Article: On Photography in Videogames

For Overweg, capturing glitches in worlds that attempt to be picture-perfect facsimiles of reality is a way to expose the fact that, after all, games are inevitably engraved by their makers: “Games are still created by humans. When they forget something due to a human error glitches can appear, thus glitches are the most human aspect of gaming. Also I love it when something gets damaged but becomes more beautiful.” Traversing a “realistically” stylized game like Left 4 Dead in an active player context often means seeing glitches and bugs as amusing or annoying mistakes rather than indicators of humanity. Pulling glitches out of that context and portraying them as frozen moments in time allows us to reflect, to see them in a new light. Overweg remarks that games, like many other art forms, demonstrate the limits of our imaginations because our tendency is to reproduce “what we already know.” He even notes that although he can take a photo in-game from any perspective he likes, the ones that are the most resonant and popular are the ones taken from angles that people find most familiar. It’s makes the thing—no matter how unnatural it is—feel more present, attainable, real. Still, Overweg believes in looking beyond the game as it is meant to be played and seen. “My first series of photographs where I make the exact same photos as in the physical world, it took me a while to see this and break free from it. Sherry Levine once said, ‘Any photographer who goes out to photograph goes out with preconceptions of what can be found.’”

Seoul museum of art installation shot

Seoul museum of art, international media art biennial. Installation shot, The end of the virtual world. – Robert Overweg

I was invited to exhibit at the Seoul museum of art at the international media art biennial. 6 pieces from the series The end of the virtual world were flown in from the Netherlands. Size 144 cm by 82 cm. These photographs are taken in 4 different computer games all part of our popular culture.

During my stay in Seoul, I got to mingle with the locals, meet new inspiring artists, and curators from all over the world. I gave three lectures, on one art academy and two universities. I was honored to speak at one of the most prestigious universities of the city: Yonsei University. A campus as large as a little village in the Netherlands.

My work got picked up by the Korean Broadcasting Station for whom I did an interview about my work. A station one can compare to the British BBC. Where I once did a radio interview for. Leaving Seoul with lots of good memories and a little bit of a headache from all of the parties. When I got home to Amsterdam I received a e-mail from a gallery asking to represent me in Seoul. More info on that soon.

Thanks for having me Seoul, I had a wonderful time. What a diverse, vibrant city and kind people.



From September 11th until November 4th.

I will be attending the opening in Seoul, hope to see you there!

Click here for the website

Since 2000, the Seoul International Media Art Biennale’, also known as ‘Mediacity’ has been hosting the event every two years. So far, Mediacity has been introducing new and exciting interdisciplinary practices of media art, drawing on influences of contemporary science, philosophy, and new technology. Now reaching the 7th edition, the biennale aims to show a multitude of interests that captivates the world of contemporary media art today. During the past twelve years, the biennale explored wide-ranging themes including: City: between 0 and 1 (2000) which embraced new promising possibilities of digital media and network while envisioning a new future for the city. In 2002, Lunar’s Flowaimed to disentangle the relation between digital art and the aesthetics of the sublime, and in 2004, Digital Homo Ludens (2004) offered numerous interpretations and revelations about the concept of game and play that stems from online digital interface. Dual Realities in (2006) explored the interrelation between illusion and reality; Turn and Widen (2008) focused on the development of new media, offering a new critical perspective of tensions between traditional and digital media. And most recently, Trust (2010) investigated ways in which media impacts our everyday lives in a broader social-political context.

The 7th Seoul International Media Art Biennale will open from 11thSeptember ~ 4th November 2012. The theme of this year’s biennale is ‘Spell On You’. This proposes to imagine a vision for a new world and society in two ways. On the one hand, it will show how the recent production of new technology and social media is generating various renewals in social communication and exchange. On the other hand, it aims to reinterpret art and technology in an attempt to re-envision our future, and find alternative ways of living. Against this background, this exhibition will highlight the notion of a ‘Spell’ to convey active and direct modes of communication. It is hope that ‘Mediacity’ can bring an illuminating insight into the current dynamic shifts in contemporary art and technology.

‘Spell On You’ brings together works by approximately fifty artists from all over the world. Jinsang Yoo is the artistic director of the 7th Seoul International Media Art Biennale, and he will be joined by three renowned curators of contemporary media art; Yukiko Shikata (Independent curator based in Tokyo), Olof van Winden (Director of Netherlands Media Art Institute, NIMk), and Dooeun Choi (Co-curator of The Zero1 festival at San Jose).

Game PRO interview by John Davison

I want to right something that riffs on the “are games art” cliche that has been over-explored to death, and instead borrow something from your work, namely “finding art in games.” I really liked the glitch pieces you ran, so I’d like to focus on them primarily.

Hi John, I think the finding art in games aspect has everything to do with perspective. How you look at things.

– Can you give me a little background on yourself? Where you’re from, your gaming history (what you grew up with, any important moments), education, etc.?
I’m from the Netherlands, Amsterdam. Grew up under the smoke of schiphol. I still remember clearly one of my friends in the street where I was living, we had constant fights about which game system was better (sega or Nintendo) I started out with a nes but became a sega fan. I later on grew up a little bit. Studied management economics and law, quit that. Went into design, graduated at the art academy of visual arts in Arnhem. Started my own design company during my school and got into photographing in the virtual world at the same time.

– Can you describe what it was like when it dawned on you that there was beauty in some of these glitches and bugs in games?

I don’t know if it really dawned, it came more as a shock with a wow factor. As soon as I took a shot and took it out of the narration of the match or game. Some of the images could become something entirely different than what they were about before.

– Do you actively seek to break games? Or play as normal, and simply snap an image when you discover something?

A bit of both, I actively seek and sometimes get lost in the game. I just don’t like following orders or predefined paths.

– Can you describe what you think is the most beautiful moment in a game that you’ve seen – intentional or otherwise?

I think The façade from half-life 2 was a nice (unintentional) moment seeing laid bare the structure, technique and a wonderful sight. The scripted moments in Starcraft 2 are interesting as well, (-spoiler alert-) where you have to choose for or against your female laboratory worker. I had that screen to choose the specific option open for like 20 minutes.

– In your blog you make some interesting observations regarding the edges/end of game worlds, and their artistic impact. Do you think this is something that’s under-explored by game designers?

Of course they are but games are commercial products, although they offer an entire world it’s still a product. I do think we should try to push the limits more of the virtual world and how we think things should look, instead of copying our physical world. For an example, in finding ways to get under the map in GTA 4, it\s quite interesting to walk under a moving world. Wouldn’t it also be interesting to have 2 layers to play in on top of each other. Two levels in which you can interact with, travel between. Could be interesting.

– Your work is primarily in first person shooters on PC – have you experimented with other genres? Is so, what. If not, why?

Yea I did some 3rd person games, but that’s almost the same as the first person games. The thing is in these kind of games I can take the most freedom, they are at the forefront of development and are played by millions. Thus being a big part of our popular culture.

Thanks Robert,

John Davison

Gamescenes interview by Mathias Jansson

In August 2010, Mathias Jansson talked to Robert Overweg (b. 1983), a designer and artist from Amsterdam.  Since 2007 Overweg has been working as a virtual photographer in online worlds of first and third person shooter games. His work has been exhibited all over the world in the last few years. This interview took place via email. Read it on the Gamescenes site

You define yourself “a virtual photographer”. But what is the difference between a “virtual” and a “real” photographer, aside from the fact that you are shooting in online worlds?

Robert Overweg: Well, to me the virtual world is a direct extension of our physical world, the worlds I photograph in are a representation or copy of our own physical world so I see no reason in calling photography in the virtual world any different than photography in the physical world. There are of course differences between the two worlds there are for an example no camera settings like shutter time in the virtual world. On the other hand in the virtual world you can float through walls have a night and day cycle in 20 minutes and more.

What are your favorite videogame environments? Which genre do you find most appealing?

First and third person shooters, they are part of our popular culture and can be seen as our new public spaces. They are at the forefront of game development.

What kind of elements, motifs and themes are you looking for in the games?

I make these photographs because I want to explore the virtual world and the boundaries between the virtual and physical. I don’t have one motif that keeps me going I keep finding new ones. It’s always best to stay out of your own comfort zone.

Can a Game screenshot really be considered as art? Today everybody can takes photos or screenshots from games. What does it take that a picture should be considered artistic and not just another user screenshot?

That is for the viewer to decide. To me when the picture starts to become something else than what the game was about and the viewer can relate to it in a new way it starts to become interesting.

Among the contemporary photographers, who do you find most inspiring, and why?

Thomas Ruff did some awesome stuff broadening the way we think about photography, I also think what Alexander Rodchenko did ages ago is still quite innovative. Other artists I like range from Christo to Jeff Wall to Richard Prince to Philip Lorca di Corcica but I also like a collective like “Hamburger eyes”.

In the contemporary art scene do you experience any difference in attitude between a real photo and a photo from a videogame?

It sometimes raises questions, which is good.

How do you see on the technical development of tools to make photography in videogames?

I think in the future photographing in the virtual world will be as normal as making photographs at your bar-mitzwa, wedding or party. Game companies will probably start copying how photo-camera’s work in the physical world.

November 2010

The Shpilman institute for photography interview by Rotem Rozental

Robert Overweg began to examine the boundaries between the physical and virtual worlds in 2007, using the same technique to photograph in both spheres. Since then he has continued to develop this method, which has turned him into a true photographic visionary. He is also the first participant in our (exciting!) new section of interviews with photographers from all over the world. Here goes: Read it on the SIP site

1. What was the first image you ever took (that you remember)?

The first photograph was of my parents when I was around ten years old. My first virtual photograph was either in s.t.a.l.k.e.r. or Counter-strike back in 2007. The photograph in counter-strike was a photo of beautiful sunlight and shadows being cast on the ground of a warehouse. What I found interesting is that the sun was a static object the sun rays are there day and night.

2. Why did you want to become a photographer?

I did not think as a child that I wanted to become a photographer, it just happened. I did always photograph in the physical world to visually explore that world. I graduated at the art academy in Arnhem as a designer where I also had a 3 year course of photograph. I guess photography was always around me.

Photographing in the virtual world to me came as something logical to do, the virtual world is a impression of our own physical world it’s just another world to discover where we can experience and explore. Documenting this through photography is the most logical step for me.

3. What is the most difficult thing for a photographer in this day and age? What do you hate the most?

The hardest but most important thing is to break free from your own comfort zone and break free of preconceptions of what can be done. But that is not something new for this day and age.

4. What inspires you?

Anything which makes me rethink something.

5. What kind of music do you listen to when you work on your computer?

Ben Harper – The Drugs Don’t Work (Live)

Andre Hazes – Jij Denkt Maar Dat Je Alles Mag Van Mij

Styx – Renegade

Cypress Hill – Insane In The Brain – Explicit Album Version

Foreigner – I Want To Know What Love Is

Foreigner – Cold As Ice

Waldemar Bastos – Sofrimento

Queens Of The Stone Age – Make It Wit Chu

Leela James – A Change Is Gonna Come

Ben L’Oncle Soul – Seven Nation Army

Columbia Symphony Orchestra – Piano Concerto Nr. 21 C Major Kv 467 ‘Elvira Madigan’: Allegro

Kanye West – POWER – Explicit Version

Jamie Lidell – Little Bit of Feel Good

James Blunt – Goodbye My Lover

James Morrison – Broken Strings

Josh Rouse – Lemon Tree

A Fine Frenzy – Almost Lover

Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar

Balthazar – I’ll Stay Here

Edith Piaf – Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

From my Spotify playlist

6. What was the last photography book you’ve read?

Words without pictures

7. Who are your photography idols? Why?

I don’t just have photography idols, I like: Thomas Demand, Thomas Ruff, Richard Prince, Jeff Koons. They work with already known objects and themes and twist them to let us rethink something or experience something new.

8. What can we find on your bookmarks? How do you choose your favorite bookmarks?

Lots of random stuff, I have so many that they have lost their function.

9. What are you working on now? Which type of project? What are its main concepts?

I am researching If I can actually build a virtual building in the physical world. Scale 1:1. Might be a 6 – 7 meter tall building. If it’s (financially) possible to build what I have in mind it could be ready next month.

10. What are your favorite blogs? Why? & Kanye west’s one but that seems to be offline now.

They both have good curators, most of the time something out of the ordinary.

Best regards,

Rotem Rozental

Content Developer and Researcher