Virtual reality. Body augmentation. Robot faces. It sounds like an image of the future.
Yet somehow David Vintiner’s photographs don’t feel futuristic. If anything, they feel remarkably mundane. The subjects may be lost in a virtual world, but they stand in familiar everyday settings, with wires trailing around them, and hands reaching into nothingness. They seem as earthbound as ever.
The images in the project I want to believe show people using technology to augment what their bodies can do – sometimes as a result of an injury or medical condition that limits them, and sometimes just for the hell of it. They also show researchers playing around with the human brain, robots that mimic human movement and emotion, and people who plan to freeze their bodies in the hope of coming back to life in the future.
Working with art director Gem Fletcher, Vintiner wanted to show how these activities are not confined to slick, corporate settings, but are going on “in people’s garages, at home, in universities… You see a lot of bits of gaffer tape and glue guns and things held together with wire. It brings it back down to earth. These are things that are happening now. These people are working on shaping the future of humanity now, in their rooms.”
“It’s the mindset that the human body is just a bag of chemicals”
Vintiner believes there’s a very specific mindset that drives the people in his portraits to do these things. “It’s the mindset that the human body is just a bag of chemicals,” he explains, “and therefore that you can write it down. It’s an algorithm, a formula. And if you can write it down, you can replicate it on a computer. You’re just listing out chemical reactions, essentially. Most people find that quite cold, because we’re not talking about the soul, as such, we’re talking about an algorithm.”
And yet – as the project’s title, I want to believe, suggests, it’s also about concepts like hope, and even faith. “We’ve always had this idea that transhumanism was a new form of religion,” says Vintiner. “Although all of the ideas are very forward-looking, they’re actually the ideas of ancient religion: rebirth, immortality, humans becoming gods… when you start looking for religious crossover, there’s a lot.”
From one point of view the images seem cold, but at the same time they’re “very emotional”, says Vintiner. There’s a melancholy about them, a sense of people yearning for something more. Vintiner says he admires many of the subjects of his photos. “Throughout history, science is littered with mavericks and outliers with ideas that seem outlandish to society at the time, but it’s these people who push people forward in the long run.”
“Some of these things will become reality, some will fall by the wayside, but without these outliers working outside the usual constraints we wouldn’t make the great leaps forward. It seems outlandish, but they’re willing to give it a go.”