The world represented in Kolker’s work is both banal and obsessive; it offers a counterpoint to the escapism of online gaming and other virtual environments, through the medium of the immersive image. Simulated, synthesized photographs, they hold the eye because they are forever not quite real. Kolker’s images are as seamless as Gursky’s or Crewdson’s, but their effect is very different. They have a domestic scale that engages the viewer’s own body. In contrast to the digital sublime, they offer a digital uncanny, simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. They may not refer to actual surfaces in the world, but they evoke the senses. We can almost feel the cool metal of the taps.
Dr. Lucy Soutter, Why Art Photography? Routledge. 2013
Imaginary Universe: Richard Kolker's Computer Generated Images
London-based artist Richard Kolker has been working exclusively with computer generated imagery (CGI) for the last six years. But the fact that he comes from a traditional photographic background, having previously worked as a commercial photographer for Getty Images, would surprise no one: Kolker’s imagined pictures of still lifes, interiors and landscapes are rendered with such precision and clarity that they appear like true, documentary shots.
Inspired by the bubbled Vancouver Real Estate market, the online virtual world Second Life and games such as World of Warcraft, which both rely heavily on GCI, Kolker sought to create images that were the antithesis of the aesthetic found in these programs. “I wanted to create images that reflected a more mundane nature, as opposed to the more fascinating environments people were experiencing through the anonymity of an avatar,” he says.
That quieter mood is seen in the image created for Kolker in this week’s education-themed issue of TIME. For a story that examines the potential of free online courses to upend traditional higher education, Kolker created a dark image of an empty classroom. “A lot of my photos have this dark shadowy entity to it,” he explains. “I wanted to convey the emptiness with this classroom image—like all the life has been taken out.”
Kolker’s images typically take a couple days to create. And while the method may be seen as unconventional, he says the process itself feels similar to actual shooting. “I build a model like I would with plastic or cardboard, and I light it as I would in real life—but just with digital tools,” Kolker says. “And then I photograph it with a computer tool [Maxon Cinema 4D] that has a shutter speed and aperture—so in many ways, it’s fairly conventional.”
For the most part, Kolker relies on his self-described “vivid imagination” to conceptualize pictures, although he’ll use an actual photograph as a starting point from time to time. In one series, “Reference, Referents,” Kolker looked to famous works by artists whose pieces recalled photographic elements, including David Hockney, and tried to recreate the perfect picture that might have inspired said work.
He still carries cameras around when he travels, but says he never takes pictures anymore, preferring to continue his CGI work. “The whole world is shifting from analog to digital, and I love thinking about this digital code that you can use to create images of places around the world without ever having to go there,” Kolker says. “I love the total freedom of it—the ability to create whatever it is in your imagination or fantasy.”
England, the Game
Digital Technology influences our daily lives. We read, hear, see and write differently because of it. The boundary between the real and the virtual world, which includes the flood of images that surrounds us, is constantly pushed to new limits. With digital technology our sense of belonging to a community has also changed. Richard Kolker drew his inspiration from the internet site Second Life which went online in 2003 and is said to have had more than 15 million users in 2009. Kolker's scenes, however, show no action. They show the places frequented by everyday 'heroes', and their point of view is that the player - which is also our point of view as spectators. In the 'England, the Game' series, digitally edited images are created using traditional photography and computer graphics.
By combining these elements, Kolker takes us into a world where the virtual can be as innocuous as real life.
'reGeneration: Tomorrow's Photographers Today'
William A. Ewing, Nathalie Herschdorfer. Musee de l'Elysee. Thames and Hudson
Viva la Revolucion.
"I don't think we've quite come to terms with the full implications of digital media and the quantum shift from an analogue to a digital, code-based culture," says Richard Kolker. "Our whole environment - and even ourselves, via the Human Genome Project - is being digital mapped, and the binary clue code generated is interchangeable with all forms of media and infinitely versatile. Digital photography is part of this revolution . Viewing photography magazines such as BJP via an iPad app, and showing photographic projects include sound and moving image, represent the first steps to a very different creative landscape."
Kolker is one of the early pioneers exploring that new landscape crossing the boundary between 2D in 3D by building virtual sets that he lights and 'photographs' using "a virtual camera that has the same controls and conventions as a traditional 'physical' camera; eg. aperture, depth of field, film sensitivity, exposure and a single perspective. "Several of my previous projects have been about exploring and documenting virtual spaces through photographic use of computer-generated imagery," he adds "I saw Paul Graham's series, A Shimmer of Possibility and liked the idea of expanding and developing a narrative using a sequence of images to explore a subject. This seems to be how we interact with the world anyway. We don't just view our surroundings once from a single fixed and static location; we move around, constantly examining and observing from many angles. I wanted to illustrate the three dimensions of the virtual space using this technique." T
The sequence takes a 2D images as its starting point - Juan Sanchez Cotan's Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, a till life painting from 1602. Kolker recreated the image in 3D using Maxon Cinema 4D and Maxwell Render software, first photographing it from the same perspective as the original and then moving around the setup to show it from different angles. In many ways the series follows on from his Reference, Referents project, in which he explored the relationship between painting and photography. "In the mid 19th century it was thought that photography's primary use would be as an aid to painting. Many artists - David Hockney, for example - have used it as such, and as a creative medium in its own right. I wanted to use the iconic painted artwork as a starting point to create an imaginary photographic reference that the artist may or may not have used. I wanted to see their work through a sort of 'realism filter' of realistic perspective and single viewpoint."
Kolker has had considerable success, winning a place in the Musee de l'Elysee's reGeneration exhibition and book in 2010, and on the Hyeres International Festival of Fashion and Photography's emerging photography prize earlier this year. In future he doesn't rule out moving beyond 2D or creating live 3D environments. I would like to render this project out as an animation too, with the camera 'flying' around the subject. I have also experimented with Unity game engine to create a defined virtual environment with which the viewer can interact."
British Journal of Photography
After Juan Sanchez Cotan
is a CGI image created by London College of Communication, MA photography graduate, Richard Kolker, who has used CGI software to create 'Around a Bodegon - after Juan Sanchez Cotan 1602'. In the Spanish 17th century still life painting tradition, a bodegon is set within the humble, everyday kitchen and is usually composed of items from the pantry. Here Kolker has created a piece that at first glance is difficult to categorize as a painting, photography or computer-generated imagery. Kolker has made a whole series of images created with CGI techniques, many of which appear like photographs.
Peter Smith and Caroline Leffley. Routledge
27th Hyeres International Fashion and Photography Festival
A deserted living room, a half-empty cafeteria, a bedroom with an unmade bed, a billboard stuck in a wasteland: your images are imbued with Unheimlichkeit, a disturbing strangeness, the irreducible anguish identified by Freud that takes hold of anyone who experiences the fantastic flipside of reality, when the familiar suddenly turns into its opposite. Your images are kept on this tightrope above all thanks to your technique. How do you use digital methods as a tool?
I work with 3D techniques used in the video game and visual effects industries to create CGI objects and sets that I then 'photograph' using the software's virtual cameras. This process is actually quite similar to building physical models and photographing them conventionally as I do not composite or heavily retouch images in post production.
This computer generated imagery represents synthetic or simulated photography. It has no real world referent to convert into a mechanical trace, but is nevertheless, I think, a photographic vision created using simulated light and computer geometry 'recorded' with a virtual camera.
The term 'non-places' has been used to refer to the spaces of our modernity, undefined, interchangeable spaces where the human becomes anonymous. Your images present both public spaces and interiors that seem to have been abruptly abandoned. These settings are far from spectacular, the opposite of the exoticism found in video games using 3D technology. Are these places that have become decors archetypes of modern city life?
The work explores how we engage with our own online presence, whether that is living out a fantasy in a role playing game or just our self-portrayal on a social networking site. I create images that are the antithesis of the escapist fantasy utopia that is often found in online virtual worlds, whilst still referencing the tradition of photography in my choice of subject matter, composition, lighting etc. The spaces I show are often mundane and 'ordinary' and I want these to serve as an illustration or metaphor for the tension that can exist between the desire to escape into an online fantasy and the constant reminders that draw us back to our real world responsibilities.
From the series (England, the Game) to Lost in Space (Trap Code) you seem to be moving increasingly in the direction of abstraction: places are less and less clearly identifiable; the image, shot through with shadow, is increasingly dark and deserted. Is this an immersion in the frontiers of reality?
I think that's true; the images have become more ambiguous. They have also moved from a third to a first person narrative as I have continued to explore the nature of the immersion. Watching a movie or reading a book we can vicariously lose ourselves in the story of the protagonist, but playing an online video game significantly increases the level of immersion, as we enter an alternative social environment where friendships and experiences can be as intense and as significant as those in the physical world, and our decisions influence the direction of the narrative.
I think the work stimulates further debate on realist representation; using the tools and techniques employed in the construction of the virtual world we can create images that explore photographic authenticity; images that look in some way 'photographic' but are fabricated from the imagination.