Robbie Cooper is cited on page 18 of the course notes as an example of documentary work that blurs lines between genre and media.
Alter Ego is a photographic project and book in which Cooper presents portraits of video gamers alongside their on screen avatars. The project came about when Cooper was photographing a divorced company CEO who kept in touch with his children via the online game Everquest. The initial contact with this online world led Cooper to explore how users choose to present themselves in the virtual world which is a fascinating insight. In his #Phonar lecture, Cooper describes how when presenting the work he often chooses this image because of the way it subscribes to a stereotypical view many people have of video gamers; overweight, male, unfashionable, geeky – the juxtaposition between real life and the avatar he has chosen starkly emphasises the disparity between reality and (presumed) ideal. He then follows with this image which totally throws the preconceived prejudices of the viewer on its head and demonstrates the potential positive applications of a digital life which allows the subject here access to experiences that would not be unavailable in the real world (although the melancholic extension of the is thought is that this life can only ever be a simulation.) Here the choice of avatar represents an inner strength that is not obviously apparent when looking at the subject in real life. This also made me question the assumptions that I had made about the first image and consider the superficiality of making judgements based solely upon surface.
When you begin to look at a few of these pairings of portraits and avatars similarities start to appear:
Ultimately I find the lack of commentary by Cooper for this series the most engaging aspect – it is for the viewer to provide meaning and context to the images shown. For me, this meant assessing my own prejudices and to thinking about the danger of making assumptions on face value. I was also struck by the complexity of our individual lives and how difficult this is to be able to read.
Immersion is a project that continued Cooper’s interest in video gamers before branching out into other forms of media. Cooper uses a technique adapted from approach used by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris turning a digital film camera into both screen and lens, media are then shown on the device (for example video games) which has the effect of the subject looking straight into the camera lens and therefore the appearance of returning the gaze of the viewer. The technique also has the effect of the subjects being unconcerned by the presence of the camera with the end result being a natural record of their behaviour – Cooper describes the work as being between sociology and art. Cooper makes films from the footage and also takes individual frames and presents them as large prints. The detail of the work is extremely high due to the resolution of the digital camera used – taking stills from film in this way could potentially represent the future of photography, especially for a genre such as photojournalism where an event can be filmed and then key scenes taken from this footage after the event. Truly the end for the notion of the decisive moment.
What has happened to Robbie Cooper?
There is a great deal of information and articles on the internet for Robbie Cooper dated around 2010 (also the time of his exhibition at the National Media Museum.) In this he talks about developing his immersion project into exploring many different forms of media, building an interactive website and looking to fund the project through Kickstarter – there is no more information after this however. Also, his website http://www.robbiecooper.org no longer works. This is a shame as I find his work engaging and following through on Immersion in the way he has discussed would have made a fascinating survey of our relationship to modern media.
Leith, S. (2008) The Immersion Project. The Telegraph, 22nd November 2008, available online at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3563534/The-Immersion-project.html [accessed 2nd April 2017]
Usborne, S. (2010) Digital disguises: who do they think they are? The Independent, 10th March 2010. available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/digital-disguises-who-do-they-think-they-are-1918797.html [accessed 9th April 2017]