You don’t find too many photographers that showcase their attachment to video games. But luckily for us, we have Jeff on hand to show us a few things. With his unique mixture of serious and casual, Jeff brings us the first of the Super Macro Bros series. Prints will be available at the 8-Bit Cubist Gallery. Enjoy.
Mr Benja: So how are things going, Jeff?
Jeff: Its been pretty wild as of late. I will be starting work for my new company the week after the San Diego Comic Con, and I’m really excited and looking forward to getting back into the thick of things. I’ve enjoyed my vacation but its time to get back at it. My juices and passion have been reinvigorated. Watch me now!
You’ve been involved with video games for a while now, but I know you’ve been doing photography for a while as well. Which passion came first?
You aren’t kidding when you say a while now. Damn, I started in the industry in 1993. That’s crazy when I stop and think about it. As for photography, I really got into it and took classes about 8 years ago. By that time line, one would probably surmise that video games was my first love, but technically speaking I’d say photography came first…sort of. Let me explain.
Long before I got into the video game industry, I went to a trade school to study video production and editing. I really love video production, filming, and editing. I started to look at photography as a natural extension to video production with some similarities. I found that if you have a good ‘filming’ eye, you probably would have an equally good eye for photography. When my dreams of being the next Francis Ford Coppola didn’t pan out years after graduating, I looked elsewhere and lucked out in finding and becoming a part of the video game industry. And that has led me here.
Nice. So tell us about the types of photography you do?
When I first started, I knew I would be interested in macro photography but didn’t get into that until several years later because of finances. Macro lens, like most specialty lens in the photography world, are way more expensive than your usual telephoto, zoom lens. So rather than wait on saving some $$$ for a top flight macro lens, I worked with what I had, which was a solid telephoto lens. Luckily, this type of lens worked very well for landscape photos which is what I initially started shooting and got into. I loved photographing landscape images but I didn’t really find an audience that was hungry for them as much as I was hoping. It seemed that unless your name was Ansel Adams or Peter Lik, trying to make a name and make money off of landscapes would be a very challenging proposition. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to shoot landscapes and won’t ever abandon that genre but I’ve taken the approach that I shoot landscapes for me, for my personal satisfaction/pleasure while I shoot macros (and specifically the video game/superhero/urban art toys macro images) to make my name and establish my niche.
Photographers always look at things in a particular way, and since you’ve been involved with games, I wonder how games have affected your way of looking at things? You know, a lot of people say that video games ruin minds.
Ah, the ruiner of all that is good and holy. Just like those other “degrading” influences like rap music, movies, rock-n-roll, and the Internet right? Sorry, I’ll get off my soap-box. I’d say that games have actually helped accentuate and expand how I perceive the world around me. After spending a lot of time getting immersed in virtual worlds over the years, its not uncommon to see things in the real world that remind you of that virtual world. A good example of this was when I was playing GTA3 way back when. After spending hours and hours on that game, I often found myself, while driving around on the roads, seeing real world examples of spots where I could conceivably do a real world car stunt jump. That was a revelation for me. As I got into macro photography, I started to try to convey and work typical/familiar video gameplay elements, scenes, and iconography into my own images. That process ultimately led me to my current photography endeavor and subject matter.
So with the Super Macro Bros. Series, you chose classic 8bit characters. What do those characters mean to you?
The idea behind the Super Macro Bros. series is to ask the question, “What if Mario was miniaturized and brought into the real world?” Super Macro Bros. aims to present and portray the beloved characters from the Mario universe in images that recreate classic scenes/actions using real world items in combination with the miniature toys of those beloved characters. The characters of the Mario universe are the closest thing to royalty as you can get in the video game world. There’s a very natural affinity, following, and love for these characters that has been earned over the years. I count myself as one of those fans.
What does this series say?
As both a long-time fan and someone who likes to stir the pot as well as question the status quo, I wanted to expand on the series to also include images that play with themes and ideas that may be of a decidedly sexual, dubious, and/or blasphemous nature. They’re essentially ideas that we’ve all thought of at one point or another such as: have you wondered how scary looking Shy Guy is and how he reminds you of a certain hockey masked serial killer? Well, wonder no more as I create images for this and other notions. All I can say is prepare to have your perceptions of these characters challenged and questioned.
As we often talk about, there’s a lot of unexplored territory in the video game arts. What would you like to see explored more?
Oh man, don’t get me started. I always hate when something becomes popular and enters the societal lexicon cuz inevitably generic, cheesy, cornball merchandise make it on the scene for public consumption and purchase. Unfortunately, what most think of when someones say ‘video game arts’ is a dumb t-shirt depicting a lame video game reference. Imagine the dog from Duck Hunt holding up a duck with the caption “Who Let the Dogs Out?” as a made-up example. What I would like to see more in terms of video game art is an effort to go beyond what I like to call the ‘lowest common denominator’ approach, a la the Duck Hunt example. Offer something with substance and something that makes the recipient think and question their previous mores on the topic. Video games have become a huge part of popular culture so I definitely want to see them become more and more prominent in the arts world. That’s why galleries like Gallery 1988 and shows like Crazy 4 Cult are important as great outlets and exposure for artistic interpretations of video games.
So what’s next for Jefe June Showcase?
I plan to continue pursuing and further exploring this world of video game themed/subject mattered macro photography. I want to continue pushing, experimenting, and perfecting this. I feel there is untapped and unrealized hotness here that hasn’t been seen before. Also, not wanting to just be relegated to characters of the video game persuasion, I’ll be working with toys from comic book superhero, supervillian, and cartoon properties. Really, anything miniature related to popular culture will be fair game. In terms of the bigger picture down the road, after I’ve compiled an extensive and varied collection of images I eventually want to create and publish my own coffee table photography book.
Cool. Any last words for the readers?
Yeah, I hope you all enjoy my photos and please let me know what you think, both good and not-so-good. If my images can illicit dialog/feedback beyond the usual “that’s cool” or rise above the aforementioned dreck that’s out there then I’d be very happy with that indeed.
For more of Jeff’s work, check out the Jefe June Showcase