Thursday, May 24, 2018

Digital Art Battles in Los Angeles

Last month I had the opportunity to photograph my first e-sport: competitive drawing. At first, I couldn't really wrap my mind around how that could be interesting to watch, but I was told it was a fairly big thing in Japan and the company hiring me was hoping to find funders to get things started here in the US. 

It was actually really entertaining. The magic lies in watching artwork unfold, layer by layer. The artists are given two random words at the start of each match, which they have to base their pieces off of.

Photographing it in a way that made it interesting was a little bit harder. It's two people staring at tablets for 20 minutes while seated at their desks. There's not much movement, so it's hard to find variety. But, with that being the case, it really gives you the chance to explore the different ways you can photograph it — you've essentially got 20 minutes to play.

I've done double exposures on film before, but never done so in my digital camera. I thought this was a great time to play with that. With it being a competitive sport, I tried to frame it as such, even with the competitors being 15 feet apart and not facing each other. I grew up watching boxing matches whenever my dad was home from working in the oil fields. The idea of a fight card, where two fighter juxtapose each other on a poster with their fists up was something I wanted to emulate here. I wanted to create a feeling of some sort of animosity or competition, despite their isolated positions. 

It was also a fun technique to use to try and pair them up with their artwork. Photographing them and their work without doing a double exposure, I had to photograph them from the back, either using the big screen in front of them, or the tablet at their hands. It was limiting, and it didn't give the viewer a great idea of who the person was. I wanted something that could fit some sort of fight profile.
Some of the shots worked out, some didn't. I learned a couple tricks in the process that I'm sure will come in handy the next time I try something like this out. 

It also helped break up what became a repetitious process over six or so hours. I tried to get good shots of every competitor, as I wasn't really sure what all the client needed and I didn't want to come up short. There's only so many angles you can work each table from, and I was also trying to be respectful of these artists who were under pressure, trying to win a free trip to Japan to compete in the world finals. 

In the end, both the client and myself were happy with what I captured – which is awesome. It's always a good feeling when you can make photographs you enjoy that also make your client happy. I got to play with my camera outside of my usual straightforward approach, and I got to watch some incredibly talented artists pump out art in a fun way. It was a good day of work.

Ahmed Aldoori waits back stage at the City Garage Theatre in Santa Monica, CA for his final battle of the Digital Art Battles World Grand Prix, the decider as to whether he continues on to the World Championship in Japan in two weeks. Aldoori won his bout and went on to Japan where he unseated the World Champion and became the first US champion.

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