To say my weekend was normal is an understatement as I travelled to the Midlands for the Steampunk Festival at the Victorian Museum in Ironbridge. I have been a fan of Steampunk for a few years now, especially after seeing some incredible photography from last years’ festival in Lincoln – one of the biggest in the country – taken by my Dad.
I love the fact that in the Steampunk genre anything goes – literally anything! I was taken aback by the incredible work that some festival goers put into their outfits for the day – with everything from stunning gold crowns to authentic army wear, full lace skirts to hats with artistic displays of miniature cogs, feathers and clocks!
But, where did the Steampunk genre come from? Many sources suggest that its influences come from the works of the 1960s and 70s – H.G. Wells, George Griffith, Mark Twain. Other influences of Steampunk – which wasn’t a term used until the 80’s – include the Neo-Victorian subculture, where traditional Victorian and Edwardian dress is given a modern twist, top hats and all! Steampunk takes these traditional Neo-Victorian vibes and combines them with an alternative reality of a world that never left the 19th Century Industrial Revolution.
“Steampunk is… a joyous fantasy of the past, allowing us to revel in a nostalgia for what never was. It is a literary playground for adventure, spectacle, drama, escapism and exploration. But most of all it is fun!” – George Mann
More modern takes on Steampunk take great influence – particularly at the Ironbridge festival – from Wild Wild West (yes, the Will Smith film), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Westworld. Although the original Mad Max series wasn’t actually in a Steampunk style. Westworld and Wild Wild West certainly showed their influence at Ironbridge at the Saturday evening event which saw bourbon tasting, excellent music, shootouts and live music at different landmarks in the Victorian village. It certainly was the perfect backdrop to see traditional Victorian shops with sweets, medicines, clothing and money combined with the amazing outfits from the Steampunk regulars.
I went to both the Saturday afternoon and evening events – something which I’m glad I did. The afternoon event was open to the general public too, so it was great to see the Steampunk festival mingling with the actors of the Victorian Museum, which gave a really interesting feel to seeing everyone wandering about and learning about Victorian times. You almost felt like you were in an alternate reality where the “Steampunk world” was a reality for the modern day.
I’ve always been a fan of old style living museums, so it was an added bonus that I had never been to Ironbridge – Blists Hill to be exact – and experience the museum too. While we spent most of the afternoon fascinated by the amazing outfits and makeup that so many people had gone to the effort to, we also enjoyed traditional fish and chips and still lemonade! Even without the festival there, I would highly recommend going to the Ironbridge Victorian Museum. I was also drawn into a small shop in the centre of the village, which was a millinery store, only this time the hats were in an incredible Steampunk design. I have honestly never seen hats with more thought in the intricate designs with peacock feathers, ribbons, lace, and miniature clocks and cogs!
“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless” – Jean Jacques Rousseau
There was also an amazing display of sculpture and artwork in the barn – The Goods Shed – which was later a spot of live music. The small sculptures were all taken from pop culture and manifested in a Steampunk style. I was quite impressed that I recognised most of them, which included pieces inspired by comics (including Batman and Ironman), Star Wars, War of the Worlds and more.
I definitely recommend heading off to a Steampunk festival near you. I’ve already decided that I’m going to go in full Steampunk to one of the larger festivals next year – Lincoln or Whitby. It’s such an incredible sub-genre, and I can see why the community is so passionate about its intricacies and uniqueness.
Portrait photography by Paul McKenzie Photography.