A LAND TO DIE IN


The works in this project are photographs comprised of reflections born of exploring, researching and reflecting on World of Warcraft and its relationship to photographic history. Also known as WoW, in 2008 it was by far the most popular MMORPG (Massive-Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) and by many accounts the most played video game in the world. MMORPGs are a style of computer game in which a multitude of players log in to a large virtual realm to game together. In this case, WoW is steeped in the history of the epic fantasy genre. Working together to slay dragons or goofing around dancing in town square, players make characters who cooperate or fight in this sprawling, persistent world of ruined castles and jagged mountains. Each server often boasts tens of thousands of players and a complexity of virtual geography and culture to match. 

The project is broken up in to seven chapters that each explore a specific facet of these digital realms:

The first chapter of the project gives the show its name-sake, “Leveling 1-70, (A Land to Die In)" which is a large installation of photographs in a grid. These images are a record of every single corpse of a fellow player that I came across while I acceded up to the maximum level in the game. Whether it be from trying to take on too many brigands, falling too far, or stumbling into ambush of hostile other players, to play is to die repeatedly amongst the wonders of the game’s world. 

Chapter two is “The Many Deaths Of Guy Debord” which is a book homage to the quintessential 1960s French radical, Guy Debord. Guy Debord was also my character’s name in WoW for the hundreds of hours that I spent wandering these virtual worlds, and the name which many of my guild-mates called me even after they found out my real name. This book is constructed like Debord’s classic Mémoires, which had sandpaper as its covers to destroy the books next to it on a shelf. The contents of this book are quotes from Guy Debord’s writings paired with screenshots of my character, Guy Debord, dying in the game. 

Chapter three is “Travels: A Photographic Landscape Show,” and takes the form of is a series of landscapes photographs printed in traditional platinum and silver processes. They were shot during my adventures in the frontiers of WoW, much like the landscapes of Timothy O'Sullivan or William Henry Jackson who photographically explored the American West in the later decades of the 1800s. But unlike the vision of westward expansion overlaid on the landscape by these historical photographers, the language used by the landscape of WoW is built 150 years later from these Imperialist, Orientalist and Romantic art historical forms in which the landscape is portrayed as a place to inevitably venture forth in search of fame, novelty, and wealth. This show has been typically installed outdoors at night amongst trees, lit only by candles. 

Chapter four is “Glitches” which are documents of the innumerable glitches that randomly occur in the game world. The punctuating moment of the glitch, owing to its sudden shattering of the facade of immersive realism, can be more awe-inspiring or humorous than the most spectacular magic spell or wittiest dialogue. The images call attention to the fact that realism in computer games is primarily made from complex permutations of polygons. One of the long-running tactics of avant guard art has been to use geometric fracturing and abstracting in images to express new realities. By photographing these moments of fracture, I want to present them as a way to contemplate both the amazingly intricate (and delicate) systems on which reality’s facade is hung, but also as reminder the intense amounts of labor and creativity that are used to construct the programming and geometry that produce the game's whimsical forms.

“A Social Occasion” is the title of the fifth chapter, which is a set of interwoven photographs from both in-game social events and multi-person quests alongside photographs made while traveling to the official World Of Warcraft fan convention BlizzCon in Anaheim, California. Chapter six, “Questioners” is a companion to chapter five, and is made up photographs of every fan who was allowed to asked a question at the largest formal panel discussion about the game’s in-world mechanics with the creators of the game at BlizzCon. The room housed almost 10,000 people and the only way to see anything was to stare upward at the dozens and dozens of projection screens on the ceiling. 

The final chapter, “Graveyards” returns thematically to the first chapter and consists of an installation of faux-cyanotypes hanging from dead tree branches. The photographs are each a image of one of the innumerable graveyards that litter the landscape of World of Warcraft. Some graveyards are where players respawn after their (inevitable) deaths. Some are locations for quests or battles that deal with the afterlife and undead. But many are simply set-pieces used to build the ambiance and implied narrative of the world. All of the tombstones are nameless, knowable only by their sculptural form.