Second Life Photography
March 4, 2017 4:14 PM   Subscribe

I feel weird and not 100% comfortable about crossing the streams here, but I do Second Life photography [NSFW, some nudity] and follow a lot of other people who do. You'll see a lot of repetition and erotica is probably overrepresented, but there is a lot of beauty and creativity, too. I especially love to see and make images bursting with color, because most people seem to wiggle around the limitations of the form by doing sepia everything.

On a sadder note, Amona Savira, whose image is linked in "Life," recently died. She made some really haunting images.
posted by byanyothername at 4:45 PM on March 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

My young son went through a period where he had to know the proper label for every song. "Is this, folk-rock or alt-country" he'd ask me. I always said "It's a bunch of stoned hippies who wanted to make music. It's the people at the record store who have to sort them into bins." See where I'm going here? These images are kinda cool, but they're so new that people don't know what bin it goes they and so they get uncomfortable. I say: Carry on makers of images that may or may not be one thing or the other.
posted by cccorlew at 5:35 PM on March 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've been doing photography and videography in Second Life since 2006. I'm delighted to see this post as Second Life doesn't get much mention these days.
posted by rmmcclay at 7:37 PM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

as Second Life doesn't get much mention these days.

Funny you should mention that. I once hung with a group on IRC who moved en masse to SL, and I pretty much lost touch with them because I didn't have the time to cope with the user interface learning curve. (We did agree that in First LIfe the educational phase for the user interface is called "childhood.")
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:40 PM on March 4, 2017

8D Yay Second Life photography. I dabble in it a little myself.
posted by Deoridhe at 8:22 PM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

When I get uploaded, forget the 'realistic sim', I'm going back to early aughts Second Life, low poly but glitz, it used'ta have the glitz! Disco dancing on a floating disc, cheese clouds, rained on by tacky unoriginal griefers, life in low rez.
posted by sammyo at 9:06 PM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


that's all I got.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:09 PM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Actually, I dunno. As a pure outsider, but with an art degree (for what that's worth), I would call SL installation, and these photographs documentation of that installation. I like that more than 2d images of what are collaborative 3d renderings. That would fit in the, "drawing" or better yet, "illustration" bin in my record shop.

When I think photography, I think of the capturing of light, and not just the very careful placement of subject in its environment that I'm noticing a lot from these images, which seems tantamount. The editorial flexibility is off the scales.

It may be purely arbitrary for me to say that - and I'll own up to that, since who am I to say what is what, but having actual particles of light bouncing off and absorbing into physical objects, and that being recorded by something that sensitive phenomenon (rather than a virtual approximation of said phenomena) is important to me as a defining bit of what "photography" is. I look forward to the counter arguments.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:21 PM on March 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

Often SL photography/machinima is both installation and photos of. I've built (simple; this isn't my talent) sets for particular photo ideas; these don't really exist in-world in any form that one can visit. I made them for the photo. And then there are all the instances where I or others re-use objects and environments created by others, but rearranged and repurposed to suit our own particular needs. There's just this interesting mish-mash of different elements: textures, 3D objects, environments, lighting, framing, editing, etc. etc. and these are often each something done by different people.

If we really need a precise definition, SL-produced 2D art is typically a remix.
posted by byanyothername at 10:41 PM on March 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

As an outsider to SL, but with a BA in photography and an MFA (for what that's worth) I did some virtual photography in Ghost Recon way back when. In the BA essay I argued that a definition of photography which didn't focus on the technical aspects, but rather of the social construction and usage of photography, would allow for VR photography to be considered photography in it's own right.

@alex_skazat So that was my counter argument then. Haven't thought much about since then though.
posted by monocultured at 10:45 PM on March 4, 2017

Isn't it strange to worry so much about who owns the various objects, textures, environments, etc. that go into taking a photo in Second Life? If I took a fine art photo in my living room, I wouldn't have to credit IKEA, Panasonic, Dulux, the tradesmen who installed the floors and windows and painted the walls, the construction company who put the building together in the first place, and so on.

Isn't it also strange to worry so much about whether the photos are technically photography or not? Sure, if you're just interested in the semantic/taxonomic aspect of it, that's fine. But the debate also seems like it could be a smokescreen for whether these images deserve such a prestigious label as 'photography' (as opposed to e.g. 'digital art', which I'd say comes with considerably less cultural cachet attached). Personally, I think some of Amona Savira's artworks could hold their own in a gallery, however you want to categorise them.
posted by Panthalassa at 11:11 PM on March 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I think photography, I think of the capturing of light, and not just the very careful placement of subject in its environment that I'm noticing a lot from these images, which seems tantamount.

You can actually do a lot with light - adding projectors and shadows was one of the things which really has changed how photography in SL can be done if you can work with it. I've been doing a lot of work augmenting a given windlight with a self-build projection rig in order to line up the lights - for example in this picture I'm actually using a projector to mimic the existing shadow from a nearby building, and part of what I had to do was modify the projection box to precisely match the existing shadow.

The triangle elephant was part of a massive art exhibit by a lot of new artists on a set of sims dedicated to art by Linden Labs. They have about twenty-five sims which individuals take for 1-6 months to put together a display for people to visit. The style and quality varies incredibly widely, from fully realized scenes to impressionistic things, to combinations.

I am a huge fan of the SL art scene - Bryn Oh is a particular favorite because of her use of light and programmed figures. This is a picture taken seconds before I was "killed" by the figure right behind my wings which would hunt people on the sim and kill us. I was trying to set up the light and angle of the shot, and didn't realize I would be killed. Luckily I had just refreshed my camera so I was able to save it after my death!
posted by Deoridhe at 12:02 AM on March 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wow, second life doesn't look anything like it did when I last played (quite some time ago).

Putting aside "is it photography/art" (I'm ok with intent being the definition of art), I'm always a little surprised at how .. ordinary? .. these things are. Now I know something like SL can't be an empty palette; it would be chaos. For it to be second "life" it has to have some resemblance to real life. But mostly people seem to spend a lot of time making (perhaps romanticized) versions of first life. When I look at these I'm always expecting something more surreal, abstract or maybe just plain odd.

That said, this is some nice work, and pretty intriguing.
posted by Bovine Love at 4:33 AM on March 5, 2017

But mostly people seem to spend a lot of time making (perhaps romanticized) versions of first life. When I look at these I'm always expecting something more surreal, abstract or maybe just plain odd.

Back in 2006, in an interview with the AP, founder and then-CEO Philip Rosedale expressed a similar sentiment:
Rosedale says he wouldn't have predicted many things about the direction users have taken the world.

"I thought that when you came into 'Second Life,' you'd see, like, 'space port Alpha' ... a wild mishmash of future visions," he says.

In fact, there are many futuristic landscapes and cyber-punk characters. But advertisements are everywhere, and much of the world's residential property looks like Malibu — a reflection of people's earthly desires.

"They want oceanfront property ... and they want palm trees, and they want a cantilevered Frank Lloyd Wright house, up a little bit from a beach at a pier with a little power boat ... And then they watch the sun set on the deck," he says.
(I am no exception to this.)
posted by Samantha Poindexter at 5:26 AM on March 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm absolutely seconding winterhill's request: I haven't logged into SL in years. Where do all the cool avatars hang out nowadays?
posted by endotoxin at 7:49 AM on March 5, 2017

I too was an amateur photo/video guy in SL for awhile. There was some really neat camera stuff available. I had a tool that let me place points of views at static points and then stream the video from them to any avatar with a client HUD so that I could get shots at exactly the angle someone wanted, instead of guessing. Used to use it to film SL weddings for a little while. (SL weddings are another weird phenomena probably deserving an FPP.)

Where do all the cool avatars hang out nowadays?

I'm not in there like I used to be, but when I wander, I still like going to art galleries. One of my favorite things about SL was always the ability of creators to make art I'd never seen in real life: paintings you could step into, weird kinetic sculptures you could interact with and so on.

I dunno how many people you'd find at such a place, of course. The main SFW venues I favored besides that were music, especially live stuff, and I think those are still often packed.

I also used to play a lot of pub style trivia in there, but finding a good spot for it was always fiddly.

In fact, there are many futuristic landscapes and cyber-punk characters. But advertisements are everywhere, and much of the world's residential property looks like Malibu — a reflection of people's earthly desires.

That was what fascinated me about SL for a good long while - everything in SL requires *intent*. Nothing exists there that someone didn't build by hand, and everyone can more or less look like whatever they want to. (I floated around as an abstract geometric shape for awhile, for instance.) I figured hanging out there would be the next best thing to sticking a live cam in, like, the collective unconscious.

I was surprised by how mundane most places were, and how most people chose to be conventionally attractive. In retrospect, it probably should've been obvious, but it was still weird to see.
posted by mordax at 8:25 AM on March 5, 2017

These days everyone looks like they spend their summers on the Jersey Shore. It kind of weirds me out. (I too have long since left, but sometimes I watch people's Youtube videos.)
posted by RedEmma at 8:51 AM on March 5, 2017

I can't really say where the cool kids hang out; I manage a nightclub and DJ at a weekly trivia event, but otherwise I don't really get out much these days. (I'm also one of the people who chooses to be conventionally attractive and likes playing dress-up. Oh, to be able to afford my SL wardrobe in RL, not to mention the plastic surgery...)

With that said... for nice scenery and interesting builds, the Mainland Matters blog is worth a look. (Confession of bias: it came to my attention because my own moribund First Church of Rosedale was one of the first sites featured thereon.)

There's also a calendar of trivia events. (Confession of bias: I created this calendar years ago. It is now maintained by others.)
posted by Samantha Poindexter at 9:32 AM on March 5, 2017

Isn't it strange to worry so much about who owns the various objects, textures, environments, etc. that go into taking a photo in Second Life?... Isn't it also strange to worry so much about whether the photos are technically photography or not?

Basically no one does, though, except to the extent that you're likely to know (or know someone who knows) the person who made the textures/objects/etc. that you're using for photos, because it's a small world. Likewise, while there are essays and blog posts on whether or not SL photography is "photography," most people who do this stuff do it for its own sake, and aren't especially worried about how others will classify it. It's not nearly as stuffy, snotty or formal as it might appear.

Where do all the cool avatars hang out nowadays?

It really depends on what you're into. For photo/art things, there are regular installations by artists like Bryn Oh or Cica Ghost; you can find out about those in the destinations guide, which has regularly updated editors' picks. just depends on what you're interested in. I mostly hang out in the discussion groups, which are often a lot like 3D MetaFilter: science, politics, current events, philosophy, etc., with generally less snark and grar. If anyone wants a foot in that door, feel free to memail. It can be really hard to find activities in SL, because so much on the non-buildy side of things is dependent on scheduled events, and the way you typically hear about those is by joining relevant groups or knowing people who are already into them.
posted by byanyothername at 2:05 PM on March 5, 2017

When I look at these I'm always expecting something more surreal, abstract or maybe just plain odd.

There are actually some really interesting cultural reasons for this - people get a lot of pushback for being non-human or deviating too far. There are events I can't take part in because of my wings; they are "human only". There is a philosophy sim which has in it's rules that people have to be human, which even included a discussion of whether someone's glove/claw hands should be taken off to make other people feel comfortable. There's a historical sim which demands people to be both human and in appropriate clothing for immersion purposes. The majority of the fashion industry is incredibly white, thin humano-centric as well, and they tend to be the group taking the most pictures because easily 50% of the SL photography scene is about advertising items; I don't think you can discount the effect of fashion photography on a lot of photography in SL.

There are a lot of interesting super-normal stimulus aspects to appearance in Second Life as well. For example, when the "thigh gap" became popular in human bodies offline, it was exaggerated in Second Life to an unbelievable extent (think half foot thigh gap). Duck face lips did a similar transmutation, and then the slightly open mouth with quirky teeth did the same thing. Interestingly, despite Philip being verbally all over the "people should do amazing things!" his creations and appearance have always been very pedestrian and unchanging. I often think people are more attracted to the concept of "totally new and innovative" while discounting how uncomfortable being surrounded by that might be, and how much people like to spend their free time doing things they deem exciting and accomplishing things that are out of reach offline.

Interestingly, the most welcoming community are the Tinies, who are incredibly inclusive of all types of avatars and have a few sims and regular events. The new mesh capabilities also offer a chance for much more innovative avatars, but you need programs outside of Second Life to take advantage; I'm on and off working on figuring out Blender, but it's time consuming and often confusing; my dreams far exceed my skills! Also, people with those skills tend to go for what will pay their bills (almost all land in SL is being paid for at the tune of several hundred dollars a month) rather than what's most unusual or unrealistic. You still end up with clothing that is also a carousel or people with windows into their spines, but it's a lot rarer.

People who still regularly use Second Life: what do you spend your time doing these days, and how easy is it to get back into after a gap of well over ten years?

I'd say it really depends on your hobbies. I mostly do photography and art things; I used to roleplay a lot, but it's a massive time sink. I'm also a huge fan of the Fantasy Faire, which usually happens around April/May and involves an interactive quest and nine to twelve sims of stuff going on and things for sale, and Second Life's birthday Party and the Burning Man in world are coming up - all of these look for volunteers and it can be a good way to get involved. You can search for specific interests and look into groups and sims aimed at those things; some are Eurocentric and some aren't. There's also MadPea if you like horror games; they cost a little (100 - 200 L$, so under a dollar), but the skill involved is very high.

I'd really recommend checking out some blog posts and using the featured destination tab for a while and see what happens. My blog is a bit out of date, but I'll flog it here more for the links on the sides than my own content; I try to keep a fairly eclectic mix. Feel free to get in touch with me as well; I'm always up for new friends, and I'm pretty open to cold contacts as long as you don't ask me for sex.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:48 PM on March 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

People do some amazing work in Second Life. And the surrealistic or unusual builds do exist, but they often don't last long. One of the most mind-blowing (I just verified to make sure it's still there) is the cyberpunk sim Hangars Liquides.

There are also a load of mediocre builds: awkward architecture, mismatched textures. But that's only to be expected when anyone can build stuff, and most anyone does. At least these days there are excellent avatars and models available. (Years ago I did so much wrangling of SL's extremely limited prims. So much nicer to fire up Blender instead.)

What's really astonishing is how people can do this good work despite SL being years out of date and horribly optimized. (I have a powerhouse of a gaming PC, and it still takes five minutes to rez a complicated sim and the people in it.)
posted by zompist at 3:24 PM on March 5, 2017

Hangars Liquides

Oh man, that's ancient! Anyone mucking about in SL now has to check out the neighboring sim China, which is (also ancient) modeled to resemble a traditional ink wash painting. There is also the overly detailed Insilico and the now-defunct and much missed pteron (the creator has had a second sim built, but the cost of hosting it in-world is still an issue), as well as the off-and-on extant ChouChou (previously; which no longer includes my single favorite thing in SL, which is the most expensive but most beautiful thing I've bought for SL) and Furillen, which has semi-regular art/music/social events, where Amona Savira often took photos. Cica Ghost's current build, Under the Sea, is also a wonderland of beautiful monstrosities.

Sorry to evangelize so much here. Second Life is interesting and probably where I spend most of my time online; it's never fully lived up to the potential it has, and it is at times distressingly...normative in multiple ways, but those things make it even more interesting to me, when I can examine them with enough distance.
posted by byanyothername at 4:38 PM on March 5, 2017

Is Second Life photography actually photography, or is it digital art? For that matter, is it art at all?

This is one of my pet peeves. The question "but is X art?" is almost never a worthwhile question. Outside of narrow legal contexts, who cares whether X is art or not? The real question being debated in these situations is something like: "are we willing to admit X to the hallowed pantheon of Real Art, thus granting social capital and intellectual credibility to those who create and appreciate it?"

These conversations cleave on utterly predictable fault lines, with the advocates of X insisting "of course it's art!", and the detractors (generally those whose preferred forms of expression have already been admitted to the pantheon) insisting that it's not, for some contrived reason or another.

It all depends on how to you choose to define "art", and I have yet to see a definition that doesn't ultimately hinge on personal, subjective judgment.

I think it's more useful to ask: is X worthwhile? And for the people who create and enjoy these images, they obviously are. I don't really appreciate them myself, but I'm not going to sit here and say "here's the arbitrary definition of 'art' that I insist on using; your medium doesn't satisfy that definition; therefore your medium is invalid".

This whole notion of Art-with-a-capital-A, as some rarefied visionary practice that's only accessible to those semi-divine creatures we call Artists, is dumb. Creativity comes in many forms. Some of those forms require greater skill than others. Some rely more on technical ability; others rely more on intuition. Some have broad appeal; others are only intelligible to a particular subculture, or within a certain context. Some find an appreciative audience; some are done "merely" for the pleasure of the creator and their friends.

There's room in life for all of these things. Show me how answering the question "is X art?" actually solves a problem – i.e., how the answer can be used toward any practical end, other than to exclude the practitioners of X from claiming the prestige of Real Art.

I sometimes hear Real Art people wondering why the mouthbreathing plebes aren't more interested in art. And, well, part of the reason is that the Real Art world insists on having this attitude of gatekeeping that keeps the plebes out.

I ain't no art historian, but I suspect that this division between "art" and "not-art" is a relatively recent invention, and has more to do with the economics and sociology of the things that we call "art" than anything else. (Any actual art historians care to weigh in?)

(And, it must be pointed out that SL photography is based on methods – found materials, collage / sampling, recontextualization, digital techniques – which have long been accepted in the Real Art world.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:50 PM on March 5, 2017

I'm intrigued by the fact that the online environment and structure of Second Life comes to call this art photography while my professional practice specifically does almost exactly the same thing and calls it rendering. An architectural rendering is absolutely a piece of art, and may be of traditional or digital media. Setting it up is (I suspect) not that dissimilar from this sort of effort, except in specialized tool for the purpose. Clearly a great deal of the art here is transforming what is available as options within Second Life to be appreciated independently and outside that world. But, when we do a rendering of an architectural project we go to pains to emphasize that it is not a photograph because that implies an incorrect interpretation of reality. I appreciate how adopting the word within Second Life thus validates its own reality. A sort of digital cogito ergo sum.
posted by meinvt at 9:14 PM on March 5, 2017

I'm really confused with how you're using rendering; isn't architectural rendering when you build a 3D model of a space, set an angle, then have the computer create an image?
posted by Deoridhe at 2:39 AM on March 6, 2017

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