the validity of virtual photography

I generally believe that misperceptions, or even conflicts, are not bad. If dealt with in a constructive manner they in fact often demystify things. In this post then, I address the common misperception that “real life” photography is more valid than virtual world photography. I look at some of the criteria that overlap in both. I address the difficulty of some critics to accept virtual photography as legitimate. I talk about virtual photography as the same and as different, and as a means of communication between people in Second Life. I consider that virtual photography, especially as perceived on Flickr, may in fact be a new form of art.

I am not a photographer by profession, merely a novice snapping pictures in the virtual world. But regardless, and again, as mentioned in my Le serpent qui danse May 11, 2017 blog entry, it seems to me a photograph is a photograph whether it is taken in real or virtual worlds. If not, would someone please explain to me what is actually the difference?

One of the reasons that I care about the meaning of virtual photography is because I am getting fed up with it being thought of as second best to “real life” photography. It just doesn’t make sense to me. In fact, there are many criteria that overlap when it comes to virtual and “real life” photography. There are virtual images that are of better quality than others, just as it is the case with “real life” photography. The question of what is art pertains to virtual and “real life” photography alike. The thinking involved in the creative process of virtual and “real life” photographs is the same. And so on.

Probably certain critics of virtual world photography, and of SL Flickr, have a hard time consolidating the fact that virtual photography is legitimate because they experience it as a threat. In their minds, this kind of photography must not be real because these days any novice has access to editing tools required to produce an image. But isn’t that great? Why condemn people who experiment creatively with photography? Shouldn’t we be open to creativity in all its forms? Why so frightened of the new and the undefined?

I firmly believe that a virtual photograph is just like a “real life” photograph. But I also believe that it is much more than simply an image; it is a tool for people in Second Life to communicate with each other about their virtual experiences in a virtual community space (Flickr). When we are part of a virtual world like Second Life, we communicate in-world via IM, voice, poses, profiles, and with our choice of avatar appearance. A big part of our communication with each other is also expressed creatively with our photos on Flickr. There are virtual photographers on Flickr who I have never met but I feel I know them because I know their photographs. They have become familiar to me.

Lastly, and boldly, I would go as far as suggesting that virtual photography as we see it and experience it on Flickr is art. So while the virtual photograph is just like the “real life” photograph, it is also not. It represents a new form of art with categories and criteria of its own. I will not go into this too much here because it is something that Tutsy Navarathna and myself discussed at length in the past and even considered putting together a publication about. We may still. It was during these discussions about virtual art and Flickr that Tutsy cleverly coined the term Flickrism.

In conclusion, I think it is safe to say that a virtual photograph is the same as a “real life” photograph. In addition it also serves as a communication tool for creative people occupying the virtual world. And we may want to start considering virtual Flickr photography a new virtual art movement in its own right. Virtual photography is not only the same as “real life” photography it is also different. Different is a usually a good thing, at least in my book.

Photograph by Kate Bergdorf

24 thoughts on “the validity of virtual photography

  1. agreed, When the art is created by those outside the art world hub of schooling and commercial galleries it has come to be known as folk art or outsider art. I think that is where the perceived conflict arises. The special circle of recognition and mutual glorification the art world has enjoyed is on the way out anyway. The tools for creation and distribution have changed. Flickrism is an example of that change. Problem is when the recognition of what is good is left up to crowdsourcing, likes, and comments the more challenging work goes unnoticed in favor of sensation. This forces the artist who’s work does not fit inside the current cultural bubble to seek affirmation somewhere else. Maybe there always will be a separate art world and popular culture bubble.

    1. Thank you very much for this, Sowa. I am hopeful too that perhaps gradually things are changing when it comes to mutual glorification in the art world. We need to understand and accept, however, that with the internet a new group of artists, who are using a new set of tools, are moving art forward. Perhaps the entire notion of what it means to be an artist needs to be revisited and seriously reflected upon. Thanks again for your comment, incredibly insightful and eloquently expressed.

  2. I agree with what you say – particularly that it is the same but different. Photography, literally translated, means drawing with light. If anything, digital art, using no physical objects and just light, is more literally photography than that captured with a camera in the actual world. It doesn’t make it better (or worse), but it absolutely validates it.

    So much of this is about status and snobbery. One art form thinking it is better than another; whether it’s oils or watercolours or printmaking or photography, one looks down on another. Even within photography there’s print and digital, monochrome or colour. For me, art is about the intent, the idea, and the desire for expression. It’s not about the medium – you can be equally be an artist with a camera, a brush, ink or digital light. Some people may have better technical skills, but they may not have the ideas that connect (though I think that is sometimes on its own narrow terms, which is different from mass popularity, such as ‘likes’ on platforms on Flickr). Yes, some art is better than others, and I think it is good if people express thoughtful opinions. And I would also rather see a range of art, some of which fails, than a pile of very predictable imagery – indeed I’d suggest that experimentation is a defining quality of art. But all art, good or bad, has an important function, for, as Kurt Vonnegut said, it is a ‘very human way of making life more bearable’.

    1. Thanks a lot for this, Tizzy. Your thoughts very much help to shed light on this issue. People need to talk more about this in general I think. Most of all, we need be mindful of keeping our minds open and not simply resort to accepting archaic notions on how to understand and view art.

  3. art is art is art! Though I am for the most part a real life photographer and all that entails. I suppose a nature photographer would not find complete satisfaction in the virtual world so I do find certain limitations within a virtual environment. But as for poetic interpretation and expression it is one and the same, visually pleasing and sometime profound!!

    1. Thank you Faneton for your blog post about my exhibit “The Dancing Serpent” and about my post about virtual photography. Your post is in French, which I unfortunately don’t read or speak. I used the google translator that you provide on your site to translate. While I think I get the general gist of your post, the Google translation is of course also mostly gibberish. Thus I will not be able to get into any kind of meaningful response to your negative critique of my exhibit and of this post about virtual photography. I respect and welcome your opinion, however. I applaud you for writing the post, which seems to basically completely shred my exhibit to pieces lool! You also seem to disagree with that virtual world photography and “real life” photography are the same. Regardless, it is important to me that people speak up and part-take in this discussion about virtual world photography, so thank you again, much appreciated.

  4. It is very comforting to read this text and the comments it arouses!
    “There are virtual photographers on Flickr who I have never met but I feel I know them because I know their photographs. They have become familiar to me.”
    This is a very important point, art exists when you can create this so special intimacy between the artwork and yourself, when you feel your soul is nourished.
    It is clearly a new practice, determined by this specific environment and tools and it deserves a real debate not only on its legitimacy as art but also on the wealth and diversity of its practice. Different media, tools, space, practices, but still and always a real creative process.
    Thank you Tizzy Cannuci, I could not say better than your comment!
    The digital revolution reshapes how art is produced and shown. Virtual photography is fully part of it.

    1. Thank you very much, Praline, for your comment. I think it is so very important that we keep an open mind about this “new practice” and the digital revolution and understand it for what it is. Never had I expected such a range of commentary here (as well as on Flickr) when I wrote this post. I am very pleased that it got people thinking, and most importantly, also go them to speak up and express their opinions.

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