2011 Winners - Runner-up: Thibault Brunet
Thibault Brunet’s black-and-white portraits of soldiers, war-torn landscapes, and views from within dilapidated buildings share a palette of high contrast and dramatic, deeply saturated shadows. Similar to charcoal drawings, the images operate in a grayscale that unites the series. Desert camouflage, graffiti in Arabic, and modern-day weapons clutched by young American soldiers all affirm our guesses that the images are of the Middle East and the time period is present day. But despite the clear signposts, Brunet’s pictures turn out to be indefinite and ambiguous. It comes not only as a surprise, but also as an explanation to learn that the ambiguity in these expressions and backgrounds result from the fact that the photographs are not taken in real world combat zones but are instead frozen moments pulled from video games.
With an overwhelming and at times numbing quantity of images centered on American soldiers, it is all the more captivating to peel back a layer of Brunet’s images and understand that each image is taken from a virtual environment, generated to simulate real life and current conflicts. On closer examination, the subjects become suspect as the gaze of the soldier’s eyes do not read as convincingly human, and the vanishing point that anchors gives a landscape perspective seems to be lacking in gravity—a byproduct of their having been computer-generated. This unusual format makes us look twice, and perhaps look longer as we consider the subtext.
Brunet’s entry into virtual combat zones is motivated by an interest in “American popular, historical, and political culture,” a culture that built entertainment worlds based on themes he describes as “murder, blackmail, theft, escape, and the occupation of territories such as Afghanistan.” By isolating the soldiers and drawing one’s attention to the backdrops that are often unconsidered in the context of a screen and the game player, Brunet is successfully commenting on the surreality of virtual entertainment worlds created via avatars and algorithms that are in turn based on real-life, drawing us back in to consider the inherent surreality of war itself.
Thibault Brunet lives and works in Lille, France. In 2008 he graduated from the Fine Art School of Nîmes. His project, Vice-city, was selected for the exhibition reGeneration2: Tomorrow’s Photographers Today at the Elysee’s museum of Lausanne and he has participated in several exhibitions and festivals worldwide.