Since the madness of its release, Grand Theft Auto V has been an inexhaustible resource for numerous creative projects, from unique photo essays to stunning music videos. Recently, Dublin-based artist Alan Butler used the game platform as an experimental field for Down and Out in Los Santos, a series of video game-generated photographs that document the plight of the homeless and impoverished within the game. “I usually have to wait for the 'right moment' and use depth-of-field to capture something with which the viewer can empathize,” Butler tells The Creators Project, when asked about his process. “I want the image to capture moments as 'real experiences.' I guess I don't see it differently from street photography methodologies in reality,”
Giving a new dimension to his ongoing experiments that use out-of-the-box (unhacked) video game features their mediums, he explains that, using the player's phone camera, he “chose this uncanny 'human' subject to look at how we as individuals can autonomously produce artworks (and exist) within experiences that are mediated by corporations.”
In exploring the skid row streets of Los Santos, he creates a bridge between reality and the virtual world, one that raises more than a few digital-era issues. “Using a simulation to explore this subject removes many ethical problems that can be attached to the act of photographing poverty,” Butler says. “But I would like this project to begin to question the ownership of being itself within proprietary corporate virtual realities,” he adds. The photojournalism 2.0+ project also questions topics like community belonging and social integration.
Indeed, the non-playing, processor-powered transients that wander the game's many neighborhoods play no decisive roles, nor have any influence on the narrative. Instead, they're just part of the decor, providing the game with more ambient human presences. "Their position within the GTA V socioeconomic order is based on our own world, I guess Marxist critiques can then be applied,” Butler explains. “I'm trying not to just focus on the 'personalities' in the simulation, but the surroundings, the infrastructure, and the causes of these apparent social problems.”
Using an algorithm-fed bot to share new photos every day, as well as to infiltrate networks related to photography, street-photography, and ethnographic photography, Down and Out in Los Santos not only explores social issues, it also aims to revisit essential photo fundamentals. “Perhaps the simulated nature of this practice can pose questions to photography communities about the current nature of the medium?” Butler concludes.