Exploring digital worlds – Alex Burgess

How do we represent reality? This is the main question in Alex Burgess’ latest work “Shift Command Three,” a creation that in some ways is a work of photography, but in other ways an exploration of photography – and reality – itself.

Alex Burgess graduated from the photography course at Camberwell College of Arts in 2014, and has since been working in Hoxton as part of an artist residency. In spite of his education, he hesitates to call himself a photographer. “I would say that I choose to explore the photographic, rather than the afflictions of ‘photography.’ Although, saying that, I explore my subject through the eyes of photography, so who knows!”

Alex is all bout “digital places,” as can be seen in his works. Featured on his webpage is “Another World,” a set of close-ups of obsolete console games. The worlds contained within these games are limited by the computational possibilites and the low-definition screens of that time, yet anyone who is old enough to have played these games will know that these worlds can take on a strong sense of reality. Questions like these – reality in relation to the medium it’s being shown in – permeate Alex’s works.

“Shift Command Three” delves into the digital map. As Mac users will know, the name comes from the key combination to produce screenshots – and that is also what this series of pictures are. In these ocean pictures, we see a mysterious effect that is only found in digital maps – the gap between different resolutions of imagery. One side of the picture might have crisp and detailed waves, while the other is a featureless blur. Still, both pictures claim to show reality – which raises questions on the relation between the map and the mapped.

“The ‘digital map’ is forever getting closer to Jorge Borges’ or Lewis Carroll’s poetic analogies of the 1:1 scale map, a story in which the map covers entire countries and block out the sunlight, causing the farmers to go up in arms,” he says.

“I love the idea that the digital metaphor for our own world is both representational and at the same time, a completely new world on its own. These digital mapping services change from being the perfect ideal for a simulation (a drawn up or rendered version of our own world, detailing the like for like, generating a perfectly manufactured imitation of a section of our planet), to an extension of our world (only viewable through the small rectangles which frame it).”

The process behind the pictures is a laborous one, with Alex scouring miles and miles of virtual coastline in order to find “worthwhile” moments. Once these situations have been found, the picture itself has to be created.

“To create an image with enough resolution to print these at the scale they are (the largest one is around 60” wide), I created a laborious process in which I take multiple screenshots of the area I want to record and then stitch them together manually in Photoshop to build up an image which can be printed at scale.”

“The piece called ‘Sermersooq,’ for example, is comprised of well over 1,000 screenshots and took many hours to construct,” he said.

Alex is currently working on more editions of the series and is also collaborating with Camberwell Press to release the work, along with new projects, into a book. In the future, he hopes to be able to continue his exploration of the digital worlds.

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