Could we say we had visited a place without being there? Thomas Albdorf investigates how the internet has changed our perception
How much is our perception of the world shaped by the internet? That’s what Thomas Albdorf asked himself with his latest series General View, now on show at Webber Gallery Space. In it the Austrian artist explored one of the most intensely mediated nature sites on earth, Yosemite National Park – without being physically there.
“The series toys with the question regarding the necessity of travelling to a place that has been photographed innumerable times, the need to record additional photographs,” says the artist. “If countless images of a specific place are readily available, has one been there already?”
Albdorf used mass-market tools such as Google Street View to gather images for his project, and as he was doing so, accidental digital glitches gave him the idea that software influences our perception of the world – and that imagery doesn’t have to be rooted in reality.
“Not only are my images based on found photographic material that then was used in different ways within my studio, parts of the images are interpreted and reconstructed by software that tries to read the existing images,” he explains. “So you might see something that appears ‘real’, but is only partially related to an actual photographic image.”
Albdorf has never been to Yosemite but has “visited” certain spots over and over again, such as the Tunnel View parking lot or Glacier point. “I caught myself talking about ‘me walking’ through these specific locations, and well, to a certain degree I did exactly that,” he says.
“Looking at the screenshots I made whilst digitally strolling around and considering my usual practice, in retrospect it doesn’t feel that different. Of course, there is a difference, but it definitely starts to blur.”
Albdorf believes that such networks are shaping our visual experience, and made his work partly to help liberate himself. Starting out by collecting images of Yosemite, he went on to introduce his own, early photography into the shots, deliberately disrupting what was ‘really’ there and what was not.
“One of the subconscious reasons to make this series was to create images that are appropriating digital glitches, but at the same time oppose the algorithmic readings that a neural network would apply to it when uploaded to Facebook, for example,” he says. “I wanted to still be in charge of my perception, abstract as it may be at the very end. I wanted to make images that a human could make sense of, but a machine couldn’t. Yet.”
Albdorf recently won the Recommended Fellowship for up-and-coming photographers, which is organised by Olympus in co-operation with FOAM, the Haus der Photographie/Deichtorhallen Hamburg, and the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt. He’s starting a new body of work under the programme, which will be exhibited at FOAM in 2018, and which looks at the world of photorealistic CGI.
“I am trying to find out what will happen if we loose that indexical link to the world that determined our understanding of photography for such a long time,” he says.
General View will be on show at London’s Webber Gallery Space from 16 May-03 June 2017. Images from the series will be shown by Webber Represents at Photo London, Stand E6 from 18-21 May. www.webberrepresents.com