These glitchy Game Boy Camera photos are little masterpieces
During the pandemic, people have flocked to their creature comforts, and sometimes that means retro games. Similarly, some have taken the opportunity to create new things for retro gaming platforms or using peripherals. This includes the Game Boy camera.
The piece of technology, a 0.001 megapixel camera that attaches to a Game Boy by slotting into it like any regular game, has seen a resurgence lately. Photos that people have taken with the device appear frequently on Twitter or other social feeds.
Zoe F. Wolfe is one such artist, although he is not specifically a Game Boy artist. Instead, they took the medium and transformed it using a mix of their own hobbies, including glitch art. The resulting works are unlike anything else produced using a Game Boy camera; highly edited works of art that combine the low fidelity of the device with eerie and sometimes macabre imagery.
The right Game Boy for the job
Wolfe, like so many others during the pandemic, returned to retro gaming during his own lockdown. “I had a good period of depression, I watched a lot of games on YouTube,” Wolfe told Digital Trends. They eventually got their own Game Boy and quickly found an interest in Game Boy modding, all because they wanted to play. Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Mission Zero.
The walls of Wolfe’s studio are lined with artwork, though one is dominated by a shelf of Game Boy consoles, all loaded with aftermarket sports mods. Some have new backlit IPS screens, others sport custom bezels. Wolfe’s Game Boy Advance, used specifically for filming, has two crucial mods: an overclock that allows it to shoot at higher frame rates, and a built-in HDMI output. However, it’s one of the least visually striking of their many handheld consoles.
Some of their Game Boy consoles have the camera built in, although its regular 0.001 megapixel camera lens is replaced with something that looks like it belongs on a modern DSLR. High-end lenses that allow for more zoom, plus a Super Nintendo Entertainment System with its own HDMI input make some of Wolfe’s weirdest work possible.
Where other photographers took high-end cameras, Wolfe brought their Game Boy Camera. “I went to an artist meet at a zoo and brought my Game Boy Camera. I took 30 whole pictures on it, that’s all it takes. I was the weird person hanging over the edge with a modified Game Boy,” says Wolfe. Using the old camera device was the perfect way to get started creating pixel art, because those images can then be placed on a computer using a cart dumper, then edited in software called Aseprite.
However, in the back of Wolfe’s studio, there’s more gear that seems entirely unrelated to pixel art or Game Boy cameras. They have the value of an independent group of guitar pedals, as well as a suite of old RCA converters, not all of which are top of the line. “I try to run with cheap gear,” Wolfe said. “Everything here is used or it’s the most basic thing you can get on Amazon.”
It’s a horde of seemingly random gear that directly feeds into their favorite art form: glitching.
Chances are you’ve never heard of glitch art, and no one could really blame you. It’s an extremely specialized kind of digital art, which Wolfe experiments with even more by making it analog.
Glitch art, in simple terms, is art created using technology for unintended purposes. For some, that might mean putting an image on a CRT television, holding a magnet in front of the screen, and taking a picture of the resulting image. Glitch art, in all its forms, is created by causing an “error” to occur on a screen. For Wolfe, these images always come from a Game Boy camera and the edits made to them are almost always analog.
“I can’t draw, but I can definitely connect things to each other.”
“I’ve always wanted to do analog glitch,” said Wolfe, “so one day I searched eBay for the closest CRT to me and just got it. The same day I received a ton of VHS tapes from the thrift store, and it snowballed from there, they started out by just unplugging the video cable from the TV, but eventually discovered that by using a headphone splitter, they could tweak the picture even further by simply turning the volume knob.
This led to Wolfe’s collection of guitar pedals and other old audio interfaces, cables and connectors. Using these tools, they could edit the image along with the audio, which they eventually began to apply to photos they had taken using the Game Boy camera. After our interview, Wolfe posted videos on Twitter showing the effect at work. Using a drum machine, they warped and altered an image in real time, creating something entirely new.
— zøë wolfe (@glitch_wolfe) January 20, 2022
Other photographers use their Game Boy cameras to capture singular moments, preserving them in green and black pixel art. Wolfe’s use of the device takes that same concept and takes it forward in leaps and bounds. They create gifs by stitching together 30 images of a rotating subject, like a skull or a Furby, and videos by connecting a Game Boy camera to an SNES and then to their laptop, which is running OBS.
“I mix art with the Game Boy Camera that no one else really is,” says Wolfe. “Like, nobody uses this thing to photograph things like I do, and clean it up. Few people tend to create gifs, but they don’t specifically take multiple images intentionally and create something new. Due of the spin they put on Game Boy Camera photography, Wolfe’s art ended up in a gallery created by Cat Graffam that exists on a Game Boy ROM.
Despite their innovations in style, Wolfe does not want to be referred to as a Game Boy Camera artist, photographer, or pioneer in this field. “I don’t like getting stuck,” says Wolfe. “I don’t want to portray myself as a Game Boy Camera user, but what interests me most are the tools I use to get the results I care about.” I just merge all my hobbies into a disparate style. I have modded gear, glitch art, live video on a CRT, and I play my music through that too. I teach myself music production.
“It’s part of my way of doing digital art, because I can’t draw, but I can definitely connect things to each other.”