A lonely look at Batman, Vader, Gollum and other sci-fi icons (pictures)

In the photographic world of Nathan Wirth, classic sci-fi characters look beautifully solitary in their striking black and white landscapes.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
1 of 10 Nathan Wirth

Introspective Vader

Nathan Wirth, a photographer based in Marin County, California,  creates moody black and white images that capture both the peace and loneliness of solitude.

For his series "Imaginations," Wirth placed images of sci-fi icons amid his evocative landscapes. The result is a collection of photos that show favorite and familiar characters in an entirely new light.

Here, for example, Darth Vader doesn't look so much like a neck-crushing baddie as he does a man contemplating the wrong he's done in his life. Of course, he might just as well be contemplating how to blow up another planet, but I'd kind of like to go with the first thought.

2 of 10 Nathan Wirth

Yoda contemplates the bird

Naturally, Yoda is no stranger to contemplation, and here he's seen peacefully communing with an egret.

"I have been working on a series of self-portraits for the past five years, a series that reflects an Emersonian and Zen-like contemplation of nature," Nathan Wirth told CNET's Crave blog, "and many of the images from this Imaginations series are a playful and humorous satire of my own work. This is why you see Vader, Batman and C-3PO staring out at nature -- and why you see Yoda contemplating an egret."

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C-3PO finds some peace

Here we see the often-worried, always-frenetic android from "Star Wars" taking the chance to let it all go.

In addition to playing with his Zen theme, Nathan
Wirth says this series is also a nod to the lo-fi science fiction films of his youth.

"I wanted to return to that sense of the imagination from my childhood in the '70s," he said, "to a time when one needed to suspend one's disbelief, to a time when the imagination needed to be an active participant in the experience of the story -- much like one has to imagine the characters when reading a book or bring the comic book illustrations to life."

4 of 10 Nathan Wirth

A solitary wizard

Interestingly, Nathan
Wirth says he feels that modern special effects, like those from the epic "Lord of the Rings" trilogy from which this shot of wizard Gandalf takes its inspiration, can sometimes get in the way.

"Everything about today’s modern world of CGI is focused on realism, but oddly, in such cinematic experiences we are trying to experience the realism of things that are entirely unreal," he said. "I am not saying that this is necessarily wrong, but in my mind, there is something entirely different about (a) suspending one's disbelief and accepting the rudimentary, rough effects of old movies and letting one's imagination take over and (b) sitting down to watch a film with special effects made by filmmakers who want everything impossible to look entirely possible."

5 of 10 Nathan Wirth

Perched precious

Nathan Wirth says he was influenced by his love of sci-fi and fantasy novels, including C. S. Lewis’ "Narnia" books, Frank Herbert’s "Dune," and, of course, Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," to which this shot of Gollum is a nod.

"All of these books, TV shows, comics and films required my willingness to yield to the impossibility of such things and imagine along with their creators," Wirth says on his Behance site for the "Imaginations" series. "And it was the necessity that I had to imagine, that I had to accept, that I had to set aside the unbelievable -- and even at times the ridiculous -- which I found so appealing."

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Lone bat

This shot of Batman definitely evokes some of that mid-century aesthetic Nathan Wirth mentioned, even though the figure is of the more recent Dark Knight, rather than the one portrayed by Adam West in the TV series.

"Everything I do is digital," Wirth says of process, "but I tend to work from a film-like perspective, trying to honor the tones of classic black and white film photography whenever possible -- and mostly relying on a digital darkroom to burn, dodge and tweak contrasts."

7 of 10 Nathan Wirth

Reflecting Godzilla

"I would explain the actual process I used, but it is so simple and basic there is really no real need," Nathan Wirth said. "I’ll just say that I used some of my long-exposure images of seascapes and landscapes and, via Google searches, found and then inserted the characters (most found in stills from films) into those 'scapes."

Wirth says the Godzilla in this shot, called "Godzilla, A Reflection," is an homage to Toho Studios' Gojira, first released in 1954. He made the image as a gift for his mother-in-law.

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Docked Tardis

Here, Nathan Wirth plants the Tardis from TV's "Dr. Who" at the end of a long pier. The Doctor better be careful when he steps out.

"I do make all of my own prints, but these particular images are not for sale, nor will they ever be entered into any contests," Wirth says, "because not all of the components are my original work (though everything but the characters is entirely my own work)."

He does give his images as gifts though. This one was made for his sister, "a true Whovian."

9 of 10 Nathan Wirth

Up (or down?) and away!

This image of Christopher Reeve as Superman from Richard Donner's 1978 film is a bit disorienting, as you can't determine if the Man of Steel is flying up, down or sideways.

"These images -- with their various characters, machines and creatures from the books, comics, and films that readily activated my imagination as a child -- are in no way meant to be realistic,"  Nathan Wirth says. "Intending to emulate the rudimentary special effects of films past, I had no desire to make these visually believable. I want viewers to embrace these images' flaws and open their imaginations to the simple, whimsical stories each one tells."

10 of 10 Nathan Wirth

A solitary Enterprise

"The image with the Enterprise is simply a self-portrait I took at the Point Reyes National Seashore," Nathan Wirth says of this shot of the famous Star Trek ship. "I merely added the Enterprise to express a little whimsy and maybe even to poke a little fun at myself."

Wirth says he's currently represented by the Great Highway Gallery in San Francisco and will be doing a show this coming September, featuring a merging of his landscapes and seascapes with the poetry of Peter Weltner.

You can see the full "Imaginations" series on Wirth's Behance page here, and catch his other work on his main website.

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