Robbie Cooper (1969) is a British photographer and multi media artist whose work questions identity and its appearance in different realities. In his project ‘Alter Ego’ Cooper photographs gamers all over the world and portrays them next to their self created avatar. Added to that is personal information about the gamer and they tell what gaming and their existence in a virtual world means for them.
What strikes me about this project are the different layers of seeing and interpreting that take place. First I look at the portraits Cooper made. We see a variety of people that are photographed in different settings and poses. It is clear that some subjects had their avatar in mind when the portrait was taken, showing a clear resemblance in stance, clothing or even facial expression, while other subjects are striking opposites. Seeing these portraits next to their self created image raise questions of how they look at themselves. What does it mean if the avatar is completely different or almost exactly the same? What is the function of gaming and being in an other reality in regards to their identity? Is it an escape, a dream or affirmation of who they are? What makes an experience ‘real’ in the first place?
I found the image of Jason Rowe especially strong and moving. At first glance we see a severely disabled boy, whose face is almost completely covered by an oxygen mask, making his blue eyes stand out, but hiding any facial expressions. I realize how freeing it must be for him to be able to walk around in a virtual reality, not be constrained by his disability and not stand out. However, of all Avatars that I looked at online, his is the only one that doesn’t have a recognizable face, but also the only one that actively waves his arm. What does this say about him and his dreams? Does his idea of what he wants to look like stop at being able to move? Can we learn from this that ability is much more important than appearance?
I read on and realize that he was born in the same year as I was. This boy turns out to be a man my age and instead of wondering what will become of him I wonder about his history and what his life might have been up till now. My thoughts get stuck in his disabilities and appearance and how they must have influenced his life.
Then his blob:
“In the real world, people can be uncomfortable around me before they get to know me and realise that, apart from my outer appearance, I’m just like them. Online you get to know the person behind the keyboard before you know the physical person. The Internet eliminates how you look in real life, so you get to know a person by their mind and personality. In 2002 at the UO Fan Faire in Austin, I noticed that people were intrigued by me, but they acted just like I was one of them. They treated as an equal, like I wasn’t even the way that I am – not disabled, not in a wheelchair, you know. We were all just gamers.” (Nunweek, 2016)
For Jason, gaming is the way to get away from people who only see the first portrait. In the virtual world they take him for who he is, mysterious as it still may be.
Nunweek, J. (2016) ‘Alter ego’, by Robbie Cooper. Available at: http://pantograph-punch.com/post/alter-ego-by-robbie-cooper (Accessed: 19 August 2016).