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The Imaginarium of Gary Nicholls

A photographer in the UK casts real people as characters in his visual steampunk tale

Sunday, November 18, 2018
The Conspiracy Begins

Graphic novels are nothing new, but Gary Nicholls has taken the concept of graphic storytelling to a new level with The Imaginarium, a steampunk saga told in the form of fine art images made from his photographs. He’s published one book in the series with two more to follow.

The characters in this visual tale are portrayed by a large cast of real steampunks, many from the Asylum Steampunk Festival in Lincoln, UK. For location shots, he traveled to places around the UK, as well as New York City, Barcelona, Cambodia, Poland, Greece, and Portugal. Scenes are carefully planned, staged, and lit; he typically spends 100 to 350 hours producing each image. The project involves extensive compositing in Adobe Photoshop.

Book One, Eva’s Story, features more than 150 images. Released in 2016 at the Asylum festival, the book took four years to complete. It’s described as a Dickensian tale “about one woman’s journey from ruination to salvation, saving the world from a powerful nemesis.”

Craftmaker Peter Walton created custom props and gadgets for the project. He also portrays Dr William Percival Stockdale, one of the main characters. Julie Walton, who portrays Eva Elizabeth Lovelace, created some of the costumes.

“It’s a vital point that everyone in my art is a genuine steampunk,” he says. “There are no ‘models.’ They are people playing characters.”

Book Two and Beyond

Book Two, Robbie Pertwee - Frankensteam, is slated for release in summer 2019. It’s “even more complex than the first, with seven time-travelling kids and a time-travelling serial killer,” Nicholls says.

Running through the entire trilogy is a secret hidden within a box.

The second book will contain a puzzle, he says. Pictures will include symbols that combine into a riddle. “Solve the riddle and you will get a website address,” he says. “Solve the clues on the website, and you will get a grid reference. Somewhere in the world, £15,000 worth of my art is buried in a box.”

The book will include images that Nicholls created for Metamorphose, the first album by Alice’s Night Circus. Alice, whose real name is Julia Scott, portrays a character in the story. Colin Edmonds, author of Steam, Smoke and Mirrors, will make a guest appearance along with two of his characters, Michael Magister and Phoebe Le Breton.

For Book Three, he says he’s planning “a huge image with over 4,000 steampunks from as many countries as I can visit — kind of Lord of the Rings style, lined up for battle.”

Nicholls has been showing his work at conventions and festivals in Europe. On Nov. 12, he announced that he was selected to be part of the Talented Art Fair, March 1-3 at the Old Truman Brewery in London.

He’s also working on a live-action trailer, in hopes of attracting interest from TV producers. “There has been major film interest to date,” he says, “but I feel the story is too complex for a film to do it justice, so Netflix or Amazon will be the route we pursue.”

Ordering info

Book One is available in a limited-edition run of 1000 for £99 each (approximately US$127), plus shipping. Nicholls says the price will soon go up to £150 (US$193). “The £99 price was always because I wanted to keep it under £100 for the people that have supported me since 2012, when it started,” he says.

The books are signed and numbered, and if you buy Book One, the same number will be reserved for the future books.

Limited-edition metal prints of selected images are available in sizes ranging from 20 to 48 inches on the long side. Prices for these range from £260 to £5250 (US$334-$6737). He can ship to locations worldwide.

Nicholls allowed us to reproduce some of the images in the gallery below. They include scenes from Book One and Book Two. If you’re on a PC, hover in the right corner and click “Expand Gallery” to see the images at full size. Shown above is “The Conspiracy Begins.” All images are © Gary Nicholls Photography.

Learn more on the Imaginarium and Gary Nicholls Photography websites. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Update: Nicholls will be appearing Nov. 24-25 at MCM Birmingham Comic Con, which will include a Steampunk Emporium. It takes place at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, UK.

Performer info: 

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