For many, the name "Minecraft" evokes images of 12-year-olds toiling away in a cube-like virtual world. The image is surely foreign to much of our readership. But the foreign and new are now commonplace, and we are sure to see new uses for virtual worlds of all kinds — even art galleries and fundraisers. Australian photographer Jason De Freitas has combined elements of a virtual reality gallery and a charity fundraiser into a single exhibit at an unexpected venue: the online multiplayer world of Minecraft. De Freitas is virtually raising real money for a charitable cause that has been overtaken in the media by a constant stream of COVID-19 news: the Australian bushfires of 2019-2020.
Overview of the Recent Australian Bushfires
Even for a country used to frequent wildfires, Australia was hit exceptionally hard during this past fire season. A scorching heat wave mixed with high winds, wiping out over 18.6 million hectares (72,000 square miles), more than 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes), killing at least 34 people, and impacting roughly 1 billion animals.
The devastation to Australia’s economy was enormous, local businesses and tourism being hit the hardest. The flames raged on for months until February of 2020, when New South Wales, the most populated area affected by the fires, received its heaviest rains in 30 years. Torrential downpours and flooding, typically unwelcome, this time extinguished nearly all of the raging fires.
A Passing Joke Becomes Reality
Australian photographer Jason De Freitas had been documenting the bushfire aftermath, but wasn't sure how to exhibit his work amid quarantine and lockdown. When his sister jokingly suggested he host the exhibition inside Minecraft, neither of them took the idea seriously.
Then De Freitas befriended fellow photographer Robert Walwyn while documenting the charred areas, and found inspiration to make his far-fetched virtual gallery idea a reality. Motivated by the compounding effects of coronavirus and the sudden shift of donations and awareness from the bushfire victims to the COVID pandemic, the photographers decided to make the installation a charity auction.
Building his project in the Minecraft world, De Freitas met several roadblocks implementing hi-res images within the game (you can read more by clicking here and scrolling down). He was soon joined by more photographers: his sister, Kristelle De Freitas, who had first come up with the gallery idea, and Luke Alfree, a volunteer firefighter who had been documenting Australia's burning landscapes in a somewhat similar fashion. Four photographers have contributed in total, and the images are nothing short of stunning. Click lead video at the top of this article for a virtual tour, and you’ll see that paying a visit to the gallery doesn't require a copy of the game.
And if you do happen to own Minecraft, the server can be found within the game at:
Server Name: Java Virtual Gallery
Server Address: still_burning.apexmc.co
De Freitas titled his project "Still Burning," a reminder that while his beloved homeland might not technically be in a state of active burn, economic and social damage to his community had only begun to take place.
De Freitas shot his images on Kodak Aerochrome, an infrared film film that renders foliage in different hues, depending on the lens filter(s) used. He chose an orange filter, rendering the skies a vivid blue and the foliage a deep pink/magenta hue. His choice to mimic the near-color of flames seemed to coalesce with the subject matter and project name. For more technical information on the photographic and virtual world-building process he undertook, as well as equipment used, you can view his article posted on Emulsive.com.
Proceeds of print purchases from this installation go to the artist’s charity of choice, all related to the 2019-2020 bushfire.
Do you see virtual galleries and auctions as increasingly important for photographers? Share any ideas or reactions, or your photographs from this event, in the comments section below.
Lead image by Jason De Freitas