The Imaginarium - Derbyshire connection to a steampunk novel

Mark Sanders (left) as Captain Abernathy at The Bull's Head in Belper

Mark Sanders (left) as Captain Abernathy at The Bull's Head in Belper - Credit: Archant

Derbyshire’s connection with steampunk and a dark graphic novel

At Three Shires Head on Axe Edge Moor near Flash

At Three Shires Head on Axe Edge Moor near Flash - Credit: Archant

Photographer Gary Nicholls has spent four years meticulously crafting the photographs for The Imaginarium Book 1 – the first in his trilogy telling a fantastical steampunk story through fine art images. It is the tale of a character called Eva and her journey from ruination to salvation but the tale is told in 150 incredibly detailed fine art images.

In 2012, a chance visit to Europe’s largest steampunk festival, The Asylum, held in Lincoln, gave Gary the inspiration for his characters and his cast – two of whom are Derbyshire mechanic Mark Sanders and his wife Donna. Mark was a contestant in the BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee a few years ago and began to sew in earnest when creating striking costumes to attend steampunk events. In the book he plays Captain Abernathy and Donna is Lady Belladonna.

Not only the costumes but also the gadgets in the scenes have been uniquely created and designed – the latter by master craftsman Peter Walton.

Each image took between 100-350 hours to produce. Gary used a layering technique and paid painstaking attention to details of light and shade. Locations were also carefully chosen, and on one occasion even ‘built’ in photoshop. They are as diverse as New York, London, Barcelona, Cambodia, Poland, Kefalonia and Portugal – and the eagle-eyed will also spot Belper, Three Shires Head and the River Dane in Derbyshire.

Victorian gothic steampunk on a street in Belper

Victorian gothic steampunk on a street in Belper - Credit: Archant

Gary says, ‘The key to my imagery is lighting. Caravaggio was a master at telling a story through light, all with just a paintbrush. I studied his images to understand the different effects lighting can have, to create mood. I then watched period dramas to understand how to create a cinematographic look to the finished image. First step is the studio, where I have control over the lighting. I particularly like edge lighting as it creates mood, so I often use a 3-light setup. Some of the more portrait type images have been created using ring flash, but it would depend on the end result I am looking for as to the starting method.’ Gary prints the final image on large metal sheets to enhance depth and luminosity. Three of his original composite images have appeared in an exhibition in New York City and Miami and another at the Louvre. The Imaginarium Book 2 is due to be published this summer. u

The Imaginarium is available to buy at or

The River Dane is the background

The River Dane is the background - Credit: Archant

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