During the time I was doing Alter Ego, I visited alot of internet cafe's in South Korea and China. By western standards some of these places were huge. Row upon row of people staring at screens for hours and days on end. There were stories of people who'd died because they'd neglected to eat or drink whilst immersed in their games or online activities. I realized that this phenomenon was also taking place in the west, we just couldnt see it so much, because people were doing it at home and at work (smart phones hadn't come out at this point, so the sight of multitudes transfixed by their screens in public places, was not yet commonplace).
Two things sprang to mind- the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher with it's systematic or "scientific" approach, and the work of Errol Morris, and his "Interrotron". I liked the idea of creating a system in order to try and minimise the "event" of taking pictures, whilst maintaining a hyperreal and fairly produced look. The subjects are on-screen, whilst being immersed in it, and often our point of view is looking directly into their eyes. I wanted to capture reactions to as much of the full range of media types as possible- from video games to pornography, children's cartoon's and mainstream entertainment, to torture videos. I worked with minimal crew and left the camera running for long periods, whilst an assistant focused the camera, using a remote. We'd have many more subjects than crew present and crew members were frequently involved in social or "domestic" activities, such as cooking food or playing games.
Over time we built up a way of working that felt informal and where the subjects were at ease. This has been tested to the max on commercial jobs, where the ratio between subjects and crew is often reversed- on one shoot there were 34 crew, agency and clients present. So it becomes a very interesting exercise to reproduce the same, or close to the same, levels of natural behavior in different conditions, countries and in sometimes highly artificial situations. In a commercial context, it's about allowing non-professionals to "act", but staying within their comfort zone.
Exploring this territory around watching and being watched, especially during this time period, was in some ways unsettling. Facebook, twitter and smartphones had just appeared. It was easy to see how dramatically things were changing, and that this change would reach right into psychological, political and interpersonal realities. But the project has occasionally been interpreted as being a sort of "call to arms", a protest. It would be a little ridiculous if it was- I'm completely addicted to my phone and to computers, and fully aware that the only person who can change that is me.