Matteo Bittanti: You have developed several projects as a game-photographer. What are the main affinities and differences between digital photography (from DSLR cameras to smartphone) and your practice with video games? Do you regard virtual photography as a genre of photography or as a something else altogether, for instance, screengrabbing?
Leonardo Sang: The differences between video game photography and digital photography has more to do with form than content. At a conceptual level, these two practices are very similar. The main difference can be found at hardware level. A digital camera allows the photographer to control important details and variables like speed, focus, depth of focus, lenses, etc, which are essential to create a specific image, but in the end, the outcome is a digital files: a raw file, a jpeg, a tiff... Some video games today include features of modern DSLR cameras, not to mention sophisticated in-game photo editors, although they are not comparable to the power and flexibility of either a Canon Mark III or Photoshop. However, in video games, you get the freedom of movement, you can experiment, shoot from different angles and capture details that would be very hard, if not impossible, in the real world. Game photography allows you to do and see things that do not exist, surreal situations that only belong to the ludic world. My role as a photographer is to document these instances. In my opinion, video game photography is a new genre of photography and should be treated as such.
Matteo Bittanti: What is your relationship with video games, and specifically racing games?
Leonardo Sang: Video games have been a constant presence in my life. I have been playing digital games since I was a kid. I have always been amazed that such amazing worlds could exist on the screen, worlds made of pixels and bright colors. These spaces are "real" and alive to me. I also love cars and I found myself naturally driven to racing games, no pun intended. Initially, the vast majority of racing games that I played featured "arcade" controls and physics, which was very cool at first, but it felt very odd to make a turn at 250 km/h in the rain and be perfectly fine. Eventually, I started playing more realistic games, simulation-like titles. They really show you that racing is not that simple and requires a lot of skill and effort. I found simulation games much more compelling and challenging than arcade games.
Matteo Bittanti: Today, companies like nVidia are actively promoting the practice of game photography with their latest graphic cards, all in the name of "digital realism". In a sense, a fringe practice is becoming institutionalized and few genres are becoming dominant. Something similar happened to machinima in the early Zeroes. Do you think that hyper-realism will become the de facto standard of game photography or do you think that artists will push for more experimental, abstract styles?
Leonardo Sang: I have already seen people focusing on hyper-realism. They go for ultra-detailed graphics in their game photography practice. In fact, there is a huge, dedicated community of "hyper-realist game photographers" on the net. Their approach is very specific and their criterion for quality could not be clearer. But there are all sorts of game photographic styles nowadays. I think that the new tools and technologies that manufactures are providing will benefit all the communities, not just the photographers obsessed with realism. The more resources are available, the more experimental projects can - and will - become.