This, as yet untitled, project is about asking myself a question about images of landscape. Do the meanings of landscape images come from the cultural significance of certain sites, or can meaningful images of land be made separate from any connection to the cultures and histories of the real world?
These landscape images are made from hundreds of compiled video game screenshots, collected through hundreds more hours of played game time. Games like Sim City 4 and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim were chosen based on their emphasis of the role of land in game-play. A game like Half-Life 2 was chosen because it is really fun and I was playing it anyway.
As a photographer, I presented myself with the challenge of starting from scratch in a visually alien world in which I had to relearn how to make satisfying pictures. Every game presents the virtual photographer with a new set of optical, and compositional hurdles that must be overcome.
In Half-Life 2 for example, it took over 50 hours of game-play to discover the optimal position for making multiple screenshots was very specific. The character must be crouching (so the overlaid information disappears) and holding a grenade to throw, but not released (so the arm is out of the frame). In Sim City 4, the time-lapse effect of the multiple overlaid screenshots was nullified unless wave and cloud animation was turned on, and the game was set to cycle through the changing color temperatures of the day. In Skyrim, the player must zoom in to first person view to avoid having the character in the image.
Surprisingly, there are many advantages to photographing in video games as opposed to the real world. For one, even after a long day at work, I can still make pictures in whatever lighting conditions I want in the game by simply putting my character to sleep until the golden hour. Luckily, most player controlled characters also make the perfect tripods thanks to the fact that they perfectly freeze once you stop moving. If you want more detail on the rocks in the foreground, just turn up the detail resolution in the graphics settings.
Landscape images are inherently subjected to the cultural meanings of place and site. These images made of virtual land, though still tied to a different kind of culture and history, are more free to have the shape of the land as their subject as opposed to the meaning of that place to others. An island can produce a feeling of isolation simply based on its shape and not based on its history. These images of land removed from landscape, place removed from culture, speak to the kind of wonderful escapism possible in our new digital worlds.
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