GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, and gallery owners operating in the field of Game Art, as part of an ongoing investigation of the social history of this fascinating artworld. Our goal is to illustrate the genesis and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.
The conversation between Kent Sheely and Mathias Jansson took place in November 2011 via email.
Kent Sheely is a digital artist specializing in New Media, especially in artworks based on the aesthetics and culture of video games. His work is eclectic and electric. Sheely has been experimenting with in-game photography for the last four years and he has produced several game-based installations like Health Station(2009) and Skybox (2008). He currently lives in New York.
Kent Sheely, DOD, 2011, digital photographsIn October 2011, Kent Sheeley updated his seminal series "DOD: A WWII Photo Essay" (2009). A photojournalism project inside a World War II themed game. Once again, the inspiration is Robert Capa, "whose most famous photos of the D-Day invasion were blurred due to a lab technician accidentally destroying most of his “good” shots from the event.", wrote Sheely.
GameScenes: In “DoD: A World War II Photo Essay” you play the role of a war photojournalist. As an "embedded" reporter, you both investigate and document a fictional, ludic World War II. Why did you choose this specific event and not, for instance, the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan? What kind of games do you use of your photography projects?
Kent Sheely: I had already worked with virtual photography in Grand Theft Auto, and was looking for other ways to explore the concepts I had been thinking about. A lot of multiplayer games are similar in structure, allowing players to choose from a selection of "classes" that focus on different styles of play, but all of these classes are meant to be combat roles; I wondered what would happen if I could subvert this "class" system, and take on a new role (that of a photojournalist) in a live online game, playing war in a new way and breaking the rules a little bit.
I primarily worked with the WWII game Day of Defeat: Source because I was intrigued by its gritty, war-ravaged urban settings and because I wanted my images to pay homage to the photojournalist Robert Capa.
Kent Sheely, WWII Redux, 2009
"Famous photos from World War II, recreated with a video game engine" (Kent Sheely)
Kent Sheely: I was ingtrigued by the work of real photojournalists from the World War II era, especially Capa, whose most famous photographs of the Normandy invasion were infamously blurred and surreal (due to a lab technician's mistake). I liked this aesthetic because of its natural tendency to distort and abstract reality, the figures emerging from the background like ghosts.
In World War II Redux, by deconstructing well-known historical photographs and reenacting them within the confines of the video game technology, my intent was to highlight the loss of meaning that occurs between real historic events and the interpretations of those events we experience through simulation. Despite best efforts to recreate the same imagery and tone from the original, the facsimile always falls short of the mark, but at the same time causes the viewer to see the original with more attention to detail.
The conflict within Day of Defeat is a representation of the battles that actually took place between the Allied and Axis forces in Europe. In creating this new observational role for my character in the game, I wanted to extend the metaphor as far as possible and document the conflict as I experienced it as an outside observer, separating myself from the goals of either team and focusing on capturing the intensity of what was playing out before me. I also wanted the performative nature of the work to stand out in the way I captured the images, with the low camera angles and the doorways framing what my character saw as he peered out from relative safety.
Kent Sheely, San Andreas Gamespace Photography, in-game photography, 2007
"Street photography from the fictional city of San Andreas. I abandoned the violent role in which the game’s narrative initially placed me, choosing instead to go out and take some nice photos of the game’s expansive world." (Kent Sheely)
GameScenes: Your photographic documentation of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is particularly intriguing. How did you achieve such fascinating results?
Pushing further, I started digging through the game's code, removing the aspect of danger from the game, disabling the player's ability to use anything but the camera and turning the player's character into a street photographer. I wanted to transform a game with such heavy cultural baggage into a viable tool for creation and expression, to appropriate the game's universe from a mere backdrop of a violent story into a living subject to be captured and explored through still images.
Link: Kent Sheely
Interview archives: Contemporary Practitioners; The Early Years
Text by Mathias Jansson
Editing: Matteo Bittanti
All images courtesy of the artist