This World and Others Like It investigates the role of the 21st century explorer by combining computer modeling with analogue photographic processes. Drawing upon the language of 19th century survey images, I question their relationship with current methods of record making.
Thousands of explorable realities exist through rover and probe based imagery, virtual roleplaying, and video game software. Within the contemporary wilderness, robots have replaced photographers as mediators producing images completely dislocated from human experience. This suggests that now the sublime landscape is only accessible through the boundaries of technology.
Drew Nikonowicz is pushing at the boundaries of his medium at a young age. Born two years after the release of the World Wide Web, his work interrogates the relationship between image-making and seeing the world around us. He was recently named the winner of the Aperture Portfolio Prize for his cutting-edge work This World and Others Like It.
LensCulture Managing Editor Alexander Strecker reached out to Nikonowicz to learn more about his richly enigmatic images.
LC: How did you begin making the pictures in the “This World” series? Any particular inspirations, starting points?
DN: There were several phases to the project, but the one thread that carried between them was my constant push to make as much work as I could.
In the beginning, the project consisted exclusively of computer-generated landscapes. I found that to be very limiting; the work seemed arrogant, somehow and not as earnest as I wanted to be. When I started photographing again, things started to make a lot more sense. I was able to reconcile the decisions I made in one image with the information I presented in another. It wasn’t until I brought the two together that the body felt coherent.
LC: So your work employs both computer simulations as well as analog photographic processes. On the surface, these two working methods seem opposed. But clearly, you’re reconciling them. Can you talk more about bridging the analog/digital divide?
DN: My images generate a sense that these two things are very separate. But in reality, both computer simulations and analog photographic processes are very similar; both are imaging regimes whose primary strength is in their descriptive powers. Both are interested in accurately describing facts. They just happen to describe facts from different realities. This is where my images create a divide. Images are honest, but often they are removed from their appropriate reality. When an image crosses the divide from one reality to another, they appear to tell a lie. Hiding this transit is one way that the divide is fabricated.
LC: So does photography still have a meaningful relationship to reality today?
DN: I do not think that we can adequately answer such a big question here today. Photography and reality have a complex relationship. Now there are thousands of acceptable realities that can be accessed, and imaging regimes are abundant within them. Images now are regularly removed from their original context or reality, which makes trusting images very difficult. This is because things like CGI and photoshop have brought image manipulation and mediation into the spotlight. Before these things were only accessible by the practitioner generating the imagery.
LC: Is there something special about photography that keeps you sticking to the medium? What does it offer you that other mediums don’t?
This World and Others Like It relies on being a combination of photographs and computer-generated images. When I think about the work that I do, ultimately the medium choice comes after I have fully realized my ideas with a project. For example, inThis World and Others Like It, my work is referencing photographic history, and so I need to make photographs. More specifically, large-format 4x5 photographs. In any project, I try and choose the medium which will best deliver the ideas most important to the project.
—Drew Nikonowicz, interviewed by Alexander Strecker
Editors’ Note: You can find the rest of the Aperture Portfolio Prize winners/runners-up on Aperture’s website.