Photography is everywhere. With the rise of mobile devices, we are used to carrying powerful cameras literally in our pockets, at any time, anywhere, and so we take pictures. With the ease and cheapness of digital photography, our motives have changed. Now, we take pictures of ordinary things, funny things, clouds, everyday occurrences. And, of course, we still immortalise the special moments in our lives, the grand vistas, the momentous occasions, the triumphs and memorable achievements. And as with many other things, these moments have also drifted into the virtual spaces we inhabit.
Games are spaces of experience as much as entertainment. It shouldn’t surprise us that the photographic gaze, that eye for composition and purely visual aesthetic, finds ample opportunity for snapshots in these virtual spaces. In fact, it’s surprising that in-game-photography, for purely aesthetical reasons as opposed to documenting victories or snapping a pic of an impressive vista for use as a desktop wallpaper, is still as unexplored a country as it still seems to be. A few game-photographers, however, have started to travel these gaming spaces to hunt for pictures. The best-known and most widely publicised of these pioneers is Duncan Harris. The English games journalist compares his ultra-stylish, high-gloss pictures of games tweaked to look their very best to still photography in movie production, and like movie stills, his work is increasingly professionally used by game companies to promote their products.
Harris’s professional game-photography is breathtaking in its own right, but he is not the only photographer with a keen eye for “videogame tourism”. James Pollock, graphic design student in Bath, England, says he was originally inspired by Harris, but instead of emulating Harris’s high-end, tweaked-up high-gloss technique, he took a comparably low-tech route and started to take pictures of his TV-set with his iPhone, using Instagram and Hipstamatic for added effect, a clever workaround to most consoles’ restricted, or non-existent, screenshot-capabilities. His black and white pictures of Skyrim‘s majestic nature and Red Dead Redemption‘s deserts evoke memories of classics of nature photography, while his Polaroid-framed images of the blocky worlds of Minecraft and Jet Set Radio Future show that photorealistic graphics are not prerequistes for impressive pictures.
Like urban spaces and architecture, game environments, especially those in open-world-games with freely explorable, three-dimensional playing grounds, are wholly man-made and constructed. It’s not surprising that architecture, especially an architecture unbound by reality’s constraints, is a favourite theme of in-game-photographers. The pictures of Australian gamer Iain Andrews concentrate on the details of these environments, the back alleys, corners and decor of these virtual spaces made for navigating through them. Like Joshua Taylor’s pictures Andrews’ work documents the lovingly crafted worlds and details that are destined to be overlooked by most gamers. Contrary to Harris and Pollock, Andrews as well as Taylor retouch their pictures only sparingly and mostly settle for unmodified screen captures, without tweaking or modding the basic games. Photographing the unreal, sprawling architectures of gaming’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy worlds is a challenge. Sao Paulo-based photographer and graphic designer Leonardo Sang uses games as a platform for what he calls “everyday photography”, and his pictures of Max Payne 3‘s Sao Paulo have their place beside real world photography of his city.
The art of in-game-photography is still in its infancy, but it seems obvious that, with constantly increasing photorealism and the popularity of open-world-games, more and more photographers will also look for inspiration and picture opportunities in virtual worlds. Games are places as well as entertainment and photography has little to do with the things we see but everything to do with the way we see them.