CAPTURING SOMETHING REAL

The latest installment in the Grand Theft Auto franchise gave players the ability to take photos on their smartphones within the game, capturing moments of virtual reality. It seems like an innocuous, gimmicky add-on but then FERNANDO PEREIRA GOMES came along, and started making his own art in a digital world.
What drew you to the medium of a video game?

To be honest, I had never really thought of using video games as a medium until I played GTA V. When I noticed how realistic and detailed the game was, on top of the added camera feature, I got really excited about the possibilities. There is so much potential for video games as a medium, and  artists and photographers that use video games as a medium for their work/creative/artistic outlet are becoming more common.

How does it feel to engage in street photography in-game vs in real life?

After several months of doing this, the lines have become increasingly blurred. Besides the obvious game vs real life differences, the process of photographing in the streets is eerily similar. I spot and chase potential shots just as I would on “real” streets, and I frame the photographs in the same way I would normally/ with the same eye.

How do you overcome the issue of needing to humanise digital constructs that are made to look like people? How do you give them depth and create the emotion in your images?

This is where GTA V took me by surprise. I find that I don’t need to try to humanise them because all of this depth and emotion appears to be part of the artistic intent of the game designers, as they attempt to mimic our own lives. This is a big part of my project, because it seems as if the characters in the game are self-aware, so I capture their realities which mirror ours.

Textile City_Fernando Pereira Gomes

What do you find are the limitations of the form of in-game street photography and what are the freedoms?

There are definitely more freedoms than limitations. One limitation would be the inability to change perspective from landscape to portrait, but that doesn’t really affect me. In terms of freedoms, it’s great to be able to sprint across a busy street for a photo, completely blocking traffic without consequences. Also, although the characters will sometimes appear to notice my presence, they do not react to being photographed, so there is no real confrontation – as occurs more often than not on the streets IRL.

Do you feel there is a future for your kind of art in games?

This type of work has been around for almost as long as video games themselves, and it’s getting bigger every day. The ability to explore all these different worlds and realities is amazing, and all the work that is coming out of this really excites me.

What has been your response from other photographers and players?

At school (currently a junior Photography major at the School of Visual Arts in New York) the reception has been very good. When I would first show teachers and students the work they would be rather confused for a few minutes before I told them the photos were made from inside a video game. Everyone is seems to be very supportive and excited about the work.

Of course there have been criticisms, which I welcome and encourage, and these have only helped me improve. One funny response was from readers of the website PetaPixel, which featured my work back in October. Those comments weren’t exactly supportive. A lot of them claimed that this wasn’t “photography” and that I was just a lazy college student. I didn’t take those at all seriously and had quite a laugh, too.

What is your favourite photo youve taken in-game and why?

My favorite is probably one I took in Downtown Vinewood of a man walking past a storefront with blue neon lights:

Downtown Vinewood_Fernando Pereira Gomes

It is a photo that I keep coming back to.

As a “street photograph,” it doesn’t have the same elements I would normally look for, and compositionally it isn’t as interesting as others I have taken, but his expression is very introspective. This speaks directly to my project and the idea that these characters are aware of the fact that their existence relies on my presence.

Whose story do you feel you are telling when you take photos in the game?

I am telling the story of the characters in my photographs. These are scenes that depict their lonely, alienated, and brief existence. I say “brief” because of the game’s nature and the use of procedural generation. This is a term used in video game production for when content is generated algorithmically, depending on the players’ position on the map. It is a process used to save memory usage and make gameplay smoother, but to me it goes way beyond that. The existence of the characters in my photos relies on them being within my field of vision, if I turn a corner, they will vanish. It became apparent to me that they are aware of their predicament and their melancholy is thus evident in these photographs.

I’m also really interested in the notion of this video game and my photographs being a direct representation of our own realities, and have spoken about it in my artist statement:

The culture industry exists to keep us preoccupied with things other than our trodden lives. Still, it becomes evident that this entertainment is an authentic simulacrum of our realities, and reflects its melancholy. As stated by Baudrillard, the simulation threatens the difference between the true and the false, and the real and imaginary.’ »

So the question of whose story I am telling is a curious one, because my subjects are meant to represent reality, so their lives and stories are also ours, and vice versa. This all makes for confusing, but very interesting thinking.

Where do you plan on taking the project? Do you plan on expanding within GTA V, moving to a different game or moving to a new medium?

For now, I am trying to expand it within GTA V. I haven’t produced a lot of new work recently because I am working on editing the photos that I have for a show I will be having in São Paulo, Brazil (where I’m from) in June. However, as I mentioned before, I am really excited about this medium, and I will definitely be exploring it further.

Would you be able to tell us a bit about your latest project, Procedural Generation?

Procedural Generation is the new title of the entire project. In attempting to take the work further, I began to experiment with GIFs in an attempt to demonstrate the notion of procedural generation and the inevitable disappearance of these characters, as shown by them fading away. Ultimately, I am using this process to demonstrate the nature of their ephemeral realities.

You can see more of Fernando’s work here http://streetphotov.tumblr.com/ and at www.fpgomes.com