Snapping a 3D picture of reality

Snapping a 3D picture of reality

by Erin Kandel

Washington Square News (New York University)

Onlookers mulling over Dave Krikorian’s three-picture exhibit, “Genesis
Embrace,” may feel as if they’re back in the heyday of Magic Eye images.

Viewers squint their eyes and shift their perspective, lean forward and
arch back. They scan Krikorian’s small black-and-white landscapes, which
line a wall of the Gulf and Western Gallery in the Tisch School of the
Arts, not in the hopes of deciphering hidden images, but to determine
whether the pictures are actually “real.”

“The worlds I create are confusing because I try to make them as
realistic as possible,” said Krikorian, a Tisch senior. “People look at
them, and they look again, and they’re still not sure if they’re real.
But they are kind of suspicious.”

Krikorian is part of a small core of Tisch students exploring the
avant-garde and potentially controversial role “computer-generated” – or
3D – imaging has found in the realm of contemporary photography.

Unlike the scores of “real” photography on display in Tisch’s Department
of Photography and Imaging’s latest Senior Exhibition (open through
April 17), Krikorian’s landscapes are the only “unreal” photographs –
wholly imaginary images created not with a camera, but a computer.

Thanks to advances in digital technology, “any image can be
manipulated,” Krikorian said, making it “impossible to tell by the
picture if an event ever really happened.”

At NYU, Krikorian enjoys a new freedom of expression, or rather,
non-expression, found in the ambiguous separation between photography
and 3D art. His exhibit in the Tisch gallery offers nothing – no
description, no sign on the wall – to distinguish that, unlike other
Tisch students’ traditional photography, his landscapes began as green
grid lines on a computer screen.

“In photography, all you can do is point a camera,” he said. “If you
make a mistake, it’s harder to fix. With my computer, I can do
absolutely anything. I can change anything.”

At the show’s opening on March 25, an attention-shy Krikorian admitted
he felt awkward pointing out to perplexed-looking viewers that his three
otherworldly-looking panoramas, picturing crumbling cottages in a forest
glen, suburban houses submerged in a flood, and a solitary window
emitting a bright stream of light onto an empty wood floor, took weeks
and sometimes months of tweaking, painting, texturizing and detailing in
a complex software program to achieve the most realistic-looking form he
was capable of.

Why not let viewers draw their own conclusions? Krikorian says.

“I think its cool when people can’t tell if my photographs are real or
not. I’m still pretty new at [3D art], so if I manage to convince
someone, even just for a moment, that my 3D image is real, I feel like
I’ve succeeded in some way,” he said.

But while realistic 3D imaging is a coveted feature of video games and
movie special effects, its place in modern photography is much more

Critics of computer-generated photography say the art form cheapens
people’s ability to believe what they see in “real” pictures. Allowing
photography like Krikorian’s to be viewed with traditional photography,
they say, damages the camera’s ability to tell an honest story.

But Krikorian said the line between real and computer-generated
photography has already been blurred beyond recognition.

“There is already no way to tell what is true and what is not,” he said.
“Almost every picture in magazines and newspapers is already touched up
with computers. Nothing can be trusted.”

During Krikorian’s first two years at NYU, the Fresno, Calif. native
struggled to find his “place” in the highly talented and competitive
pool of New York City photographers, before deciding he wasn’t “cut out
at making a living taking pictures.” Disillusioned with his curriculum
and lacking a career path, Krikorian moved to computer graphics in fall

His background in traditional photography has helped him hurdle a
“high-learning curve” and support his transition into the
fast-developing world of 3D art, he said.

“The transition was actually very natural,” he said. “Photography helped
me understand how light works, how it interacts with objects. I imagine
the lights, surfaces and cameras in a 3D scene as if they were truly
photographic, and that really helps make my computer-generated images
look more believable.”

There are still times when form wins over content. In the months leading
up to his senior exhibition, Krikorian had to abandon his favorite
project – an image of Baghdad destroyed and partially converted into an
oil field – because he didn’t “buy it.”

“It looked too fake to me,” he said, revealing a lingering annoyance.
“Sometimes the most idealistic concepts are the hardest to make a photo
out of.”

But the way his post-graduate plans are shaping up, Krikorian said his
ideological beliefs won’t impede his career as a 3D artist.

“I’d rather make a living than a statement,” Krikorian said.

And, no matter what his artist friends say, that does not make him a
“sell-out.” He said he hopes to get a job creating level design, the
interactive environments in video games, a craft that will require his
steadfast attention to computer-generated realism.

“Video games are the art form of the century,” Krikorian said with a
smile, and with all the sincerity of true a believer in the computer

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