Robbie Cooper (born 1969) is a British artist working in various media, including photography, video and video game modifications. He was educated in Kenya and the UK, before studying media production at Bournemouth College of Art. In 2002 Cooper embarked on Alter Ego, a long-term project that explored virtual online worlds and the identities people create within them. His Alter Ego photographs have been exhibited internationally and were published as a book in 2007. In 2008 Cooper began the Immersion project, in which he records the expressions of people watching TV, playing video games and using the internet.
We are basically told how to feel about things, but when that happens in real life there is no script, there is no music, and sometimes really horrific things can unfold in a very, very ordinary way. In a way what is really horrifying about it, is that it is just normal life, except that really bad shit happens.
From the beginnings of the photography, portrait photography has had a special aura – reading one’s own facial expressions and those of others is after all a very human trait. In his project Immersion, British artist Robbie Cooper presents a specific type of portraits – portraits of people as media consumers. We are all aware of the frightening statistics of the average number of hours spent behind the screen, yet Cooper’s intention was not to moralise. A diverse spectrum of people’s expressions captured during watching various media content tells only one part of our human story. In the Immersion, the screen becomes some kind of mirror, recording intense expressions of the portrayed persons, captured with an in-built camera. Because of the accompanying sound, we can guess what the people are watching – the content includes everything, from video games, pornography to snuff movies. Stills from the movies have less documentary value. With the help of the high quality of the photos, the frozen grimaces become peculiarly similar to the classical portraits from the history of art. Almost eccentric grimaces confuse us and at the same time remind us how realistic virtual reality feels. Cooper had already explored our relationship towards virtual reality in his project Alter Ego, in which he sets the gamers of virtual games next to their avatars. He was interested in the human element of virtual worlds by questioning what imaginary personas can tell us about their creators. Throughout our conversation, questions of human consciousness arose.