Picture Piece: Video Game Photography

Video Game Photography


Justin Berry, Stone Shields, 2012, ink on archival Baryta paper, 38 x 31 cm. Courtesy: the artist

Justin Berry, Stone Shields, 2012, ink on archival Baryta paper, 38 x 31 cm. Courtesy: the artist

Ansel Adams’s 1968 photograph El Capitan, Winter, Sunrise, Yosemite National Park, California has been celebrated for its epic evocation of the American landscape: the blunt head of a 900-metres-high granite monolith rearing over the wooded valley floor. It was also a technical innovation: Adams shot the image on Polaroid’s Type 55, a large-format film he’d personally badgered the firm’s founder, Edwin H. Land, to devise for him. It could produce both high-resolution black and white images and negatives but it also created its own aesthetic artifact, the ‘Polaroid frame look’. As the development gel was squeezed between the negative and positive prints, it pooled in the margins of the frame, producing a distinctive mesh-like grid around the image that has since been Photoshopped onto a million digital images, culminating in the Instagram effects of contemporary mobile photography.

Justin Berry’s Stone Shields (2012), depicting a high mountain valley scattered with brush and patches of snow, recalls El Capitan … in every way. It doesn’t carry any obvious signs of digital manipulation, but it bears out Adams’s famous remark: ‘You don’t take a photograph, you make it.’ Stone Shields is a composite of screenshots, created within the virtual world of the first-person-shooter video game Medal of Honor: its landscape is entirely digital. It is a composite of composites, as every pixel has been rendered from millions of lines of code and pre-existing textures created by the game’s designers, captured within the experience of the game itself (one notorious for its violence and militarism), and ultimately manipulated by Berry. In its artifice, it reveals all the artifice of image-making itself.

New technologies rarely produce radical novelty ex nihilo; rather, they reveal the latent processes that called them into being. Theorists may tie themselves in knots to justify or deny the place of the constructed virtual image within the canon of photography but, as Adams knew (and we can see), photography itself is a construct, and all images contain the mechanics of their own making.

James Bridle is a British writer and artist living in Athens, Greece. His forthcoming projects include an installation at the Oslo Architecture Triennale, Norway, a solo exhibition at Galleri Image, Aarhus, Denmark, and a digital commission for Serpentine Galleries, London, UK. His work can be found at booktwo.org.

Issue 173

First published in Issue 173

September 2015

Most Read

Remembering the pioneering composer, visionary thinker, multimedia artist and techno-utopian, who died in May
Jennifer Piejko's guide to the best current shows in LA
Ei Arakawa work stolen from Skulptur Projekte Münster; Richard Mosse arrested; three men charged over counterfeit...
Joyce Pensato, Landscape Mickey, 2017. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London
Lisson Gallery, London, UK
Coinciding with Refugee Week, and her film Hear Her Singing screening at the Southbank Centre, the artist shares some...
Gilda Williams visits the first edition of the ARoS Triennial in Aarhus, Denmark
The Haitian Revolution as a lesson in corporate leadership and meeting the 'prophet of the Anthropocene': what to read...
Creative Time launches series of protest flags; photographer Khadija Saye reported as a victim of London's Grenfell...
A recent retrospective at the Museo Ettore Fico in Turin establishes the overlooked importance of a ‘total artist’
The third edition of the London performance festival makes the case for collective action in an age of political...
A past winner of the Frieze Writer’s Prize, Zoe Pilger on the books and experiences that have influenced her as a writer
A guide to the best projects included in Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017
For the first in a series of our editors’ initial impressions from documenta 14 Kassel, Pablo Larios on the Neue...
Art sees itself as facing a crisis of legitimation – can this account for claims to 'authenticity' being made in shows...

An interview with the late artist on the unique classification system he devised to organize his books
The independent curator on 25 years in the arts

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2017

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017