Numéro meets Tim Richardson, major photographer of the digital age
Following his sensational show "Spiritual Machine" at New York’s Milk Gallery, Tim Richardson told Numéro about his sensual approach to digital photography and video.
With his first show at New York’s Milk Gallery , following numerous collaborations with magazines and labels, Australian photographer Tim Richardson demonstrated all his mastery of today’s technological possibilities (motion capture, 3D imagery, etc.) when applied to photography and video. Magnetic and intriguingly futuristic, his work plunges the viewer into a phantasmagorical universe of unequivocal sensuality. After being digitally manipulated, everything he photographs, such as singer Brooke Candy or model Guinevere, appears as though in constant mutation or perpetual movement. Numéro met up with him in New York.
Numéro: How do you go about making your photos and videos? Do you need a real model or are they entirely realized on the computer?
Tim Richardson: Guinevere and Brooke Candy were photographed with digital cameras. But sometimes I use other tools like motion capture, which allows me to record a person’s movements, a dancer’s for example, and reproduce them in 3D on the computer. Certain abstract forms in the exhibition derive from this kind of recording, from which I only keep the trace of the movement so as to create forms and volumes. After the scan’s been made you can look at it from different viewpoints, and the result is more like sculpture than traditional photography. To make the videos with Guinevere, we completely scanned her in order to reproduce and animate a virtual version of her body. The availability of today’s technology now allows you to work with not just one digital camera but four or five, which all record the subject at the same time and from different angles. You also have 3D-modelling and retouching software. So with all of that I can (re)compose my images using material captured in 360°.
Numéro: Digital photography that’s been retouched or is the product of 3D modelling has a reputation for being rather cold. But in your work movement and sensuality are key…
Tim Richardson: While I may rework my photos digitally, I put a lot of myself into them. Through my work I try to express strong emotions. I’m very sensitive to the classic beauty of an antique sculpture, or to the way masters of photography like Irving Penn managed to magnify an unambiguous femininity. I see my work as a way of taking this femininity, this beauty, into new territory. One of my photos is based on a sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which I entirely reinvented using today’s tools, pushing it towards something more crazy. It’s this hybrid between tradition and extravagance that interests me. My working process also allows me to bring a certain mystery to my images – you don’t always recognize the subject at first glance. The viewer is invited to look beyond the image towards what’s hidden.
Numéro: One photo in particular draws the viewer in: a girl with long blue hair who’s face is hidden…
Tim Richardson: This photo was one I made in response to works, or rather colours, that are particular to certain artists. It was inspired by Klein blue. I wanted to keep a human presence but give it an abstract form, and I did it using this iconic hair. I also made another photo based on the work of Anish Kapoor.
Numéro: The videos with Guinevere are an intriguing mix of science fiction and video-game animation. How do these two worlds inspire you?
Tim Richardson: The title of my exhibition Spiritual Machine is a reference to a book by Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, in which he discusses the evolution of human beings towards a hybrid form. This idea of hybridization is visually fascinating, and constitutes the essence of my work. As for the film with Guinevere, it mixes both Goth and futurist references – it might make you think of Alien or the world of H.R. Giger. In it, Guinevere is as sensual as she is strange and crystalline.
Numéro : All these women in movement, in orgasmic poses, with liquid everywhere... are these conscious references to sex?
Tim Richardson: Above all I wanted to show the diversity of images of women, women with a very strong identity like Brooke Candy. My goal is to take this identity and lead it into new territories. It’s the best way to pay homage to the subject. The photographer’s job is to take possession of the model and make him or her his own.
By Thibaut Wychowanok
Tim Richardson, Hybrid Glamor IV, Tao Okamoto, archival digital c-print, 81,3 x 114,3 cm.