My Name is Human: The Condition of Digital Life.
The title of this body of work is me trying to give words to something that I have been thinking about for a while now. I started recognizing “it” here and there scrolling through my flicker feed or making the rounds of galleries and builds inworld. More often than not, I’d see it in Peterkes Beaton’s images. After a conversation with him about the work now in the gallery (through July) I was even more certain about how I wanted to frame this piece of writing.
There is a slice of SL photography that focuses on the solitary figure with dramatic lighting seemingly emphasizing some unspoken drama or angst happening within. If you’ve taken any art history courses you are probably familiar with the term chiaroscuro, which refers to how light and dark are use to create the illusion of dimensional volume on a flat surface. The translation into english is ‘light-dark’ (chiaro – bright/clear and scuro – dark/obscure).
This has been written about before (as it pertains to SL). You might want to check out Inara Pey’s article about the photos of Mihailsk from July of 2021, which can be found here. Many times images in black and white evoke different reactions (dramatic, powerful, magical) than images with color. Beaton works with both black and white – and color.
But it isn’t just the drama of these particular images. Even those in color (at least those curated into this particular exhibit) show one man (Beaton) alone in a particular space with titles (Pray, I had a dream, Dreams, Realize) or non-titles (…) that clue the viewer into a thought process. Whatever he is contemplating – he is doing so in solitude.
Beaton started visiting SL back in 2007 after reading about it in a magazine (the same year this writer rezzed). The first time he logged in, he stayed for 10 hours.
“In the beginning of my SL, I was just curious how and what it was because some famous brands in my country were [inworld] so I had to check it out.” In contact with the content creators for those brands, he found himself working with one of the biggest radio stations in his country. “A few months after that we decided to make an orientation sim for the people from Belgium / Holland – and we did this together with Lindenlab.”
So, Beaton has been in SL for well over a decade (although he took years off) as many do. What brought him back/keeps him here? “I could answer this question many different ways, but I think the main reason for me is still the creative part and not only pictures and building but also the music that I play (He is a also a great DJ). The social contact and the small circle of friends I’ve made here are a [reason] to come back. I met one of my best RL friends in here and still have contact with him on a regular basis”.
Beaton often posts both a color and a black and white version of the same image on his flicker page. Many of his images play with this idea or theme of being solitary – alone. Beaton describes himself as somebody who ‘works or lives on emotions.’ Bringing those emotions to an image with a solitary figure is the “most simple way for me to do for this. Being in my own mind set – in my “own” world brings me ideas…. When you showed me the [images you selected] I could almost remember each emotion.”
“Color photography is like a novel that spells everything out in detail, whereas black-and-white photography is like poetry—its strength isn’t in what’s said; it’s in what’s left out.”
– Heinrich van den Berg
Susan Sonntag said, “a beautiful photograph is not just a picture of a beautiful thing…
Time and Love (and Place)
Our understanding of life (any life – virtual or real) is framed by time, from beginning to end, and from morning to night. While our experience is only ever of the continuous present, our understanding is shaped by history and memory. Even in a virtual life where your existence can be an eternal summer or offer you the ability to wander through spaces that are contemplative or frantic, your time is measured by logging in and logging out.
A photographer (unconsciously or not) raises questions in the process of their work…as all art is (on one hand) the maker trying to answer or work something out for themselves. We are invited to LOOK at an image – and in SL this becomes even more complicated (and often more interesting). We are looking at the idea of a real thing (“what is real? asked the Velveteen Rabbit) — at least twice removed.
Rebecca Solnit (who I admit, I love) has written that “Sense of place is the sixth sense, in internal compass and map made by memory and spatial perception together.” Maybe our relationship to the solitary – or our sense of place – is something we redefine – in our own, in vastly different and yet familiar ways – in SL. In spite of what Second Life was originally intended to be, it remains a platform that offers the individual a high level of interactivity. Musicians, scholars, artists – all members of the community have the opportunity to explore place and self – in spite of everything written to lament the “death” of the platform.
I am grateful for this.