The first video game Evan Amos ever played was Super Mario Bros on the classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and he remembers the day clearly: December 25th, 1988. In the 25 years since, the 30-year-old Missouri native has witnessed the evolution of gaming consoles into they state-of-the-art units they are today.
As a game enthusiast and photographer, Amos began to notice the lack of high-quality pictures for game consoles on Wikipedia and on the Internet generally. Feeling that he could do a better job himself, he set out to take his own pictures and upload them.
He started by taking photos of household items in his apartment after he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he uploaded them onto Wikimedia Commons, the freely-licensed image database behind Wikipedia. “The first picture I uploaded was a poorly shot roll of duct tape,” he says. “I knew I wanted to take pictures of the video game consoles I owned, but I took some test shots of things lying around the apartment first.”
He put the duct tape on a piece of white poster board to minimize shadows. He shot it with a Sony A700 DSLR and an inexpensive Impact studio strobe. He used Photoshop to wipe away the remaining shadows, a technique that he applies to the console photos.
“Since this was for an encyclopedia, I wanted the pictures to be as direct, neutral and clean as possible. If you go too stylized in your photos, I think that it limits their application or ability to be educational,” he says. “I’m sure that the style is also what helps the pictures get around as much as they do, because it makes them so easy to use for a variety of projects.”
Amos says his photography has improved steadily in the process. “I enjoy teaching myself how to take pictures. My participation on Commons has given me a great avenue to gain experience and exposure,” he says, noting that he has subsequently upgraded his camera and strobe light to aid in shooting.
But Amos’ bigger vision has yet to be realized. He has conceived of developing an online museum of the images, what he has dubbed The Vanamo Online Game Museum. To raise money for the project, he put the idea on Kickstarter, a fundraising site. His goal was to raise $8,500 to create a catalogue chronicling video game history through pictures. He got over $17,000 from more than 1,000 donors in little less than a month.
“After I take the pictures, I’ll be working with the NYU Game Center and The International Center for the History of Electronic Games to help house and display the physical collection,” he says.
One of Amos’ early entries was the 1972 Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s first commercially available gaming console. His collection ranges from popular consoles like the Commodore 64 Games System (1990) to lesser-known ones like the Neo Geo (1991). Amos aims to capture the detailed history of classic consoles like the NES by documenting many of its external components, like the Power Glove, a controller that fits over a player’s hand.
In the spirit of Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia, all the photos Amos takes are free for anyone to use and distribute. He estimates millions of people have already seen and re-used his photos. One of the byproducts of his encyclopedia-style photography is that it’s difficult to spot an Amos original; which is something he’s fine with. To him, it’s the video game console that matters.
“When you aim for this particular style, you’re going to leave less of a personal imprint on it. You want the focus to be the product, not yourself. You shouldn’t really be standing out,” he says. “But it’s all an important and necessary service, and I’m happy to do it.”
(View more of Amos’ photos on his Wikimedia Commons user page.)
Profile by Joshua Errett
Wikimedia Foundation Communications volunteer