First thing in the morning is a great time for photography for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, there’s the ‘golden hour’ after sunrise when the light is just perfect. For another, there are fewer people around to stare at you prancing about in a silver catsuit.
I’ve written previously about cosplaying as a retro astronaut, and there are a whole bunch of places where I could – with minimal photoshopping – make places in Scotland look like they were on another planet. I’m pretty sure the people who witnessed me wondered what planet I was on, too…
Sometimes the weird shit requires quite a tightly-focused angle. I ventured to Edinburgh’s Sheraton Hotel early on a Saturday morning to twitch my bumcheeks at guests having breakfast, posing beside artistic stone spheres and a hemisphere covered in shiny tiles. (These had seen better days; the trick was to find an angle where the gaps wouldn’t be seen, and to hide the abandoned fencing where posters had been hung to advertise shows during the recently-completed summer Festivals.)
The location in the city centre meant parking the car where I probably shouldn’t (just as well the traffic was light at sunrise on a Saturday morning!) And being in the city centre, it meant pulling on my go-go boots whilst weekend workers ambled past on their way to their workplaces. You can see why I don’t do this sort of thing at rush hour…
Another thing I sometimes have to pay attention to is the tide. (I’ve done this for various swimsuit shoots at Dunbar, for a Baywatch-themed shoot, and at a ruined lido in Fife.) If there’s one thing this has taught me – balancing tides with weather conditions – it’s patience and making the most of whatever you’re presented with.
For the spacey shots, the causeway to Cramond Island in the Firth of Forth resembled – to my feverish, teenage-geek-brain – the ruins of a long lost civilisation. (In reality, anti-submarine defences from the last century.) On this morning, there were a few more people walking about but the tide had only just receded far enough to make the causeway passable, so I had it to myself.
Some mornings you just have to take a chance. When it’s misty or foggy, you might get ‘moody’ or ‘atmospheric’ shots. And by happy chance you might get some epic, backlit clouds. At Arthur’s Seat (also in Edinburgh’s city centre), I got a few mountainous-looking photos in fog lit by the dawn sun. There was one old guy out walking his dog who asked if I was taking these photos for a Festival Fringe show.
Before the pandemic lockdowns got in the way, I’d started going swimming again for the first time in… bloody hell, a couple of decades. Part of this was to get in better tone/condition and improve my breathing, but a lot of it was to do with losing flab and firming up my fortysomething body (it’s not the years; it’s the mileage…)
Eventually I got to the point where I thought what the hell; maybe I could revisit one of my old photoshoots and re-do some sunrise beach swimsuit photos? The trouble is, it depends on getting the right conditions. If the tide’s too high, then it’s trickier to get a good angle with both me and the sun in shot. Too misty or hazy, and I’ll be lost in the glare of the light. Too cloudy and it’ll look like a grey day on the North Sea, and not ‘it looks kind of tropical’.
My beach of choice is at Dunbar, because it’s not too far from home, it’s nice and big (so easy to keep your distance from any others who might be foolish enough to be there at that time), and you can get the sunrise without any obvious markers of where you are (such as Fife, or Bass Rock). With nothing but sand, sea, and sun it could be anywhere.
I had a couple of false starts: one morning when there were no clouds over Edinburgh, but plenty nestled on the horizon blocking the golden glow I was after; and one when a rapidly-moving cloud front took over the sky as we drove out. This was the middle of summer, when sunrise is before 5am, so it wasn’t something I wanted to waste time on too much (those mornings, we returned to the city and I changed costume to do other shoots instead). It’s not great wasting a long, early-morning journey like that, let alone twice!
Third time was perfect: not too hazy, just enough cloud to give the sky some texture, and a sea that was just about lively enough to be interesting, but not dangerous. I’d already picked my theme: I got a red swimsuit and an inflatable Baywatch-style float, and a couple of party balloons for tits (I didn’t want to accidentally dip my usual falsies in the sea; I’d already done that in a freshwater loch…)
(I gave Baywatch a go on Amazon Prime for nostalgia. I was astounded that the first season was a proper action-drama which I remembered nothing about; the second more of the same but with more slow-mo music sequences of pert Californians; and then the balance shifted further and further.)
The dumb thing I did was to stick the inflated balloons under my swimsuit while I was driving out to the beach. The seatbelt had forced the air out of one of them, making me seriously lopsided, and I’d forgotten to bring any spares (having wasted a few on the earlier, aborted attempts).
But dammit, the weather and sea conditions were too good to waste, so I’d just have to work around it (lucky I had that float to hide with!). I suppose I should be glad they didn’t whistle as they deflated…
Another major change from the first set of beach photos was that this time I had a much better camera to work with. I could run up and down through the waves for action shots, and each droplet of water would be captured, crisp and perfect. Because that’s what I want people to look at, obviously…
I ventured a bit deeper into the water this time, but there’s a balance I wanted to get between striking a pose for the camera, and actually looking like I was swimming about. In the end, processing my way through the hundreds of photos we got, I found the best results came from running in the water, no deeper than mid-upper thighs (I was also wary of getting knocked down by the waves)…
I should also point out that I can see the appeal of cold-water swimming that people might indulge in. Once you get used to it, it’s “not too bad“, but it’s the situation that makes a difference: having a whole beach to ourselves; watching a sunrise; getting a sorta-kinda workout; and getting a record of your batshit start to the day. Bring a flask of tea – you’ll need it!
If that doesn’t convince you, I’ll point out that seawater’s a great exfoliator. The battlefield of ingrown hairs all over my legs cleared up no end (shame the effect didn’t last)!
Not sure it did the balloons any good, mind you – by the time I emerged from the water, one boob had completely deflated, and the other was shrivelling up as well. At least I could stop worrying about them…
Of course I haven’t had a chance to return to the pool during lockdown, and I’ve got a few kilos of belly flab I want to shift. I mean, I could go to the beach for a proper swim, but I’d want to feel good about myself before I put on that swimsuit again!
Cosplaying as a character you created yourself sounds like it should be easy, but there’s always going to be some major detail that buggers everything up.
A couple of years back I spent an inordinate amount of time doing sketches of a 60’s-style space adventure with cigar-shaped rocket ships and, yes, a space babe and her crew, all in shiny silver space suits. It got to the point where I got heartily sick of drawing buttocks, but damn it, I thought they looked kinda cool (the characters I mean; although the botties weren’t half bad either). Fuck it, I thought, I want to do a photoshoot like this!
Fortunately, most of the outfit can be bought dirt cheap from Ebay or Amazon with relatively few adjustments. As long as you expect a shiny silver catsuit from China to be completely the wrong size, most of it’s pretty easy to acquire (sometimes from the weirdest places – like a pub in England with a surplus of novelty ketchup bottles…).
The only part which eluded me was the goldfish-bowl space helmet. Actual goldfish bowls were either too small or too heavy, and in either case I didn’t fancy balancing one on my head. Other options were too expensive, and making a custom-fit, lightweight version myself was beyond my skills. So I decided to Photoshop it in, instead (and hope I didn’t take photos on windy days…)
The next issue was finding locations to take all these damn photos. I had ideas – oh, you’d better believe I had ideas! – and ended up with more locations than I could possibly talk about in this blog entry alone (more in future months, I promise). Having already travelled the length of Scotland from the border to John O’Groats, anything was possible. I figured out road routes that would give me as many locations in as few journeys as possible. I scoured Google Earth for places that mixed the familiar with the obscure, and sketched out rough ideas for different shots.
I had a route planned that would start at silly o’clock in the morning, and get me to Aberdeen at sunrise. All I needed to do was keep an eye on the weather and hope the skies wouldn’t sabotage the journey. Weather forecasts are only reliable up to a point, and then you just have to rely on luck, and accept whatever shots you can get.
We went to bed not long after dinner, and woke not long after midnight. Batshit crazy? It meant I could slap on my makeup and the spray-on silver catsuit, and drive to Dundee by 3am. Yes; utterly batshit crazy.
My main interest in Dundee was the recently-opened V&A art gallery on the edge of the river Tay. Happily, being there at 3am meant there was nobody around to ask drunken questions, or dive into the shots, or just spoil things. At that time, the only interest was from the night guard (I swear, I must’ve given a handful of night guards some weird shit to contend with on their CCTV screens over the years…). We wandered around the funky modern architecture as long as our schedule allowed before moving on again…
The next stop was Balmedie beach. I’d been here a few times when I was a kid, so I knew it had vast expanses of sand that could double as a desert planet, grassy dunes, freshwater streams choked with greenery making their way to the beach, and best of all, an epic windfarm which annoys the shit out of Donald Trump.
As we approached Aberdeen I saw a massive bank of cloud hanging over the northern skies, and I had a nasty feeling they’d block out the sunrise. To my immense relief, we got about ten minutes’ sunshine as the sun broke the horizon, and made as much use of it as we could. Sunrise was the only limitation on the schedule; after that we could take our time at the remainder of the locations.
The next stop was a stone circle at Daviot, in the middle of… well, nowhere. Grampian region is pretty sparse, and the country roads are choked with roadkill rabbits, like a Beatrix Potter version of Schindler’s List. God, it’s grim.
For the purposes of the photoshoot, I figured the stone circle, surrounded by trees, might give a Stargate-y vibe (in that series, they gave themselves an excuse for why every planet they visited resembled a Canadian forest…). I had a bash at recreating one of my sketches which was easier said than done. First I had to scamper over sharp, loose rocks in high-heeled go go boots, and then try holding that ridiculous pose for ages (taking breaks to see how they looked on the camera, and then going back to readjust).
So yeah, seemingly minor locations can take a while to complete…
The final stop was an abandoned 1930s lido at Tarlair on Grampian’s northern coast. It’s still intact, but clearly it’s been decades since its hey-day. It’s set among cliffs and rock arches that make for an otherworldly appearance.
When we arrived there was a single guy running laps around the area, and doing chin-ups and exercises (I guess there isn’t much else to do first thing on a Sunday morning here). We found it easy to keep him out of the shots, but he was clearly interested in what we were doing and dying to speak to us… but keeping a respectful distance.
There were tons of different shots we could take there (it’s been difficult whittling it down to only the best of the best; the location looks good at any angle), but eventually we realised that it was time to head back south. I changed back into a more ordinary dress and shoes, and when we were about to head off the exercise guy walked by.
“Don’t get many space girls landing in Banff!” he said. He’d been dying to say that for ages, poor sod. I gave him a cheesy grin and pretended to laugh silently because I knew if I said anything my voice would just wreck his whole morning.
We stopped off to tank up the car, and a bunch of retired and well-fed old men were gathered in the petrol station shop to buy their morning papers and catch up on everything that wasn’t happening in the area. Obviously, me walking in with my makeup and retro hair was a sight they don’t get that often, so they all clammed up and stared silently as I paid and left in less than sixty seconds. Was it creepy? Or did they realise I was a guy in a dress? Honestly, I didn’t give a shit what they thought – which is pretty much the only superpower you need to crossdress.
And with that, I had a batch of photos I could photoshop with my space helmet… and maybe add a few details to, like planets and frickin’ laser beams.
Last year I got a bit swept up in the Wonder Woman mania, and figured I’d have a stab at doing some cosplay for a friend’s birthday party. The costume I got was… cheap. But I intended to modify it and customise it and hopefully make it look a little closer to Gil Gadot’s outfit.
First order of business was to see how the thing looked, and how much work I had ahead of me. It wasn’t completely awful; it was just… a bit too shiny and lacking detail. With a couple of cans of spray-paint (maroon and gold), black marker pens, dirt cheap heels, coloured cardboard, plastic wrap and sandpaper, I would remake the damn thing, and make it look… uh, better. Maybe.
I’d also need to figure out how to cut out all the cardboard layers to make the chest-piece, belt and headband. This was a problem-solving exercise in drafting and actually more fun than it sounds.
This is what I started with; I then channeled my inner ‘A-Team’ and got practical with it…
What did I think of the film? I liked it. I’m not really into superheroes, and the deadly seriousness of the DC lot put me off Batman or Superman. I needed something different, and Wonder Woman provided it. Sure, there’s some stuff I wish had been done better: it peaks too soon – the Crowning Moment Of Awesomeness is when Wonder Woman walks out alone into No Man’s Land (but of course) between the trenches amid a blaze of machine gun fire and an equally blazing electric cello riff; nothing in the latter half of the film comes even close to matching this moment. It’s also too easy to figure out who the real villain is early on; and the ending boss battle is just empty special effects – if they’d brought back some element from the start of the *plot* that had a purpose at the end, it would’ve been stronger (yes, I’m very demanding about the films I watch!).
Having said that, the cello riff is my new earworm, and whenever I hear it I feel like a big damn hero; I like films that show me stuff I’ve never seen before, and the first 20 minutes do this without needing any special effects; and that costume bloody rocks.
It’s amazing what you can do with cardboard, plastic wrap and sandpaper (and a bit of dark chalk for weathering effects)…
Anyway, after a few weeks, I had the costume ready at last. I’d already fielded questions from curious neighbours when I was spray-painting outdoors, but there’s nothing like going out in public to properly field-test these things…
On the night of the party, I got myself kitted out and drove out from the city. It was Friday evening. Most people were going home from work. There were traffic jams. And if there’s one thing people didn’t expect, it was to find Wonder Woman stuck in a jam next to them.
It’s a damn good thing I don’t mind attention. Especially when it’s half a dozen schoolkids in the back row of the bus in front, all waving at me and taking photos on their phones. I waved back.
At the party, the birthday girl was the only one I knew. Fortunately, there were others in costume too: Emperor Ming from Flash Gordon; Dangermouse; Adventure Time; Thor; Supergirl… and everyone else turned up dressed as themselves. The costume brigade occupied one table, like an oasis of YO CHECK THIS OUT among so many party frocks.
The party was bloody good fun, but sadly the costume didn’t survive a trip to the toilet. The zip up the side split like a pop group, and after a few awkward minutes in which the birthday girl found some safety pins for me, I spent the rest of the party moving cautiously. Having a shield came in handy.
I had intended to have a second go at Edinburgh Comic Con this year (having previously turned up as Lara Croft) – but I fear the costume broke beyond my ability to fix it – not just the zip, but the inflexible cardboard, and seams on the leg pieces. I’m also beginning to wonder (hah!) if the moment has passed? Wonder Woman‘s impact might have been lessened by her appearance in Justice League (and maybe also in the aftermath of Marvel’s Black Panther?).
There’s also an element of being “Not Twist” – in other costumes, I’m obviously Twist-dressed-as-someone, but as ‘Wonder Woman’, I have to be someone else. And somehow, it feels like quite a responsibility portraying a character like that. It’s not the sort of thing I’d want to fuck up – certainly not by parading about in a broken, torn, patched-up costume.
So I think that party was my only appearance as Wonder Woman. Somehow, that makes it feel more valuable.
I recently went to the Edinburgh Horror Festival screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for the first time in …okay, a couple of decades. But you know what? It’s still damn good fun. It’s funny how fans can just fall into conversations with each other, even if complete strangers.
It was an odd crowd that night: lots of first-timers; and only one girl at the back doing all the shout-outs to the screen. And (being in a pub-slash-music-slash-cinema venue), drunken guys stumbling in halfway through the film with pint glasses in hand, and uttering profound insights such as “Fuck’s this? Is i’ like a fillum abou’ poofs or summin?” (I could go on -at length- but they left after a period of time that wasn’t short enough.)
I did a handful of shout-outs (overcoming my Edinburgh reserve and a desire not to freak out the first-timers). My main contribution was at the very end, when the camera shot starts rotating around. I leapt to the front and mimed spinning the camera shot as it went faster and faster. A lot of people hadn’t seen that one before; they liked it, and I got a round of applause for it!
One pricelessly awkward moment came after the girl at the back shouted “Slut!” at Janet for the umpteenth time. A guy at the front stood up and shouted back at her to stop slut-shaming. Rocky Horror certainly has the potential to set off a ton of trigger warnings for the more sensitive among us. I mean, the iconic character is a murderous, pansexual, alien, cannibal, sex pest. I could see a lot of kids today getting confused about whether they should no-platform him for being a homicidal rapist, or tell his critics to check their cis-het, terrestrial, vegetarian privilege.
(I am so glad I’m not growing up in the 21st century. It must be awful meeting people and apologising in advance for any perceived slights you may or may not inflict.)
Just as the golden age of science fiction is about 12, I reckon the golden age for Rocky Horror must be about 14 (I think I was that age when I first saw it, anyway). And at a summer drama camp the following year (an activity with a sex ratio skewed toward girls), I and the other kids my age were all into it – so we decided to end our show with a performance of Let’s Do The Timewarp Again (as the only boy involved in this, I played Riff Raff). I was just glad the dance moves are simple enough for me to do.
I try not to think too much about the really fucking awkward time my parents watched it on TV with me.
And, as mentioned in previous posts, the first time I went out cross-dressed was for showings at university (did that a couple of times).
It wasn’t long after that Simon Pegg came out with his little anti-Rocky-Horror rant:
I hate Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s boil-in-the-bag perversion for sexually repressed accountants and first-year drama students…
(Simon Pegg, Spaced)
It’s possible to like someone’s creative works, yet not really care for their opinions. In this instance, I thought he’d missed the mark, badly. He was making generalisations based on ignorance, as if Rocky Horror was nothing more than an “grown-up Hallowe’en“.
I’ve got friends who say that Rocky Horror introduced them to concepts of transexuality which helped them figure out who they were – that they weren’t “wrong”, and there was even a word to describe them.
For me, it’s more general than that.
Look at the Transylvanian partygoers in Frank’s place. They’re all ages: they’re very tall; very short; thin; fat; different skin colours; and everything in between. They’re more representative than the bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise. Not one of them ‘fits in’ anywhere else. They would never be considered ‘cool’ anywhere – but in Frank’s place, they are.
That, for me, was the big message the film had to give, and is the point Simon Pegg completely missed: the ‘cool’ kids are nowhere near as cool as the uncool kids. The uncool kids are cool in ways the cool kids cannot even conceive of. The ‘cool’ kids are the ones staggering into the cinema with their pint glasses halfway through, wondering what the hell everyone’s watching (the plot is nonsensical and the song lyrics doggerel, but none of that matters in the slightest).
The uncool accountants and students Pegg mentioned? They’re wanting to grab a bit of proper coolness by breaking out from their everyday lives, even if only for a couple of hours.
Everything you get picked on for, or you feel makes you weird, is essentially what makes you sexy as an adult.
So, if you’re the wrong shape, the wrong size, the wrong colour, the wrong, sex, the wrong sexuality, or simply in the wrong clothes – you can be cooler than ‘cool’. That’s what I got from Rocky Horror, and that’s why I’d recommend it to the 14-year-old outsider marking time until they can get the hell out of school.