Social Media

Book Review: < YO > < YO > < YO >

Book Review < YO > < YO > < YO > By Roc Herms Reviewed by Sarah Bay Gachot I got the queasy vertiginous feeling of seeing things that are not really meant for me to see as I got to know the book < YO >< YO >< YO >, by Roc Herms. Upon arrival, aside from its publisher’s description that it was a book about “super-users” at Campus Party, an annual computer conference, this big pink rectangle with glossy pages was an inscrutable artifact, a dense pictorial index with lots of quirky imagery tiling its pages...
< YO >< YO >< YO > by Roc Hermes. 
Self-Published, 2015.
< YO > < YO > < YO >
Reviewed by Sarah Bay Gachot

< YO > < YO > < YO >
Photographs by Roc Herms
Self-Published, Barcelona, 2015. In English and Spanish. 96 pp., 13½x9¾".

I got the queasy vertiginous feeling of seeing things that are not really meant for me to see as I got to know the book < YO >< YO >< YO >, by Roc Herms. Upon arrival, aside from its publisher’s description that it was a book about “super-users” at Campus Party, an annual computer conference, this big pink rectangle with glossy pages was an inscrutable artifact, a dense pictorial index with lots of quirky imagery tiling its pages — screenshots of chat text and personal desktop displays, photographs of people sitting at computers, lying on the floor using computers, sleeping next to computers, snapshots that are salacious, kooky, and just plain weird.

< YO >< YO >< YO > by Roc Hermes. Self-Published, 2015.

This is a book that you scroll through; it opens like a laptop and images continue from one page to the next (Herms has humorously described < YO >< YO >< YO > on his Instagram feed as the “MacRoc Pro”). The book has an obsessive motif of connection — the pearlescent cover (as mentioned, mine is pink, but the book comes in many colors) has a hole where one would find an Apple logo on their computer. It reveals pixeled-out text. The first words are “Connecting to dc” and “Connected....” The following images are of power strips and Ethernet cables flash-photographed on a cerulean-blue carpet. They could be quotidian visions of corporate corners, but shape up to be aesthetically energizing, a messy photographic territory in which Terry Richardson might have met Jackson Pollock.

It was the photographs of people sleeping, possibly drooling, on their keyboards — literally passed out from computational exertion — that hooked me in. I was mystified by the ostensible dedication to the machine. I wanted to connect too. This sent me to Google to find out more about the Campus Party.

< YO >< YO >< YO > by Roc Hermes. Self-Published, 2015.

Campus Party is a gathering in Valencia, Spain, where people convene to all hook into the same network for a full week — 24-7 as they say — living in tents and eating in front of their machines. This massive network is all in the name of connecting along the same bandwidth, equalizing the playing field when it comes to high-bit density video games and massive file sharing. Attendees game voraciously with each other over this network. They also chat endlessly, and share information with abandon. Entire families travel there for their annual vacations. Grandmothers, uncles, sons, and friends sit side-by-side and connect. For this week of the year they get to be centimeters away from each other while doing so, rather than kilometers or countries.

< YO >< YO >< YO > by Roc Hermes. Self-Published, 2015.

I’d like to disconnect now. I’ve seen too much. Perhaps you should stop reading and you can keep the book a mystery too. You may not want to recognize that which you are seeing in < YO >< YO >< YO >. Herms takes you inside the computer to mingle with 8000 other souls who may or may not know you are there. It’s a culture that, I for one, choose to ignore on a daily basis. I do not play video games, and I obliviously pretend that my digital information is not worth the bother to connect in to.

In an e-mail, Herms explained that he began by photographing the Campus Party convention-center landscape — such as is seen in the photographs of slumbering gamers — but what was inside the machines began to call out to him. It was the virtual world that really mattered, he realized. He began by asking these super-users if he could take screenshots of their computer desktops, which he then downloaded to his little USB drive. To Herms, these screen-grabs represent a sort of self-portrait of the user. The desktop, the foundational screen space, is often a favored image littered with icons: aliases for software and folders —World of Warcraft, Runes of Magic, League of Legends, and file folders named Descargas, FOTICOS, Mis Documentos — files most recently downloaded and not-yet filed, miscellaneous things, all the tiny little indexes that, when clicked, animate these machines.

< YO >< YO >< YO > by Roc Hermes. Self-Published, 2015.

After a few days at the Campus Party, Herms noticed that he had access to a portion of the millions of files of those hooked into the network — including personal photos that, according to Spanish Microsoft Messenger protocol, automatically end up in a standardized folder called Mis archivos recibidos. Herms includes a selection of this trove in the second half of < YO >< YO >< YO > scattered down the pages in an increasingly layered and frenetic display of digitalized life. These include the selfie and school play, roller coaster ride and Gothic rose church window, gerbil and dick pic (to be fair, in an e-mail, Herms claims that he chose to “delete or hide the more compromising images,” though I found a few...), and one curious spread of hundreds of photographs of the same woman. Through this onslaught of images Herms nods to the swiftness with which the JPEG can replicate and travel. Digital life can be, and sometimes is, endless — many times over.

< YO >< YO >< YO > by Roc Hermes. Self-Published, 2015.

I asked a technologically tapped-in friend what he knew about Campus Party and, though he had never been, he assured me that a lot of culture was being emitted by events like this and that a lot of it was very vital. Perhaps he is right, for Herms has made something intriguing of Campus Party, despite my distaste for computer “super-user” culture. What Herms has accomplished is to expose accurately an insular world through several channels: his own pictorial documentation, stolen files (with the understanding that those stolen from had volunteered their property as available during Campus Party), and a design (executed with the collaboration of Elio Gimeno) as madly networked and dense as a mouse click is onomatopoetic.

Some photographers go out into the world and show you what they see; some, whose lives are intricately intertwined with their subjects, can’t help but share. As early as 1842, the French amateur Egyptologist Maxime Du Camp was tromping through Egypt with his friend Gustave Flaubert in tow, struggling to make a photographic record for Du Camp’s Égypte, Nubie, Palestine et Syrie (1852), a book of objective views of monuments and landscapes. In 1933, Brassaï published Paris de Nuit, a glimpse into the hedonistic Paris nightlife to which he had sought and secured an introduction. Decades later, Larry Clark published Tulsa (1971) to bear out that “Once the needle goes in, it never comes out,” across pages filled with drug addicts and lost souls. Clark guided his camera effortlessly through a world in which he was both observer and native.

< YO >< YO >< YO > by Roc Hermes. Self-Published, 2015.

On a spectrum that ranges from recording the Other on one side to recording one’s own true world on the other, < YO >< YO >< YO > falls somewhere in the middle, for Herms has a level of access that is both explicit and illicit. But the artist, here, is not always pointing his camera “out” in the world. The book is an example of how contemporary photography can point inward — or at least toward the center of our virtual lives. In < YO >< YO >< YO >, through his series of desktop portraits, Herms surely shows that screenshots can be certainly worthy of note, in a voyeuristic kind of way. Culling a random sampling of images from other peoples’ computers also serves as another kind of “photography,” representing the snapping of JPEGs made available in this intricately networked location, the annual Campus Party.

One can disconnect from < YO >< YO >< YO >, however, and enjoy it purely for its voyeuristic tendencies. Holding this laptop-like book in one’s lap is like using a shoe for a cell phone — less than LTE, 4G, 3G, 2G.... completely bereft of 0s and 1s. You are analog, and so are the pages below. And what you see is not real.—SARAH BAY GACHOT

SARAH BAY GACHOT is a writer and piñata-maker. She is currently at work on a book about the artist Robert Cumming and her publications include Aperture magazineArtSlantThe PhotoBook ReviewThe Daily Beast, and The Art Book Review. Her piñatas have been exhibited and then destroyed at the Hammer Museum, REDCAT, Machine Project, Human Resources LA, and Pomona College, among other places. She also co-hosts the monthly event Hyperience, a free, ongoing series of artist residencies and live collaborative events. Sarah lives in Los Angeles.

Read More Book Reviews