A False History of Mankind
It's not where you take things from - it's where you take them to." Jean-Luc Godard
Someone once said to Picasso: "I don't like this portrait. If you paint my wife, it should look like my wife." He pulled out a photo of his wife to show the artist. Picasso studied the picture and answered: "This is your wife? I'm shocked. She looks so small and flat."
Over the years we have become somewhat hard wired to believing photographs as truthful and real. As the photograph distanced itself from the aesthetic of painting, it embraced the "objective" interpretation of the world as a factual representation. No matter that the depiction of Ansel Adam's Half Dome (1960) or Cartier Bresson's leaping man, in Place de l'Europe Gare Saint Lazare (1932) are tonally abstract and black and white. Compare these "realistic" images with a Rembrandt painting such as Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned up Collar (1659). The Rembrandt seems objectively real, in fact, more colorfully realistic than the two photographs which use only form, white, grey and black tones to achieve their affect. And yet, it is the photographs that claim the objective true moment.
In pushing the conversation of the photographic form forward, photography finds itself at a similar crossroads as painting did in the 1940s when it gave rise to abstract expressionism. A camera is no longer a required tool. We can create photographs rather than take photographs. Photography is no longer exclusively the medium of witness, recording a perceived reality, objectively. My work seeks to blur the lines between fact and fiction, between subjective and objective, between reality and fantasy, between truth and illusion.
In considering how the black and white photograph found its way into the documentary tradition, I began editing my images to create artifice within the classic landscape tradition. This resulted in a series of photographs (Among Stones) that attempted to transform "real world" imagery into the zone of artificially created science fiction.
Following that path, I worked on a series of classic black and white landscapes (Black Land) in which the daylight sky is transformed to black, creating a "grey zone" of perception. The eye wants to believe they are a realistic record of a vista and yet the mind, the instinct, feels a pull to an unnatural dreamscape. The tension between mind and eye creates a new perception - one in which we begin to question our own subjectivity.
We find ourselves at a cultural crossroads, a so called "post-truth" reality where it may no longer be enough to believe our eyes and ears. What is objectively real is often in dispute. As I continue to inhabit this median zone that lies between truth and fiction I explore ways of creating work that deepens the emotional reaction to the work using history, memory, and fiction fused in a photograph.
By subverting the source(s) of the image itself, by manipulating, sculpting and exploring the form and familiarity of the image - pushing the image toward a recognizable reality, the result seems similar but not akin to our perceived view of what feels real in this Uncanny Valley.
The exploration and transformation of video game culture and the nature of its underlying technologies (Unreal Engine 4, Unity, Blender, Maya, Z-brush, Photoshop, etc.) have created visual opportunities that are unique and controllable.
Open world video games have become increasingly detailed and sophisticated. Artificial intelligence and game engines have enabled programmers to create experiences that integrate story and context allowing the player/user to control their own destiny (within the parameters of the world) and navigate through the game's virtual world in subjective ways. As in life, there is a balance of free will and (coded) destiny.
Photogrammetry processes have made it possible for the developers to capture, create, adjust and store real world materials and textures. These can be edited and applied to any virtual environment. Libraries of "actors" or assets (lights, rocks, virtual characters, vehicles, buildings, etc) can be accessed and added to environments.
Video games have become a major medium of cultural importance as television before it and film before that. Developers have sought to create historical contexts (Assassins Creed, Red Dead Redemption) contemporary social prisms (Grand theft Auto, Uncharted) warfare (Call of Duty, Battlefield) sports (MLB, Madden) and fantasy (Spiderman, Final Fantasy).
But each of these constructed universes exist beyond the scripted "blueprint" of game play. These universes are virtual worlds, virtual environments that lend themselves to exploration and appreciation. Traveling in these arenas, we can suspend our disbelief, embrace the journey, capture and record experiences and memories.
It has become possible to wander these worlds, stop to consider the beauty and form, frame and capture in ways that mimic the experience of street photography or classic landscape photography.
I continue to probe the boundaries between perceived reality and the counterfactual. The final images are piezo-printed on Hahnemühle Rag using custom carbon inks by Jon Cone. They resemble platinum prints or lithographs of a falsely documented reality - miles from the original intent of the game's designers.
I experience the open world by simply moving away from the game play, the puzzles, the fighting and the story. I navigate through the world, often waiting for the light or weather to change. I find a position, an angle and wait. Sometimes I will observe the AI moving virtual characters and "street grab" the shot. Other times I will "hike" to the best promontory to find the shot and capture it. I will explore buildings and alleys, or make my way to the middle of a freeway or climb a construction crane just to get the best view.
John Szarkowski describes photography as "a system of visual editing." "At bottom..." he continues, "it is a matter of surrounding with a frame a portion of one's own cone of vision, while standing in the right place at the right time. Like chess, or writing, it is a matter of choosing from among given possibilities, but in the case of photography the number of possibilities is not finite but infinite."
These photographs (taken without a camera but still informed by the photographic process) are captured and imported into Photoshop and other image editing tools where the captures are processed to feel like a shot captured by an old Leica than a screenshot of a navigated polygonal program. I paint with light, refine edges, adjust grain, add atmosphere, and as the images transform they reveal their own truth, their own emotion and their own conviction.
If creativity is based on combining existing elements into new combinations then we can understand that all art is in some ways derivative. Contextualization, however, is a shifting theme informed by culture, history and memory. Appropriation in art is based on extrapolation and recognition of the original. The power of the new is based on the historic line to the present using what came before to influence, inspire and define. What I am saying here is that art cannot be created or destroyed - only remixed. We borrow what we like and build on it. This cultural exchange insures that art, technology and culture will continue to evolve.
Recognizing that representation of fixed fine art can, in freezing a moment within the fluid game play, allows a deeper understanding of the game itself and its visual and cultural relationship to our world.
Challenges and levels as coded, provide the engine of exploration through game play. User Mods (modifications) can be seen as a platform for narrative, political or social conventions. But at the root of the game play experience, interactivity requires a physical connection whether a computer, a mouse, controller or projections. A printed photograph does not. It is an end in itself. An image provoking false memories, false histories.
Fixing an aesthetic frame/choice within the game, transforms the very experience of the game without diminishing the gameplay. As game design draws on more realistic materials, ray tracing, light control and blueprinting level design - the games themselves ask to be appreciated in new ways. I call it the work beyond intention.
Fragmentations, gaps, contradistinctive experiences lie at the heart of the postmodern. Here we work to subvert the distinction between fine art and commerce.
As we are subjected to a bombardment of music, video, advertising, remixes etc, we must transform this cultural media assault with a constant reassessment of what lies at the heart of our experience of the photographic image, whether as fine art, information or social media. Photographs provide us with fragments of memory, each informed by the technology used to record it.
In all story telling, there is a false narrative built into each game experience. And yet we now find that false narratives have normalized, and have crept into our culture, our news, our history and our memory. The obfuscation of truth, the embrace of "deep fakes" has us questioning our senses. If each image we experience has us questioning its authenticity, then images we know to be false may make us doubt the opposite. Are they, in fact, real?
Micheal Rush in his book - New Media in Late 20th Century Art notes: " In painting or sculpture it is the concepts and uses of materials that change in the art. With technology-based art, the medium itself radically changes when the technology changes. The excitement...in being able to capture movement...is now replaced by an enthusiasm for altering reality, for making the real illusory."
As I explore the false histories of man through a game's open world - I seek to find an emotion that transforms the kinetic, dopamine experience with a connection to the image that lies well beneath the surface of the games themselves.
Game spaces can feel remarkably real and attach to memory as though the experiences were part of one's personal journey. But as Barbara Kingsover has said: "Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth but not its twin."
My work is intended to transport the viewer through a kind of false memory, a familiarity to a different time and place, where everything feels somewhat familiar, real and emotional.
“Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”
Italo Calvino, Invisible cities