A simple Google search for UFO pictures provides more than million results, from old blurry black and white photos to the latest colorful digital graphics of high quality. We can reach entire pages dedicated to conspiracy theories, with thousands of articles about aliens and the mysteries of our universe. Then come films of all lengths and qualities, scary home-footage videos, low budget B movies, and famous sci-fi productions; basically, the amount of related materials seems to be endless, with more yet to be created. The charm of mystery drives a wide visual imaginarium, which provides great inspiration for artists and filmmakers alike, as much as it simply feeds crowds greedy for sensation.
In Recognition – the new exhibition at Platan Gallery in Budapest for works by Polish photographer Szymon Roginski and Hungarian photographer Milan Racmolnar, popular sci-fi clichés are the beginning of a dark mockumentary.
Patrycja Rup: During the exhibition, we will see a series of photographs along with digital graphics, with many of the presented works imitating the ambience of mystery stories or science fiction. Were there any specific events, artworks or films, which were, in your opinion, visually influential for your project? Do you have any favorite mystery stories or conspiracy theories?
Szymon Rogiński: A collective visual imagination is very powerful – if we ask people to imagine aliens landing on Earth, a majority would describe events closely resembling film scenes based on American blockbuster clichés. In my photographic series, I wanted to challenge this topic by placing it in familiar Polish landscapes.
My main source of inspiration for Project UFO was my colleague and assistant who believed in the possibility of encountering UFOs. We used to spend a lot of time together for work, especially when we were travelling through Poland by night, and kept discussing it. His vivid faith made me visualize a UFO landing on Polish ground and pushed me to start taking pictures.
I myself would look for a scientific explanation for extraterrestrial life. Maybe we will prove the existence of other forms of life in the universe soon, as the research is in progress and the possibility of their nonexistence is so small, that we may just assume that they are there. I think we will be surprised with the form of this life, which probably won’t have anything in common with its Hollywood representations.
Milan Racmolnar: Unfortunately, I can’t provide a specific film or series which I have been influenced by. In most cases I just remember a certain atmosphere and that is what I wanted to achieve with my series, to have a specific feeling. And no, I don’t really deal with conspiracy theories.
PR: Can you tell us more about the creation process behind works exhibited in Platan Gallery?
MR: Well, certainly. One part of my works was shot with a DSLR converted to pick up infrared light. The infrared light scatters differently in the human body, which is the key process I used during the production of these pictures.
The other part is about seeking new planets, and this mysterious galaxy actually consists of mock-ups. The third part is a CGI project, where I just wanted to create strange yet interesting atmospheres without using classical photography techniques, but at the same time constructing these images in a photographically conscious way.
SR: A few years of my work on this project were spent searching for places which are somehow related to UFO narratives due to specific conspiracy theory followers. A good example are the stone circles built by the Goths in I-III century in the Kashubia region. There are people who claim that these were used by aliens as airstrips. Their main argument is the circles’ good visibility from high altitudes and their adequate setting against the sun’s position. Our ancestors’ knowledge of nature was advanced, as their life depended on how much they learnt about it, and so there is nothing surprising about their worship.
What is more, stone circles were often built on so called “power places”, locations with disturbed gravity. All these elements create an atmosphere of eeriness and provide fertile grounds for imagination.
I also took a picture of a reinforced concrete construction made by Nazis which looks similar to the well-known British Stonehenge. According to speculative popular science theory, this construction could be designed for testing jet plane prototypes used by Nazis. At the same time, we know of the legendary vehicle Hauneb, which was supposed to look like a flying saucer.
PR: In selected art works you boldly and convincingly manipulate pictures, uncovering the gloomy and scary dimension of everyday life in one, and creating futuristic utopia or unearthly landscapes in others. Digital post-production brings photographs much closer to digital graphics, in some cases the manipulation is so advanced that the thin boundary blurs between real and unreal. How do you perceive this switch in medium attribution?
MR: For me the main motivation is always to create something else from everyday situations, to see the potential in an ordinary sight or object. Yes, I have been asked many times if my works sometimes are on the border of photography, but I don’t really care about that as long as I can create the necessary impact on my viewers.
SR: In Project UFO I didn’t use any Photoshop manipulations. Most of the effects used are created thanks to analogue techniques; I was using standard photographic methods and worked with light effects and long exposures. Of course, each picture went through a digital stage: scanning and post-production, but I consider these as “cosmetic changes”.
PR: Which of your projects do you find to be the most significant of your career so far?
SR: So far, the most important project for my career was starting the series Poland Synthesis. That is where I was trying to find a method to present Polish reality which is something I have continued to do. That was a starting point for further visual research, like Project UFO, Blackness and Borderlands, as well.
MR: Maybe the Roma Rosa series, because it also deals with perception, but the viewer can easily confront it with his or her experience.
PR: What kind of media would you like to use in your future works – which are most alluring and worth discovering? Could you give us a glimpse of your forthcoming projects?
MR: Right now I am working on a UV light based project, while also experimenting with a scanner-camera.
SR: I’m currently experimenting and working on a few projects: still developing the new series Borderlands, which is located literally on the peripherals of Polish reality. A few works from this project can be seen at the Piktogram Gallery in Warsaw.
I’ve also recently become interested in new media like VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality), so maybe my next works will exist in an entirely different dimension.
Interviewed by Patrycja Rup
Edited by Mannika Mishra
Artists: Szymon Rogiński, Milan Racmolnar
Curator: Patrycja Rup
Opening: 29th March 2017, 7 PM
On view till 4th May 2017
Platan Gallery, Andrássy Street 32, Budapest
Opening speech by Patrycja Rup
Exhibition is a part of Budapest Photo Festival program.