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