers; the stuff action movies are made of. Some of them are actually good books, many others I just read to pass the time and while exciting, are quite terribly written, and I don't care! It is like eating chocolate - sometimes it is luxurious and delicious, perhaps a twist in a familiar recipe, perhaps a decadent desert... but sometimes it's a cheap chocolate bar from the corner shop, an unhealthy indulgence that is enjoyable nonetheless! 

I would love to hear what my readers' favourite books are, and if any bloggers want to do their own version of this, consider it the '10 Favourite Books' tag, and go right on ahead! I would also love to receive suggestions for books I might enjoy, as perhaps those mentioned above give some sort of idea what things I enjoy. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

Metal Meets Goth Near Loch An Eilein

As I mentioned last year, I am slowly embarking on a project of photographing members of the local Goth community. This set is one of two I took of my friend Joel at a ruined building on the shores of Loch an Eilein, at Rothiemurchus in Speyside. This is the first of three sets of photos that will have come from that day out - these are the ones I took on my little point-and-click camera as tests of different poses, etc. I also brought the Canon camera and took proper photographs on a proper camera, but I mislaid my memory card with those on. I also took photos of Loch an Eilein's ruined castle in the middle of it. I would love to visit that castle by boat... something I may have to try and arrange in the future with the castle's owner.

Joel is both a Goth and a Metalhead, and his outfit for the photoshoot was meant to reflect that, and I had a lot of fun doing his make-up; I don't often get to do make-up on men or in different styles. 

Photograph by HouseCat
I'm not quite sure what I was aiming for, specifically with the make-up; I went with something akin to the effect of wearing a half-mask with the shading drawn on, but it wasn't refined enough to exactly create this effect, plus the make-up over the eyes and bridge of the nose doesn't fit in with that theme. I guess in the end it was abstract geometry and shading. Either way, Joel seemed to like it, and I was quite happy with how it turned out. Crisp lines were achieved with using tape to mask. Using bandage/dressing tape seems to work best for this sort of thing. 

Photograph by HouseCat
I really like all of the textures in Joel's outfit. The complex strapped arm-piece is one really cool accessory, and I'm a little jealous of Joel because it looks pretty darn cool. I actually lent Joel a few of my spikes, even though he has heaps of his own, to balance it out with an eclectic selection of spikes on the other arm. I also lent him one of my spiked chokers, to layer with his own. I don't wear spikes half as much as I used to; I guess my fashion these days leans too much to the anachronistic to embrace the punkier aspects I used to love. Perhaps some of my spikier Goth friends will end up being a better home for bits of my collection. 

Photograph by HouseCat
Taking these photographs was a scramble through rough ground. I was wearing trousers, army boots and a rain-coat, and the weather wasn't warm. I'm surprised Joel wasn't complaining about it being chilly in that mesh shirt! The building (I am not sure if it was a boat-house or fishing lodge for the loch or what) is partly mounded around by rubble and earth, and I did climb up the mound for photographs, but they will probably be in the other set when I find the memory card for the better camera. 

Photograph by HouseCat
I think my photography skills have improved since ::this:: photoshoot I took of Ducky and Catastrophe Plague at Beauly priory (not that I'm not still pretty chuffed with the photos I took then). I am going to continue with my Gothic photography project, documenting visually the variety of Goths in the Highland scene. In the not-to-distant future there will be the second set of photographs of Joel taken with 'the good camera' and also the photographs of the island castle of the 'Wolf of Badenoch'. [Who needs Game of Thrones if you live in Scotland? We've even got a Wester Ross...]

Raven took this photo of me taking a photo.
I've been taking photographs of other things too - there's more graveyards, old churches and creepy things coming up, as per usual. I'm on summer break now, and trying to make up for how little I was posting while studying. University is more work than a full-time job; I've never been so busy in my life, not even when I was studying before. I'm also working on decorating the house and sorting the garden this summer, so I won't be posting every day, but updates will now be far more regular. 

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Photographic Collaboration With Raven: Haverfordwest Castle

In April, Raven and I went to Wales. It was more a family visit than a holiday, and I was mostly doing work (coursework, too) but we also went on a day-trip to Haverfordwest (yes, that name is all one word). We went by train and were supposed to meet up with one of Raven's friends, but they ended up having to cancel, so we got the afternoon to wander around the town.

Train selfie with Raven.  Photo and editing by me.
Raven is reluctant selfie person!
Haverfordwest has a very prominent castle. It was pretty much the first thing I saw walking from the station, and I am, as you probably all know, quite obsessed with castles, so I really wanted to visit the castle. The weather was coming in, however, so we couldn't stay too long. 

Church with storm clouds. Photo by me, editing by Raven.
On the way up to the castle, I spotted the storm clouds above this church, and borrowed Raven's mobile to take a photograph. The photograph is my work, the editing is all Raven's work. He really brought out the impending doom in those clouds - shortly after this there was a terrible downpour. We were at the castle at the time and got thoroughly soaked!

Clouds and windows. Photograph by me, editing by Raven and I.
Another photograph of the castle ruins. This is one by me, with editing by Raven and I. Raven did the contrast and colour adjustments on the architecture, and I did the editing on the sky. I would imagine that the castle was once quite impressive, with grand Gothic windows, and quite a large building indeed. I had fun editing the sky on this one - it is deliberately a bit fantastical, although those are real clouds. 

Clouds above the ruins. Photo probably by Raven, editing by Raven.
This another atmospheric photograph of the castle. Neither Raven nor I can remember which of us took this photo, as we both tried to photograph this view. The flag flickering was the Welsh flag. Personally, I believe it was Raven who took this photograph. Raven certainly did all of the editing on this one. 

Raven in an alcove. Photograph by me, editing by Raven.
This is the portrait I took of Raven in another one of the alcoves. The original composition I tried was with him at the end of a row of several alcoves, but he was too tiny on the camera phone photographs. It took several attempts to get him in focus, too, as it is hard to use a touch screen when it is raining! Raven's always dressed in black, but he's a lot less elaborate than me in his tastes. Raven thinks this looks like what an album cover photo would look like if he  ever released one. 

Me in an alcove. Photo by Raven, editing by Raven and tweaked by me.
This is the photograph Raven took of me hiding from the weather in an alcove. Most of the editing is Raven's, but I tweaked the contrasts on my outfit a bit. I didn't have space in my luggage to bring chunky Lolita shoes, so I am wearing Gothic pikes with a Gothic Lolita outfit here! Walking around a castle in pointy shoes with stiletto heels was not comfortable, and not easy for someone with a co-ordination issue! I wish I had brought some flat Lolita shoes with me. 

Stairs. Photograph and editing both by Raven.
This last photograph is all Raven's work. I didn't go down the stairs because it had a used condom at the top, and all sorts of litter down at the bottom. I don't think Raven went to the bottom of the stairs either. As beautiful as the ruins are, it is clear they are not well looked after - so much litter, some if it quite grim, such as several used condoms, broken glass and plenty of cans and suchlike indicating people had been drinking heavily up there. There was also dog mess. It is a shame because it is an amazing ruin, a jewel crowning the town. Visiting it in such dramatic weather should have been sublime (in the more archaic version of the term), but it was marred by having to constantly watch my step, and not just because of wearing heels. There is a museum on site, and I am surprised there are no wardens or stewards to prevent people from abusing the ruins. 

Altogether, it was still a pleasant visit, even if the rain soaked us (we scurried away to a gallery and cafe to dry out and warm up) and the ruins were besmirched by those who don't respect them. The skies were beautiful and dramatic, and the castle itself is a stunning ruin. 

Monday, 30 May 2016

World Goth Day 2016: First Annual World Goth Day Picnic!

This year Inverness had its first annual World Goth Day Picnic, and I organised it! 

The assembled World Goth Day picnic contingent!
I'm hiding at the back under my hat and parasol, trying to pretend I'm short.
Photo credits are to Suzy_Bugs, who isn't shown in the photo as she's taking it!

It wasn't a big public event, I just invited every Goth I personally knew in the Inverness area to come have a picnic with me - especially as the date was after the end of my last exams and after my birthday (which was in the middle of exams!) so there were plenty of excuses to celebrate. 26 out of just about 60 people invited turned up, which considering most of those who didn't come were not doing so because of either work of family commitments, is pretty good. I didn't want to organise an official public event because that is a lot of work for something where I didn't know whether people would even want to come or not. 

I was actually surprised that 26 people turned up; I was expecting about half that. I have organised Goth events before, and in the past no more than a dozen people have turned up because it is a very small community in the Highlands, and most of the Highland Goths have at least 1 job, plus are quite spread out over a broad geographic area. 

One of my friends drove me over to the city. I have moved house, and I can't drive due to neurological issues, and it wasn't practical to take all the picnic stuff on public transport, as I had all the cups, napkins, paper plates, etc. and quite a few big bottles of soft drinks that were rather heavy. She also brought her adult-size hoops with her, and I brought my ribbons. I used to do rhythmic gymnastics as a kid, but quit due to then-undiagnosed dyspraxia making me pretty useless at it, and she does hooping, and as it was a park we were heading to we thought we'd trade skills and let some of the others have a play. We had a lot of fun, and it must have been quite surreal for the non-Goth people in the park to see Goths hooping and ribbon dancing with brightly coloured hoops and ribbons.

The picnic was held at the Bellfield Park. Initially, we were going to have the picnic at Ness Islands, but I found out less than a week before the picnic that the Inverness Race for Life 10k run was scheduled to be routed through there at the same time as our picnic (this is what happens when I am busy with university and out of touch with what is going in Inverness!), so I picked the park as a back-up location as it has picnic tables and a sheltered area. 

I ended up half an hour late to my own picnic because of a few last minute delays and traffic and suchlike, and when we got there, there were a handful of Goths, and I thought that the picnic would only be 10 people at most. As the afternoon progressed, it turned out to be 26 in total. 

We sat, chatted, ate picnic food - I baked shortbread 'bone' biscuits, and specially decorate black and purple fairy-cakes, and other people brought their own home-made food - all very delicious - and some packets of crisps, sweets, etc. If I organise a bigger, better picnic, I will definitely bake more and bring more savoury food. I wish I had photographs of all the food - the bat cupcakes, my Goth-decorated fairy-cakes (some had ankhs on them, others were black with edible silver pearls making a studded effect!) and the bone biscuits especially. 

The best thing about the picnic was it being an opportunity for Goths of all ages from the area - from 15 year old younglings to elder-Goths who remember the scene in the '80s - to enjoy being Goth, make new friends, take pride in being ourselves, and generally have fun and socialise. I had so many positive and thankful messages after the event; there has to be another picnic next year, and I will have to organise an official venue. I am not sure how to go about running a proper public event - there's things like insurance, permission from the council, making posters, etc. - but I will look into these things and hopefully next year there will be a proper public World Goth Day event, rather than a personal picnic that got rather larger than anticipated! 

Before the picnic, I had made a FaceBook group for the event, and made sure that there were basic rules on behaving in the park - no scaring the children or going to the play-park area, no dropping litter, no alcohol, and no getting in the way of other people's enjoyment of the park. Everyone kept to those rules pretty well, except for a bit of litter, and I made sure to pack everything away and throw all litter I could find in the bins there and not leave a mess for the park warden/person working at the refreshment stand. Despite the numbers, we only really used 3 of the available benches, and kept to our own little group. It didn't seem like we were interfering with the use of the nearby tennis courts or causing any sort of bother. The weather included two thunderstorms, so the park wasn't very busy that day anyway. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Why I Still Dress Goth Despite Harassment

As I have chronicled here before, I, like many Goths get street harassment for my being visibly Goth. This ranges from the mild and annoying (I made a rare foray into the mall today to get a 'new baby' gift for a relative, and in the mall some teenagers decided to make "wooo-oooo" noises at me while waving their hands 'mystically' and then shouting "YER A WIZARD 'ARRY!" at me.) to the terrifying (a gang of thugs threatening to kick my head in and then chasing me down a street), and I've had several close friends violently attacked for being Goth. In the light of the news recently about a young man having his jaw shattered by a gang of thugs in Huthwaite (that is now being treated as an anti-Goth hate crime) as can be read about in this article in the Gainsborough Standard ::here::, several people have asked me this - why do I still dress Goth despite the negative attention I get for it, and despite my dislike of being the centre of attention. You called me 'brave' for doing so, but I don't feel brave; I do what I do because I perceive the alternative as worse, so that to me is not really bravery. It is a trade-off; I deal with the negativity and the attention I unfortunately get because it is less bad than the alternative, and there are far more benefits this way. 

First of all, I think they look beautiful, and that mainstream clothes (and some variations of Goth clothes) are too plain for my tastes. I like details, textures, patterns - hence all the damask pattern jacquards and intricate lace, all the layers of ruffles and frills. Perhaps if I was living 200 or so years ago and had either the skills or the money to wear the more elaborate outfits, I would have worn the mainstream or fashionable clothes of the period, but most mainstream clothes are a lot less fancy - I do sometimes find things I like in mainstream shops (recently, devore velvet tasseled shawls seemed to be a 'thing' so I bought several in the sales at mainstream shops like Blue Inc. and H&M), but for the most part, they're either too plain, or just not my style (or have details, but in poor quality; I saw so many things about 2 years ago that involved black lace that I would have bought if the lace had not been cheap and scratchy). 

Secondly my clothes are sort of a worn extension of my comfort zone; I wear the clothes I do because they make me feel comfortable, make me feel like myself. They remind me of who I really am in the face of everything that has tried to quash that over the years, and also of all the things I love. I dress very much as a stylistic manifestation of my interests and passions, and having those positive reminders worn feels almost talismanic; I do wear a few literal protection charms, but there's something reassuring about wearing my Goth clothes, to have that reminder of all the things that make me happy with me at all times. 

Thirdly, and I feel weird writing this out, as it seems slightly pretentious, but I hope that by being visible, I will give some of the younger and more Goths a little more courage. I'm not the only Goth that walks around where I live, and I'm not the only one that dresses very visibly Gothic - I'm probably the most elaborately Romantic variation of Goth, but I'm not the only one to go out very distinctly Goth and very fully dressed non-mainstream, there are several Goths who do that in my area. I hope that every visible Goth, out in public and proud to be themselves, is an encouragement to other Goths. Also, hopefully by both being Goth and trying to always be polite and friendly to the outside world, I serve as an example of a Goth that isn't all the negative stereotypes. 

Fourthly, there's that dressing Goth immediately filters the people who aren't comfortable with talking to Goths, and wearing a pentacle around my neck filters out people who aren't comfortable talking to Neo-Pagans/witches, and those two things also attract like-minded individuals. Yes, it also means I get hassle from those who wish to add aggression and rudeness to their prejudice, but for the most part, I am quietly left alone by those who presume things. On the other hand, those who have common interests feel a lot more comfortable talking to me because they know I'm another of their kind, and I'm much more comfortable talking to other visibly alternative people for the same reason. I get people who like bats asking me about my bat jewellery, loads of inquiries about how I dye my hair the colours I choose, and plenty of other Goths (quite a few of whom are now my friends) have come up to me because I'm Goth, and I feel more comfortable talking to other Goths I don't know when I'm dressed Goth because I'm less worried that they will think I am a judgemental non-Goth (as I know all too well the sarcastic 'compliments' and inquiries that start polite, but soon turn to mockery). 

Lastly, I am really, really uncomfortable in mainstream clothes. I feel like a fraud, an imposter, a fake - someone pretending to be normal when they're not. I feel like I have to live up to the normal exterior, to the expectations that come with it, plus I feel ugly on top of that. I'm an eccentric by nature, and I couldn't fake normality, even if I wanted to (and believe me, I've tried). If I look strange, a little bit of strangeness is expected. Mainstream people aren't expected to wax lyrical about cemeteries, Goths who look like they're from the graveyard end up giving impromptu cemetery tours to random tourists (this happened a couple of days ago, and then I ran into some history-loving American tourists who got directions to the abbey ruins, plus some free tips for other historical sites in the area...), and I am much happier with the freedom to be myself that comes with looking like myself. Those who judge me for being Goth are usually full of inaccurate assumptions of what Goth is; their judgements don't really touch me because they are not about me; they are founded on errors and presumptions - those who judge me for not being "normal" are judging who I am as a person.

So that is why I make the trade-off, and put up with the stares, the jeers and the aggression, and why I put up with the attention that ends up focused on me. Sure, I would certainly blend in better dressed in the 'costume' of the mainstream, but I would be a lot more miserable, and even more uncomfortable and nervy if I did so. 

It's not brave, it's just taking what seems like the easier option. 

The only thing that really scares me is the increased risk of violence; I keep vigilant for those who might be violent trouble (and have got pretty good at spotting trouble coming; I don't know if it is instinct or perception, but I know when someone gives me a bad feeling, and I vanish, and usually soon after they do something to display that my instinct was right), and I keep to either shops that simply won't attract trouble much, or in open areas of central parts of town - away from the dodgy areas of towns and cities where even a normal person stands a higher risk of violent crime, and where my clothes would mark me out for at least a beating. I do martial arts, and train for self-defence rather than just sport. I know when to run. Several of my friends locally have been violently attacked, and I have been curbing my travels since them. I don't stay in town after dark very often, as that's when the drunks are out and about, and I take the bus to places I would have once walked, and tend to go places in groups or meet up with someone. I can minimise the risks.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Seven Days, Seven Self-Portraits

After my first self-portrait (last post on this blog), I ended up doing an art challenge of doing one self-portrait per day. Each of these self-portraits were created in the painting simulator 'Fresh Paint' on my Microsoft Surface tablet, and drawn with a stylus.

Saturday 23rd April

This is the first picture and the one that started it all. It's got its own blog entry (the previous one to this). I was just getting used to the stylus, so it is not as neat as it could be. The nose is a bit flattened at the the bottom, and this is the first picture where I noticed that I was struggling to draw noses. 

I was aiming for dramatic lighting with dark blue/purple shadows, but I think I was a little zealous with the lilacs and lavenders in this, making me look a little alien-purple over all. I spent the rest of the series trying to alter that balance to something I liked. The emerald green hair came out really well, especially the contrasts and shadows in it, and I am also really happy with the shimmer effect on the sparkly/iridescent lipgloss (over black lipstick). 

Sunday 24th April

I really like how this one looks like it's almost from an old horror-movie poster, back when they were done with paintings, rather than digital collages of footage from the film/photographs taken for promotional pictures and then digitally manipulated. I feel like I belong in a b-movie about witches or vampires in this picture, which to me, is just perfect. There's something about an artist's interpretation of a film that always adds something special - art interpreting art. 

The circlet I am wearing is hand-made, and bought from Far Fetched in Inverness. I think it's made by a local woman, but I'm not entirely sure - I will find out more when I am next in that shop. I was told when I bought the circlet, but I have since forgotten. It was picked on account of looking very elfin - a mixture of Art Nouveau and Celtic swirls. Raven's been inspired by the whole circlet thing, and wants to start making his own designs - I've also been doing sketches of my own designs for circlets, so perhaps there will be more of those in future. 

The pentacle-and-moon necklace was from Claire's Accessories of all places - I guess this awful 'trend' based off occult imagery is useful for something, even if as an actual witch I take issue with turning my symbols into a commercialised meaningless trend, and it being used to signify a sort of hollow 'edginess'. In retrospect, buying something from a retailer that is part of that commercialisation, even if I am going to wear that necklace as an un-ironic, un-pretentious and authentic reflection of my faith and spirituality, as each sale just feeds the capitalist machine. 

Artistically, there's a few errors of proportion in this - the cheek-bone on the right isn't quite the right shape, and my nose is not the best rendition thereof. It's the bottom of the nose, around the bulb and nostrils, that I struggle with most. I have been paying close attention to how I do my nose in the subsequent pictures as I've realised that noses are something I really struggle with. The shading on the neck is a bit on the 'sharp'. I am happy with how the hair turned out, however, and think that the brighter streak in my hair (Crazy Colour Emerald Green comes out apple green, and the rest of my hair is Directions Apple Green, which comes out emerald green... go figure!) worked really well in this particular rendition

Monday 25th April

Artistically, I think this was probably the least successful. The proportions of my face are wrong - especially the cheeks looking too puffy, and the nose being at an odd angle. Again, I struggled with the nostrils and the bulb of the nose.

The hair turned out pretty well, although trying to get all the flicks and swirls would have possibly been more effective with a finer bush - I was using the finest brush size available on Fresh Paint, however. I also like how painterly the colours are on this - they seem quite alive and vibrant, and the picture, while probably not the most accurate likeness of me in terms of actually looking like my face, probably captures the most energy. There's also something a bit fey, pixie-like about it, which I rather like.

Tuesday 26th April

I have 'resting bitch face' in this picture. I look a mixture of imperious and angry, and a little bit derisive. That wasn't intentional, more the result of actually looking crabby because I was having a bad day, and few errors of artistry that have come together to make me look even more foul-tempered. I think it's a very severe line of the mouth that's the greatest culprit in this for my expression. 

The nose is a little off straight, but my nose actually IS a bit bent as it was broken when I was a child. I think however that I made it a little wonkier than it actually is - perhaps subconsciously done, as I'm quite self-conscious about it. I am happy with how the green shimmer came out on the lipstick - I am wearing the green iridescent lipgloss again, but this time over 'Blackberry Fool' lipstick from the Collection 'Lasting Colour' range. 

Angry expression aside, this is probably my favourite picture of the lot. Actually, maybe the angry expression contributes, but the angle of the pose, the framing of my hair, and the solidity I have given my face all seem quite stately and powerful here. The angry and slightly imperious expression probably contribute to that in a "do not meddle with the affairs of dragons, for you are crunch and taste good with sauce" sort of way :P (Although I'm sure I'm some sort of harpy rather than a dragon! )

Wednesday 27th April

In general, I find this one a bit "meh". Artistically, I've got the blending down a lot better than in the previous pictures, but there's something lifeless about it, a little anodyne and unremarkable. I guess the uninteresting make-up doesn't help; simple black eye-shadow and eye-liner, and simple purple lips. The expression is a the sort of smile one does for photographs that doesn't quite seem genuine and doesn't quite seem false, and this picture does not have the contrast or dynamic angles of some of the others.

The hair is also the wrong colour - my hair is emerald green, for the most part, and in this it seems too grass-green. Certainly the colours over all seem warmer, but even with this considered the hair seems too yellow-green.

This is probably the best nose so far, and I think all the care and attention I have put into doing the noses over the course of the week has been paying off and there has been an improvement with each new picture. 

Thursday 28th April

The eye makeup on this one is something I wore a few weeks back when I got my new curly dark green wig. I felt like making a reprise with it for this self-portrait. 

I think with each iteration of the challenge, the images become a closer and closer likeness of me. This one seems a little squiff, however. I drew it in more than one sitting, and I think the nose and mouth are slightly out of align with the rest of the face and the eyes. I am still struggling to paint good noses, but they are improving - even if this one is perhaps a bit out of align. 

The necklace is an ankh in the Gothic architectural style. I love the mixture of influences in this necklace. It's one of my collection of Alchemy Gothic jewellery. I've slowly been accumulating a collection of all the jewellery I wanted in the early '00s but was neither allowed to buy nor had the money for. 15 years later I am finally getting my talons on them! This ankh is probably my favourite necklace at the moment in terms of design. 

I was attempting to do something interesting with the contrast, and with negative space in both terms of black and white negative space. I'm not sure if the composition really worked out, with the detailed parts being on the diagonal between the block of white and block of black, but that's what the intention was.

Friday 29th April

Last, but not least, a portrait trying to show the blues and purples still in my hair. For the most part, my hair is now emerald green, but previously, as frequent readers will know, my hair was half a rainbow of colours, and it was quite difficult to get some of the colours out, and some parts were therefore re-coloured as accents, meaning that while my hair is predominantly green, there are a few flashes of blue and purple in it. These are mostly in the under-layers, so for this picture I deliberately styles my hair so a few strands of those colours would come to the fore. Flashes of blue near the bottom have been visible in previous self-portraits, but this is the first where it is clear that these are indeed accents in my hair, and not just a trick of lighting. 

I still haven't figured out how to get my noses correct and consistent, but I do think there has been an overall improvement in them over the course of the week. I guess the more I practice, the more I will learn. 

The choker/necklace is another Alchemy Gothic piece - in this case a hinged choker with bat-wings, skulls and cross-bones and Gothic tracery. I really like the Alchemy designs that incorporate elements of the Gothic architectural style. 

Make-up is more of my favourite swirlies and purple lipstick. The swirls in this one are both regular black liquid eye-liner, and silver eye-liner. It is a lot easier to draw the swirls on the flatness of a painting than on the curves of my face, that is for sure! 


This week's self-portrait challenge has been challenging indeed, and hopefully it has taught me a few things - not just about FreshPaint and digital painting, but about portraiture in general. Practice makes improvement, especially if that practice is challenging and pushes me into trying things I don't often do, and which need improvement. I know I am not so good at noses, and so I will continue to work on improving those in my art. I would love to hear what you think of the pictures - constructive criticisms included. I can only improve if I know where I am going wrong!