Online / offline portraits

June 20, 2007

They’ve been floating around for a while now, but it’s only just occurred to me to actually mention them in this blog…

The photographer Robbie Cooper has collected a series of portraits of meat-space computer users and juxtaposed them with images of their online avatars, publishing them in a book you can get yer mits on here. I first heard talk of these on BoingBoing which then, more recently, led me to a slideshow at New Scientist, accompanied by a brief audio explanation of a series of these lovely two-sided photographs.  You can view the slideshow here.

What first grabbed me was the wonderful quality of Cooper’s portrait photography, but it soon becomes apparent that the range of different people and avatars is the most intreaguing story on show here. Some use online worlds for escapism, some for real-world money-making. Some avatars are almost exact replicas of their meat-space counterparts, others give no hint as to the qualities or identities of their controllers. One particularly fascinating image shows a young boy with severe muscular dystrophy, only able to move his thumb in the physical world, and his rather classy robotic avatar in the online world – able to interact with people in a way never available to him in meatspace.

I haven’t ventured far into mmorpgs or the likes of Second Life, myself, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that I should have another look…