Falling into the Inter-dimensional Rabbit Hole with JUSTIN RIDLER



If Alice had been fortunate enough to witness the modern days (and be real), she would have loved the metaverse. Either that or she would have turned to synthetic drugs to damp her severe Wonderland PTSD triggered by it. Fortunately, Alice is not the heroine of this story (we couldn’t get her). Wonderland, on the other hand, is how one can describe the worlds created by the brilliant mind of the photographer and digital artist, Justin Ridler.



In the mid-nineties, Ridler became fascinated with the special effects used in movies of the time, “Probably the catalyst moment for me was in the mid-nineties, you know, when, when CG was starting to become prevalent in movies and motion picture, visual effects, studios like industrial light and magic. And, those kinds of companies, Stan Winston, those kinds of characters in Hollywood were starting to use this thing called CGI. It was the ultimate suspension of disbelief,” recalls Ridler. Pursuing “this thing called CGI” at the time seemed like a psychotic idea, given the costs of all the advanced equipment, “So, I think, the next best thing for me was my interest in making films and pictures.”



“I think photography is a collection of doors. A collection of keyholes, you could say,” says Ridler when attempting to define how photography aligns with his life at large, “I use photography as the device to learn through. And that, to me, is kind of the catalyst to creating. I love to learn new things and explore new ideas, like thought experiments, and modelling new ideas through images. I think that to me is extremely exciting.”


It doesn’t take a genius to comprehend the stark difference between photography and CGI. The latter commands one to inquire with the rigour, akin to the one that possesses engineers and scientists amidst an exciting discovery. “It's probably something that I tend to brush over, but the part that I find fascinating, [is] solving a problem, working through a problem because, with these workflows, it's like a minefield, you know, you're walking into lots of errors. And, sometimes, they're quite beautiful,” says Ridler. The artist explains how one of the driving factors in his art is intuition – an irreplaceable tool if applied to the technical side of the profession. “I mean, my grandfather was an engineer. My father was an engineer, and it's in my blood, and I think that, like coming at, particularly, 3D and CGI, you're modelling a physical system. And you're creating with it. The rules that you're modelling. So, it's the most remarkable thing for me, because outside of my visual practise, I'm fascinated with cosmology and physics and anything to do with that kind of area of inquiry in science.”



If one must, they can compare Ridler’s otherworldly work to the films of Alex Garland in its styling. The borderline sci-fi landscapes and languid figures of his pieces swiftly garnered the attention of the creative leaders reigning within the spheres of fashion and luxury, paving the way to new collaborations. One such project was born when Lane Crawford approached the artist to co-create its 170th-anniversary campaign. “It was my first collaboration with Lane Crawford. It was during a very long and very intense lockdown in Melbourne. I think we did eight months back to back. For me, that collaboration was quite incredible in a way in that, I mean, I don’t know if you've ever been locked in a room for eight months, but it's not very nice, you know?”


What inspires the artist in fashion is how it has embodied a “frontline of socio-political dialogues”, says Ridler, “They are made manifest within the way that we present ourselves, the way that we adorn ourselves and, each passing moment each way, each season, in its time capsule of our thinking.”



When asked about the values that define his work, here is what Ridler had to say:


“I feel like they have a tendency to pollute my ideas and I wouldn't say that I create directly through any specific contextual, theoretical framework. I guess one of the values I think is that it's extremely personal. It's deeply personal work. I'm trying to find something that's human. So I don't want to try and program it too much.”


As cheesy as it may sound, metamorphosis is an unavoidable part of any journey, whether good or bad. For artists, in particular, life-changing events can often be traced through their work. “I'm 40 now, you know, there's been definite chapters in my life and lots of change. Each chapter has been characterised to a certain extent, by the way, that I have been creating it that period. For the longest time I was working almost exclusively with dancers and choreographers and making images of human movement, that, that was a defining chapter,” says Ridler when asked about the metamorphoses that defined him, “The pictures that I did when I was 20, my God, I'm almost embarrassed to think about [them]. When you step back and look at everything that you've ever made, you can start to see these patterns emerge. [A] part of you changes, but then I'm still making the same fucking picture that I was making when I was 13 years old, out on the street when I was in high school with my friends that lived up the street, the pictures are almost identical. it's funny how there's the heartbeat of it [that] stays the same.”



The existence of a purely original thought can be dubbed as a concept as fictitious as it is absurd, according to many. After all, collective consciousness does not allow for the phenomena of originality in a general sense. Individual originality though is an entirely different subject. “I think there's an uncovering that can occur and, maybe, for the person that's doing the uncovering, it's original at that moment, but then there's also kind of collective consciousness. This is a response to whatever the moment is now,” revealed Ridler. The artist’s experience with a discovery of 3D art can be used to inform the point, “When I first started getting into hybridised photography and 3D practice. It wasn't that common then. I'm not saying that I was the first one, by any stretch of the imagination. And then, you know, people come to the medium when they see its advantages. The idea is probably not that original. [There’s] this thing that I always have on about this container theory. If you think about photography there are only a certain amount of ideas, visual ideas, philosophical ideas, that can be described through the medium of the photograph.”



According to Ridler, Metaverse is, “A unified medium, where I can bring in elements of sculpture, photography, cinematography, choreography, staging lights…”


Collective consciousness and collective subjectivity are what inform our very perception of reality. Is that something the Metaverse can challenge? “I don't know if you're going to be able to replace anybody's reality. They're just going to experience new folds of reality,” is what Ridler had to comment on the subject matter, “And now those people have a memory that exists in the virtual space. Like there is this thing that happened in a computer somewhere. It's not the same as our human memory. it's exactly what occurred. There's a document that exists out there.”



For better or for worse, the chapter on Metaverse is not yet written in the law books, making the questions of ethics and legality tricky, especially when the conversation is about human avatars. “I mean, the other day, I was talking to my agent about how do we negotiate copyright when we're making people. That's crazy, you're making a version of a person that's so true to life that it's almost impossible to figure out the difference between whether or not it's a real person or not. But it's here. It's here to stay. And I think that we need to approach these new technologies with a degree of reverence and respect...”


“[Metaverse] is an empathy machine. If you think about it, what is it? It's the capacity to go in and experience. I can walk around somebody else's walk around in somebody else's body. I'm a straight identifying male-identifying man. I can walk around in a woman's body, in a gay man's world. I can take on their narratives. I can explore parts of my personality that, in my daytime life, I'm not able to explore. And I'm able to explore those parts of my personality in a way that's vastly and wildly textured. I mean, that's an incredibly useful tool to bring us together.”


This interview contributes to a new media format, where Creatives are in full control of their narratives. By exploring alternatives to narrative journalism, GAHSP starts unconventional conversations, emphasizing values and problems that shape our lives collectively.


Written and Edited by Gennady Oreshkin

Creative Concept by Julia Horvath

Image Courtesy of Justin Ridler