Tag Archives: Google

Street View and Beyond: Google’s Influence on Photography

When Google Street View started as an experiment in 2007, the company sent SUVs equipped with cameras, GPS and lasers to collect its first pictures. The idea of capturing images of the entire world from the perspective of the street was revolutionary, if not a little insane. Now, five years later, Google has recorded 360-degree photographs of streets in more than 3,000 cities in 43 countries around the world. Google Street View cars—along with snowmobiles, giant tricycles and Trekkers–have covered more than five million unique miles of road since the project began, making tens of millions of still images in even the most far off places on the map, such as Antarctica.

The massive and growing archive has spawned a virtual world of images like we’ve never seen before in the history of photography—and its accessibility has inspired a new generation of photographers who are using the tool to document the world while simultaneously redefining the boundaries, quite literally, of contemporary art photography.

While critics bemoan the trend of artists using Google imagery in their works, the artistic appropriation of photos is as old as photography itself, employed by everyone from the Surrealists to the post-modern Pictures Generation of the late 1970s.  Google’s Street View images aren’t a commentary on the world, but are surveillance photos taken for the practical purposes of just showing us places we may not be able to visit. The machines and cameras used to collect them have no discretion, much less artistic influence. Through meticulous research, framing, grabbing and reformatting, photographers themselves are assigning photos artistic value, in much the same way they do when  shooting, toning or retouching a raw file or an analogue negative. “In its raw form, satellite imagery can be quite dull,” says Mishka Henner, an artist who often works with Google’s images. “Cropping, adjusting, and forming a body of work out of them completely transforms these images into something that can be beautiful, terrifying and also insightful. If the internet remains free and open, I’m confident that in ten years photographic work like this will be as prevalent as imagery produced by hand-held cameras.”

Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images

The Google street view mapping and camera car is seen as it charts the streets of Washington, DC, on June 7, 2011.

At this point, all the Street View images are created by a human-operated Google cars with a spherical camera affixed to the top. The device looks like an all-seeing eye that has nine directional cameras for 360° views at a height of about 2.5 meters. The new high-resolution replica of the world that Google provides is every voyeur’s dream—one can virtually visit an endless variety of places from the comforts of one’s own home.

In the catalogue to the show Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera since 1870, editor and curator Sandra Phillips compared the biblical story about elders spying on Susannah to present day, saying: “Today, however they would use cell phones to grab a picture of a young woman in a compromised position and send it to friends, having located her garden through Google Earth. Human hunger for seeing the forbidden has not changed. The technologies to facilitate it have.”

And she’s right—this technology has been adapted quickly by artists and devoured by the art world. Doug Rickard used Google Street View to see the back roads of the nation in a series called A New American Picture, which was featured at New York City’s MoMA last year and is currently on view at Yossi Milo Gallery. Geoff Dyer wrote extensively in the Guardian about Rickard, saying: “Any doubts as to the artistic – rather than ethical or conceptual – merits of this new way of working were definitively settled by Rickard’s pictures. It was William Eggleston who coined the phrase “photographing democratically” but Rickard has used Google’s indiscriminate omniscience to radically extend this enterprise – technologically, politically and aesthetically.”

Rickard says he probably made 10,000 images of this work before narrowing the selection down to just under 80 images. “The only difference [between this work and traditional street photography] is that the world’s frozen, so you’re limited to that surrounding,” he says. “You’ve got a fixed lens and your distance is determined by the width of the street, not where you walk. But there’s a lot in kinship with traditional photography that was really partly responsible for me being able to embed 1,000 hours into this in four years.”

Jon Rafman’s project 9-Eyes captures uncanny images of reality and provides a case study on the unrelentingly objective aesthetic that comes from Google Street View. ”The potential sentimentality of these photographs is counteracted by the manner in which they were captured,” he says. “There is a tension between the indifferent robotic camera, and the human gaze that sees meaning and interprets narratives in these images. That tension is the essence of the project. People often say that technology is changing our perception of the world, changing our perception of reality, but I think that the inverse is also occurring—a technology becomes successful because it taps into something fundamental about contemporary consciousness, it expresses how we are already experiencing the world.”

Some artists, however, are looking at another aspect unique to the use of Google imagery. Clement Valla, through his project, Postcards from Google Earth, is finding the glitches and bugs unintentionally captured by Google Earth’s lens and documenting them to comment on the mistakes resulting from technology’s limitations. “Because Google Earth is continuously updating, there’s kind of no archive of these particular moments or situations,” he says. “So I thought it would be interesting to take them and print them as postcards.”

The prevalence of Google’s imagery and technology is already permeating the aesthetic of more traditional photography and even artists working in myriad disciplines from sculpture to street art. Manuel Vazquez still begins his process with taking his own pictures but later intergrates the aesthetic of surveillance imagery and Google Street View, as seen is his project Lonely Crowd, which incorporated the pixelated nature of digital works to convey the physical and emotional distances between strangers in a crowd. “The web has changed the way we access and read the city, through technologies that have shortened and broken the boundaries of space and time,” he says. “It is like a walk with no specific destination, affecting time, space and perspective with every click. There is not a linearity of past-present-future. It feels like a continuous flow of information that is updated.”

Fake Google Streetview car urban invention by artist group F.A.T. Lab, February 2010 at Transmediale 2010, Berlin. Image courtesy of Aram Bartholl.

Fake Google Street View car urban invention by artist group F.A.T. Lab, February 2010 at Transmediale 2010, Berlin

Interdisciplinary artist Aram Bartholl, meanwhile, has used Google imagery as the inspiration for some of his work but hardly produces only photography. Bartholl creates sculptural objects that represent virtual objects such as the red map marker icon found on Google Maps. “Services like Google Maps change the way we perceive the city,” he says. “I remember once I had a parcel service on the phone claiming my address didn’t exist because it couldn’t be found on Google Maps.” His works, which have been shown at Rencontres d’Arles, among other festivals, aim to explore how technology imitates reality and vice versa. “The map marker icon is just a 20 pixel interface on the screen, but when you switch to satellite mode and then zoom in more, it looks like it becomes part of the actual picture, casting a shadow on the city,” he says.

Despite the growing number of photographers who use Google in their works, it remains unclear how this technology will influence our perspective in photography—and perceptions of spatial reality—outside the virtual world.

In the meantime, we’d love to continue the conversation and hear your thoughts about how other artists are using Google Street View and Google Earth in the comments section below.

Paul Moakley is the Deputy Photo Editor at TIME. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulmoakley.

Reporting and interviews by Zara Katz, TIME photo intern and graduate student at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow her on on Twitter @zarakatz.

Pictures of the Week: October 12 – 19

Blog Submission . article writing submission .

From Space Shuttle Endeavour’s Los Angeles street journey and the second presidential debate to the world’s highest freefall and a pair of painted camels in Pakistan, TIME presents the best photographs of the week.

Jessica Todd Harper, Self Portrait With Marshall (Lion)

Jessica Todd Harper, Self Portrait With Marshall (Lion)

Jessica Todd Harper

Self Portrait With Marshall (Lion),
Philadelphia, 2009
From the New Work series
Website – JessicaToddHarper.com

Jessica Todd Harper’s work has been internationally exhibited and discussed in publications ranging from The New Yorker to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Her first monograph, Interior Exposure, was selected by O, The Oprah Magazine as well as PDN as a top book recommendation, was shortlisted at the NY Photo Festival for Best Book and won a first place Lucie Award. She was a project winner at Center, Santa Fe and one of “PDN’s 30”. Editorial clients include New York Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Die Zeit Literatur and Newsweek. Jessica has been invited to talk about her work at The International Center for Photography, NYC; Google Headquarters, Palo Alto, CA and Aperture Gallery, NYC. Harper has taught at both The ICP and Swarthmore College. Her next book is due out in Spring 2014 and will include writings by Alain de Botton and Alison Nordstrom. She lives and works in Philadelphia.
 

Finding Beauty: Fractal Patterns on Earth as Seen from Space

In a world made small and accessible by technology, it is easy to forget the magnitude of nature’s infinite complexity. But sometimes technology reminds us, such as when trawling planet Earth on Google’s Satellite View, zooming across landscapes partitioned by natural and unnatural boundaries.

While searching Google Earth, Paul Bourke, a research associate professor at the University of Western Australia, discovered an amazing sightthe patterns of the Earth seemed to form a delicate geometric pattern when viewed from the sky. Not only delicate, but almost perfect. Bourke was captivated by the geographylacy tracks of rivers and mountain ranges stretching across the Earth in unison as if digitally cloned.

Fractals are recognized as patterns of self-similarity over varying degrees of scale. seo marketing . There are both mathematical fractals as well as natural fractalsthe former are idealized and found across a range of scales, while the latter generally only exist across a smaller scale range.

Bourke explains that fractals are found in all parts of life, from the brain sciences and astrophysics to geographic formations and riverbeds. “Fractal and chaotic processes are the norm, not the exception.”

“I always knew these amazing natural patterns would be there,” he said. “They are literally everywhereit’s just a matter of finding them.”

And find them he did. Bourke, an authority on fractals and visualizations, showcases more than 40 different fractals he’s uncovered while zooming through the satellite views of 25 countries. Through his website, he encourages users to submit examples they’ve found in their own browsing, and provides KMZ coordinate files for each image, allowing users to visit the exact views of the fractal features. Bourke’s collection realizes the power enabled by the open-ended tools of modern technology and applies them to a practical and popular aesthetic end.

To see more natural fractal patterns, visit Bourke’s website.

Aaron Hobson: The Tōhoku Project

My good friend Aaron Hobson, The Cinemascapist, was recently in Los Angeles, where he was working on a film. We met at a rooftop bar one evening and over drinks and a view of the Hollywood Hills, Aaron and I got caught up to speed.

Aaron has been working on a project about Google street views, and his international Internet street view surfing (done from his home in the Adirondacks), landed him in the Tohoku region of Japan that was devastated from the 2011 Tsunami/Earthquake. Seeing the current state of affairs in this area Japan hit him in a profound way and he knew he had to do something. When Aaron showed me this image, it so defined what that region faces…one lone man sweeping the road of a devastated landscape.

I’m turning over the rest of this post to Aaron, so he can share his plans to help:

So a few months ago I shared my streetview series from the Tohoku region
of Japan that was devastated from the 2011 Tsunami/Earthquake. Since
then I have not been able to get the images out of my head. I think in
part because I can relate to the people in these small remote villages
as I also live a very similar remote life.


I have found myself thinking about them over and over again and realize I
need to help. Not by taking photos to make a donation to red cross, but
actually hands-on physical labor. I found a great nonprofit group that
will put me up and I will be working 10-12 hour days rebuilding homes
and cleaning up the miles and miles of debris that still remains. I also
hope to raise awareness again for the region. The scale of damage is
mind boggling. They estimate anywhere from 10-15 years to rebuild. The
damage was greater than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

I hope to raise enough funds to stay there for a bit of time rebuilding
and taking photos in what little free time I have so that I can do an
annual trip to document the rebuild over the next 10 years. 100%
proceeds go to requisite travel with all remaining funds going to the
relief group that I will be working with.


Anyway, long story short, images are priced to sell at $25 for signed
20″x10″ prints in edition of 25. To get the ball rolling, the well known
collector/curater John A. Bennette has bought the first 5 images of
this goal. Hopefully it will sell fast at this price and small edition
size.


More than one year after the Tōhoku earthquake and resulting tsunami,
the devastation remains visible and the amount of work still to be done
seems exceedingly daunting (some estimate 10 years). What remains of
fishing villages and small cities, has been organized into huge mounds
carefully separated by category: cars, boats, household debris, metal,
fishing and oceanic supplies, with piles reaching as high as five
stories and encompassing 5-10 city blocks. The following images were
gathered from hundreds of miles of “virtual travel” along the eastern
coast of the Tōhoku region via Google Earth Street View. During these
travels it was extremely rare to come across any street view in the
region that didn’t have a crew diligently working or small groups of
fisherman trying to go about their daily lives.


I want to help be a part of the
rebuild… and not by just taking photos or print sales to donate cash
to foundations like the Red Cross, but with actual hands-on physical
labor. I plan on working with the nonprofit Disaster Relief
Organization It’s Not Just Mud (INJM). After “visiting” hundreds miles
of coastline via streetview during the creation this series, I have not
been able to stop thinking about the people affected from this
disaster. Maybe I can relate to these small remote villages because I
also live in a remote village, or maybe it was seeing the destruction so
clearly in near real-time, block by block for miles and miles?
Assisting in the relief efforts is something that I NEED to do, not just
want to do. My goal is to assist in any capacity necessary with INJM,
as well as, making this an annual effort on my part. I will be
documenting my efforts and will post photos both during and after my
trip.


I can’t make this happen without your
help. All the images in this series are all for sale and 100% of the
proceeds contributing to any requisite travel costs. Any remaining funds
will be donated to It’s Not Just Mud to help aid in their continued
efforts. For more information about It’s Not Just Mud and its recent
projects, visit the website at itsnotjustmud.com.


The 9.0 undersea
megathrust earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, Japan, occurred
on Friday, March 11, 2011. It was the most powerful known earthquake to
have ever hit Japan, and one of the five most powerful earthquakes in
the world, since modern record-keeping began in 1900. The earthquake
triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40.5
meters (133 ft.) in Miyako in Tōhoku’s Iwate Prefecture, and which, in
the Sendai area, traveled up to 10 km. (6 mi.) inland. The earthquake
moved Honshu 2.4 m. (8 ft.) east and shifted the Earth on its axis by
estimates of between 10 cm. (4 in.) and 25 cm. (10 in.).


On March 12, 2012, a Japanese National
Police Agency report confirmed 15,854 deaths, 26,992 injured, and 3,155
people missing across twenty prefectures. The report also indicated
129,225 buildings were totally collapsed, with a further 254,204
buildings ‘half collapsed’, and another 691,766 buildings partially
damaged. Around 4.4 million households in northeastern Japan were left
without electricity and 1.5 million without water. Early estimates
placed insured losses from the earthquake alone at $14.5 to $34.6
billion (in U.S. funds). The World Bank’s estimated economic cost was
$235 billion (U.S. funds), making it the most expensive natural disaster
in world history.

All images are for sale

Finding Art in Google Maps: Jenny Odell’s Satellite World

For the average person, Google Maps is a website used to locate an address on a map, find directions from one place to another and see what areas around the world look like from a bird’s eye perspective. But for artist Jenny Odell, Google Maps is a tool to see, cut up and re-imagine her world in a new, photographic way.

Odell grew up in the Bay Area, and not unlike many in the area, was born to parents in the tech industry. After studying English in undergrad, Odell went on to receive her M.F.A. in photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. Interested in the complexities of technology—its progress and efficiency models, alongside the hiccups and mistakes inherent in web applications like Google Maps—Odell found inspiration in the two seemingly divergent paths.

Her project Satellite Collections, created from 2009-2011, uses the satellite view on Google Maps to find objects as diverse as airplanes, basketball courts and even water slides from places all over the world, which Odell then compiles into pictures—a selection of which is on view at Breeze Block Gallery in Portland, Ore. The photographer is often unaware of ‘where’ she is on the map, but then again, it’s not really important to her. “By working with the map labels turned off, I’m free to move about and explore freely,” says Odell. ”This work is about a greater idea of space. I’m interested in the strangeness of a particular site or location.” After making her selections, she makes screen grabs of the items and then brings the files into PhotoShop to cut them out of their surroundings. Final square-shaped images of 144 empty parking lots, or every basketball court in Manhattan, tell a story of our world from a perspective unusual for the human eye.

Odell’s most recent project, Signs of Life, which she began this year, expands on her previous projects and explores life from Google’s satellite view. This time around, the focus is our collective preoccupation with stuff both tangible and not: movies, cell phones, alcohol, marriage counseling and weight loss are just a few of the topics to fall within Odell’s examination.

Jenny Odell is a San Francisco based artist. A solo exhibition of her work will be on view from Aug. 2 to 30 at Breeze Block Gallery in Portland, Ore. See more of Odell’s work here.

Google Street View Goes to Antarctica

A note to viewers: TIME.com suggests viewing the panorama in full-screen mode. For visitors on a mobile device or tablet, we recommend utilizing our versions optimized for a fully immersive experience: 

iPAD versioniPHONE version

Above: The interior of Shackleton’s Hut displays the host of supplies used in early 20th century Antarctic expeditions—everything from medicine and food to candles and cargo sleds can be found neatly stored inside. You can immerse yourself in all of Google’s newly released imagery here.

Though Google first grabbed panoramic Street View images of Antarctica back in 2010, the search giant recently returned to the world’s least-populated continent to capture historic sites such as the South Pole and the insides of buildings that have battled the elements for more than a century.

Taking a virtual look inside places that provided shelter for Antarctica’s earliest explorers, such as Shackleton’s Hut and Scott’s Hut, is like stepping back in time. “They were built to withstand the drastic weather conditions only for the few short years that the explorers inhabited them,” says Google. “But remarkably, after more than a century, the structures are still intact, along with well-preserved examples of the food, medicine, survival gear and equipment used during the expeditions.”

Street View photos are normally gathered using specially modified cars, trikes and even snowmobiles, but the latest crop of immersive imagery was collected using only “a lightweight tripod with a fisheye lens,” according to Google. In an area as unforgiving as Antarctica, Google says it “worked with this technology because of its portability, reliability and ease-of-use.”

(Photos: Captain Scott and Captain Shackleton: A 100-year-old expedition)

The end result may not be quite the same as being there in person, but it’s definitely a historically interesting step forward. And it’s a lot warmer, safer and less expensive, too.

“After months of want and hunger, we suddenly found ourselves able to have meals fit for the gods, and with appetites the gods might have envied.”—Ernest Shackleton

For more about how Street View works, head over to Techland.

apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

  • APhotoEditor and Conscientious Extended do round-ups of the many arguments and comments ignited by an NPR intern’s blog post about never paying for music and David Lowery‘s response to the post, looping in MediaStorm’s recent pay-per-story model announcement and its reception to explore what these kinds of attitudes could mean for the creative fields in general.
  • The highly anticipated, so-called “Google Glasses” were demoed at the I/O conference this week, PetaPixel reports. These camera-equiped goggles, which are set to ship sometime next year, could one day allow point-of-view shooting and instant sharing online. The relatively discreet $1500 device has the potential to bring about the most radical change to street photography since the development of the 35mm film camera.
  • Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey blogs about packing up and heading off to Les Rencontres d’Arles, ”arguably one of the most important international photography assemblages,” where he’ll be doing free portfolio reviews along with the rest of the staff of Burn Magazine. Additionally at Arles, sixty exhibitions by photographers including Sam Falls, Regine Petersen, and Jonathan Torgovnik, author of the monograph Intended Consequences, are on view through September 23.
  • Boston‘s The Big Picture shares photos from LGBT pride events taken around the world, some of which were met with violence and intimidation. The New Yorker‘s Photobooth shares a selection of black-and-white images from the 70s and 80s, “Forty-Three Years After Stonewall,” when a riot at a popular Manhattan gay bar in response to a routine police raid ignited the LGBT rights movement.
  • Feature Shoot shares a terrific hour-long streaming documentary on Magnum Photo founder Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Just Plain Love,” which features backstories from many famous photographs, directed by Raphaël O’Byrne in 2001.
  • Photoshop, the Game, otherwise known as LevelUp for Photoshop, which offers the opportunity for users of the software to improve their skills, learn new features, and win prizes, is free online until July 15, 2012, reports John Nack. Maybe by then, you too can be as good as Kelli Connell, whose exhibition Double Life is on view through this Saturday, June 30.