Jon Haddock : »Screenshots«, 2000
by Anke Hoffmann
What we see in the 20 pictures from Jon Haddock's series Screenshots are some of the most important historical events after 1945 as seen from an US-American point of view. They include the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby in 1963, the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, Quan Duc's suicide in protest at the Vietnam War in 1963, and the police attacks on Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991. Other pictures show scenes from famous films like Twelve Angry Men or The Godfather. All of the pictures are iconographies of tragedy, and almost all of them reflect an act of great violence carried out on people. Yet, in their artificiality, these pictures convey little of the cruelty of which their subjects tell.
With his artificial manner of representation, Jon Haddock alienates selected historical events and fictional scenes. The pictures were processed on a computer using Photoshop in the typical image resolution of 72 dpi. Haddock uses the aesthetics of a simulation of reality like that made famous by the computer game The Sims. The artificiality inherent in computer games is caused by the isometric perspective, a false 3D world that only apparently shows lines in proportion. The selection of the scenes is subjective, not representative. Haddock has chosen those events and scenes that have provoked a strong emotional reaction in him, a US-American born in 1960. The reduced encipherment of the scenes is particularly striking. The interplay between the figures and the scene, simplified using universal elements, allows conclusions to be drawn about the event. Here is an experiment: What do you think of when you see young person standing alone in front of a tank with a Chinese star on it? How do you interpret a black Mercedes in a tunnel shortly after an obviously serious accident? What do you associate with a woman dressed in a dirndl and playing music surrounded by a circle of listening children? The 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square in China, Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed's fatal accident, and a scene from The Sound of Music are not difficult to guess. However, Haddock's visual simplification only works because the scenes are so familiar to us. They are engraved on our historic-cultural memory by the authority that brings about their dissemination: universal media reporting. With his series, Haddock is especially focusing on the omnipresence of television: »Intellectually, there is a huge difference between a real and a fictional event, but --at least for me, not so much emotionally [...] I want to point out the power and influence of fiction. And in most instances, my experiences of these events was through the same medium -- television.« 
When Haddock equates reality with fiction in his interpretation of history, questions regarding the power of the image are raised. A striking example of this is the picture Cafeteria from the Screenshot Series, which refers to the terrible massacre carried out by two youths, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, in the US town of Littleton in 1999, a crime that triggered an agitated discussion about the influence of violent video games. While looking for the offenders, the attempt was made to make such games partly responsible for the bloody deed. By interchanging reality and the artificiality of video games, Haddock questions not only the influence of pictorial truths, but also our attitude to the events. In the game The Sims and SimCity, the players invent a world, give figures human attributes, and create situations through which they then navigate. The players control the events in which the Sims figures are involved, and manipulate their imaginary reality. In doing so, they look down at their work from above, a perspective that calls to mind the film The Truman Show.
Screenshots adapts this perspective, and Haddock underlines the indistinguishability of news and fiction by presenting real events with artificial aesthetics. The picture R. King shows a violent attack by Los Angeles Police on Rodney King in 1991. The angle from which we see the scene imitates a possible camera angle, and the car's headlamps light up the night-time attack as if it were a scene from a film. In Haddock's artificially constructed depiction, there is an undertone of sarcastic criticism regarding the way news items about acts of violence are presented as entertainment highlights. When they are made part of the TV news package, any differences between staged media reports and their virtual counterparts - movies and computer games - disappear. Violence in the media has become a constant companion. Thousands upon thousands of journalists operate according to the unwritten law »Bad News is Good News« on the battlefields of this world. The result sometimes resembles a cabinet of horrors in which media concerns fight for the most lurid pictures. A voyeurism of violence in news broadcasts? News reporting as entertainment? Voyeuristic presentation and voyeuristic viewing of the daily violence in our media have caused Haddock to equate real events with film scenes and to present them on a double level: using aesthetics specific to computer games, but in a manner that at the same time suggests control. »There is something about all these events that I don't really understand or accept. Looking at them from the perspective of control is an attempt to understand or, at least, try to contain them.« 
[Translated from German by Tim Jones]
1 Interview quotes taken from Howard Wren: »The game of art«, in: salon.com, October 17, 2001, http://www.salon.com/tech/log/2000/10/17/screenshots/index.html. ^
2 Jon Haddock, Ibid. ^