Acts of Natural Magik presents Pokémon landscape photography in the post-Giovanni era
Using the Nintendo 64 game Pokémon Snap, empty landscapes of the dystopian future of Pokémon Island are reimagined in this tongue-in-cheek project.
- Alif Ibrahim
- 29 November 2019
On a crisp Tuesday morning last week at the It’s Nice That studio, we received a package containing a mysterious book. As you might know, we receive a lot of mail here in the studio – from countless annual graphic design collections to design projects masquerading as an NHS prescription bag. But this one seemed more ominous. The cover, in cool grey card lush with maze-like organic patterns, boasts its title in glistening gold: Acts of Natural Magik by Todd Snap. “Where had we heard that name before?” we wondered.
Upon opening, the project itself became clearer. An introduction, supposedly written by the editor-in-chief of The Vermillion Post, Cedric Kinsey, sets the scene: this is a collection of photographs by Todd Snap on a research trip to Pokémon Island. Set in a Pokémon future, where Professor Oak was appointed as the Minister of Science of Team Rocket leader Giovanni, who has reigned supreme and burnt most of the world’s books and artefacts, including the original editions of Acts of Natural Magik.
“Oak’s paranoia spiralled out of control. The project eventually became known to Oak, and I (of all people) was ordered by The Herald to write a slanderous piece to deride it and humiliate Snap. My refusal would cost me my job, and for several years my career seemed on the brink of collapse,” writes Kinsey. The book, containing 22 landscape photographs of the island, devoid of any Pokémon, has been revived as a tribute to Todd Snap’s life.
Of course, this book is a completely tongue-in-cheek publication that has its roots in Pokémon Snap, the Nintendo 64 game from the year 2000 whose protagonist is Todd Snap. Published by south London publishing platform Bronze Age, it’s a collaborative project by designer and educator Luke Overin, editor J.A. Bæblade with an introduction ghost written by former It’s Nice That news editor Josh Baines. Rich in Pokémon mythology, including a relocation of Bermondsey-based printers PageMasters to “Factory 9, Route 12, Lavender Town.”
“The game differed from pretty much anything else prior or since in that it centres around photography as the fundamental act within the gameplay,” J.A. Bæblade tells It’s Nice That. “You play as a young red-headed teenager called Todd Snap and are sent to an island by Professor Oak to document the wild Pokémon on the island through photography,” he continues. In the game, you earn points based on the poses you catch the Pokémon in, the quality of your composition, as well as bonus points if you catch multiple Pokémon in the same frame.
“We initially set out to make a landscape photography book using content from the game,” J.A. says. “At some point while collecting the imagery, we wondered what a landscape photography book from the Pokémon universe might look like. Fundamentally, the book questions authorship on many different and confusing levels and we looked towards the strange world of fan fiction for guidance.” In the book, Todd Snap has passed away ten years ago as a result of high-profile scandals and environmental problems that turned the Pokémon world into a dystopian wasteland.
The images set out what they’re meant to do, depicting empty landscapes, leftover Pokémon world technology, as well as an identifiable outer space level where the player was meant to photograph the legendary psychic Pokémon Mew. Imitating the format of landscape photography books with their formal and rigid design, the team used four-colour Risograph printing to amplify the colour palette. A little taste of early video game nostalgia, set in a very serious world re-published by the very honourable editor.
Bronze Age, set up back in 2011, has published an eclectic collection of art books in small editions including the likes of Antoine Orand and Iris Erlings. “Today, I view Bronze Age as being more aligned to folk art traditions; each object is produced in small editions and production is either done entirely by ourselves or with a close network of producers,” J.A. says. Clearly, Acts of Natural Magik is a passion project rooted in childhood nostalgia with the careful amount of craft that the team has put in the book.