“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we would go nowhere.” – Carl Sagan
I recently acquired Photoshop CS6 and I have been having a wonderful time experimenting with layers. Layers are a really clever tool that allow you to stack images on top of each other. You can alter the degree of transparency of each image and at the same time erase areas of one picture to allow another to show through. There is a random aspect to this layering and blending that creates a game of visual serendipity. I have taken the opportunity to play with layers of ‘reality’ by combining the imaginary spaces of virtual worlds like Second Life with my tangible world or ‘first life’.
The two photographs in this post show the beautiful temple built by Marcus Inkpen. Sadly, this temple has long since vanished into the ether (see earlier post “The Returning has Departed” for more information). It is intriguing to capture an image of something that existed virtually and now exists no more; it is like dropping into a dream with a camera, the layering of pictures allows memory and imagination to blend and create yet another world that never was…
Marcus Inkpen, an outstanding artist working in Second Life created “The Returning” a project made possible through support provided by the Linden Endowment for the Arts. The “Returning” was closed recently to make room for a new LEA project. These photographs give a sense of the beautiful and mysterious site that is now just a memory.
As a fan of steampunk I really enjoy how virtual world artists and builders explore the genre’s wistful vision of romanticized technology. Currently on show in Second Life you can see a superb display of steampunk inventions at the Joy of Steampunk Museum. As you can see I was particularly enthralled by Lexx Bondar-Foehammer’s Blimps.
I have more photos of these airships in my flickr stream. (I experimented with a range of different photoshop effects on the images and then had a really hard time deciding what to post here on my blog!)
I discovered an excellent article about Second Life photography (thanks to a tweet from Gridjumper).
“What I like # 79” by Cajsa Lilliehook, the Shopping Cart Disco columnist, spotlights a range of wonderful photographs taken in the virtual world of Second Life. Cajsa thoughtfully analyzes what it is she likes about each picture and also provides links to each photographer’s photo stream on flickr.
Suitably inspired by Cajsa, I thought I would depart from my ‘realistic as possible considering this is all virtual’ approach. Instead, I decided to switch over to something more moody. I also thought I would be rather more daring than usual and step onto a role play sim. Role play areas in virtual worlds allow visitors so long as they agree to comply to the list of visitor/observer rules. In some ways, this is the closest I will ever get to being Doctor Who; after all, he travels through time endeavoring not to effect events, as that would in turn alter history, and that would cause a great bucketful of squirming, unknown, consequences to spill out across the universe. Obviously, people who don’t know what they are doing can be quite distracting to both role players and historic moments in time.
I decided I would visit a vampire role play area thinking this would provide me with atmospheric gothic scenes appropriate for my new photography. I landed in the vampire welcome area (there’s an intriguing concept) and conscientiously read the rules before acquiring my observer’s badge. I even invested in some medieval attire though I felt my avatar looked much more like a Sunday school teacher than a vampire. (Note to self, it takes work to look sinister however I let myself off with the easy approach as intentional moody photography seemed quite enough change for one day.) I then wandered through a string of boutiques designed to cater for the style conscious vampire who might be tempted to impulse buy on their way to the blood bank. Eventually, I found a gondola moored at the edge of a mysterious lagoon and proceeded to follow the instructions for entering the vampire realm. As I understood it, I was to click on the gondola wearing my badge and then I would be whisked off to join the vampires. No such luck! I probably tried for a good thirty minutes to put my avatar’s soul in jeopardy but all to no avail. A sinister chap walked by at one point but I was much to timid to address him. He had an air of intense purpose, obviously thirsty for virtual blood and much too polite to sup on a visitor hanging around the shops. After he was gone I returned to my task; I sat in the gondola, I stood up, I re-read the instructions, I re-visited the list of rules, I clicked on the gondola yet still nothing happened, my soul stubbornly remained terribly safe.
I did wonder a few times if I had fallen for vampire humor? But then, I reasoned; visitors must be permitted as, just like bridge clubs and choirs, there must always be calls for new blood? In the end, I accepted that sitting in the gondola wearing an observer badge was the closest I was ever going to get to vampires. A day later, I figured out that the real reason I could not visit the vampires was because I don’t have an ‘Adult’ rating set up for my avatar. Good thing really, I don’t want to go there anymore!
All this reminds of the time I decided to get a tattoo (a ‘real’ one that hurts not a virtual one). I headed out with my tattoo design drawn up nicely. I felt ready to be embossed in insoluble ink only to discover that tattoos were illegal in the state of Massachusetts at that time. The next day i realized I really did not want that tattoo after all imagining how it would look when I was in the care home at 95. So… becoming a vampire is now equated in my mind to my tattoo near miss.
I dug deep into the Second Life destination guide looking for an alternative atmospheric setting. As you can see I picked upon Chateau Medieval, Dreams of Maelys a very sunny, airy castle nobly haunted by a display of famous French feminists. The castle was created by Sabine Creber, a French woman dedicated to fighting violence against women in both real and virtual worlds. It was just luck that brought me to the castle and the work of Sabine Creber but it had a sweet synchronicity following my failed attempt to enter the realms of inevitable aneamia.
I returned from my vacation to find that the SL9B event had been running for quite a while, I quickly fired up my Second Life viewer so that I could pop in and explore. I even managed a rare blog post and (giddy from the whole experience) find myself writing another post within days (as opposed to months!) Whatever next?
You see, for my vacation (or as we would say in the UK, my ‘holidays’) I went to stay at a camp by a lake in Maine. English people might think of a camp as a tent, and damp sleeping bags, stretched over bumpy ground above a subterranean sea of seething worms. In America, a camp is frequently a house with electricity and running water, a bathroom, kitchen with fridge (though we roughed it a bit without a dishwasher); we also had beds with mattresses, a washing machine, TV and DVD player plus a phone but (gasp) no internet!
My favorite activity when staying ‘at the lake’ is to take out a lovely little silver rowing boat and row round to a sheltered corner of the lake that is filled with water lillies. The lilly pads and fallen trees in this area keep the speed boats and jet skies well away, freeing me to float peacefully amongst the lillies and dragonflies. When my wanderings around SL9B brought me to the Lotus Stage with all the lotus leaves and flowers scattered at its feet I was delighted. Despite the difference that exists between lillies and lotus plants I was reminded of my rowing boat rides on the lake. At the same time I was intrigued by the scale of everything at the Lotus Stage. My avatar’s eye view of giant floating petals and lotus blossoms reminded me of the movie ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids‘.
The stage itself reminded me of an old theater that you might find on a Victorian seafront pier; this impression was helped by the railway bridge to nowhere that runs alongside the stage, home for a stationary steam engine and its carriages. To climb up to the Lotus Stage the creator, Donpatchy Dagostino, built a long elegant ramp that spirals gently up into the petals of the giant lotus flower and opens out into the stage area. When I was wandering around on my first visit I actually arrived at the stage during a performance by the astonishing ChangHigh Trinity Dancers. Fire, lights and lasers were shooting out from the stage. The show was a striking contrast to the cool reflective waters lying below and perhaps the organizers planned it that way as a safety measure? I returned the following day to get a picture of the stage standing empty and silent in the early evening shadows.
I delved into Google to see if I could dig up more information about The ChangHigh Trinity Dancers and found the following description on their Facebook page:
CHANGHIGH TRINITY SISTERS FIRESHOW of LIGHT, LIFE and LOVE
We are four spiritual sisters, from different parts of the world, who have come together and created a very unique and extremely beautiful and powerful circus/fire-dancing show in the virtual 3D world of Second Life. We perform using rotating trapezes, on high wire, podiums and on rolling balls.We fire dance on walking elephants and perform many very unique acrobatic animations, all colored by vivid radiant effects of many different kinds, scripted and available inside Second Life; such as fire balls, light particles and poofers, lasers, sparks, smokes and ofter kinds of realistic light.
Finally, thanks to my ‘go to’ sources of information: Honor McMillan, Crap Mariner and Daniel Voyager Thanks for all your work in helping SL9B happen and thanks for your blogs and tweets that helped me find my way around and understand what in the virtual world was happening at SL9B!