A couple of weeks ago, Strawberry Singh challenged her blog readers to take and post black and white portraits of their avatars, and it got me thinking (read her post here - here!). Being something of an amateur photographer in real life, I have dabbled with black and white photography, but it hasn't been something I have given much time to when it comes to my Second Life photography.
We tend to use black and white when we want to capture something beyond the immediate - beyond the tangible, the obviously-present, the singular moment. We use it to photograph the soul. I'm sure that there's a lot of philosophy and photographic theory out there to support/condemn this idea, but that's back-up I'm not sure I need right now. The idea is just interesting to think about by itself, isn't it?
Does a Second Life avatar have a soul? Do you even believe that humans in the first life have souls - as something distinct from the body and/or brain? You could argue that avatars don't have souls...but you could also argue that we imbue them with our own souls. If that is the case, technically speaking, looking at a black and white portrait of my avatar and then a black and white portrait of my real life self, would I be looking at the same image?
You could also argue that, despite what we might say to the contrary, our minds and souls are married to our bodies - or, at least, to the concept of flesh and bone. So Kitti's virtual flesh placed around my soul could create something different, something new, purely through the new combination. If these new virtual souls exist, do they exist on the same level as souls in real life, or are they somewhere else? Would they existence mean the existence of a new virtual metaphysical realm?
Posting a picture of my own virtual face here didn't quite seem like enough, so I roped sian and Niri into posing for me, too. I asked sian and Niri because they are good friends of mine and because they happened to be online when I was shooting my own portrait, but they are actually desperately interesting subjects to examine for souls.
One of the other places we look for the soul, whether they happen to be in black and white or in colour, are the eyes. sian doesn't usually have what we might consider to be 'normal' eyes, but opts for these white-outs. She has said before that the realism of SL eyes makes her uncomfortable, but she's hasn't gone so far as to remove the sight-organs from her face altogether, and often her blank eyes are still decorated by make-up and eyelashes to die for.
Niri is another interesting case in the soul-discussion because she is only one incarnation of her creator. Sometimes Niri is Nero, and everything about her changes except her creator's account name. Such drastic changes - including gender and skin colour and species - are not exceptional in SL, but the decision to label them are distinctly separate characters is. These are not alternative accounts: both Niri and Nero occupy the same virtual space, and because of that, they cannot both be present at the same time. Where is the soul division here? Is there any?
I am aware, of course, that all photography is subjective. Both knew I was taking the pictures for a post about souls, but neither knew how that might play out in practice. I asked that they pose for me in whatever pose they liked, and they had free reign on how they looked for the shoot. My only requests were that we use a white wall as a background, and that the poses be simple and allow me to clearly see their faces. In terms of post-processing, all I have done to the images is crop out the excessive white space and press the preset 'Greyscale' button in Paint Shop Pro. I began messing with the Channel Mixer filter, but that felt like I was having too much of a hand in the way the black-and-white worked, so I settled for the less impressive and less intrusive method. There would be no way to make it any less biased than this unless I did not know my subjects.
Niri introduced her hands into the photograph, and I think there is the basis here for a whole study on where we look, and where we find, the markers of the soul in the virtual. Niri's picture is changed by the inclusion of her hands - and not only because she's using her fingers to tell us all to fuck off.
At the end of Strawberry Singh's post, she encouraged her readers to post links to their own images and thus inadvertently created a potential soul catalogue.
What do you see here? Anything? Nothing?
Thank you sian and Niri for letting me take your picture. P.S. - nobody gets any points for pointing out that Kitti, as a ginger, has no soul.