Tag Archives: Still Images

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.

Basement Vodou: Haitian Spirituality in Brooklyn

An Irish Catholic upbringing contributed to photographer Shannon Taggarts lifelong interest in the rituals and art of religion. After photographing Spiritualistspeople who believe they can communicate with the deadin upstate New York, Taggart has since been documenting the Haitian religion of Vodou since moving to Brooklyn in 2005.

Taggarts project began when she met a Mambo, or female Vodoupriest, named Rose Marie Pierre, who runs a temple in the basement of a nondescript storefront in the working class neighborhood of Flatbush. It was here that Taggart made these images of priests and laymen undergoing possession by the Loapowerful spirits that act as intermediaries between humankind and Vodous distant god, Bondye. Most Loa are benign, some are malevolent, but every spirit has a distinct personality, role in the world and set of demands and services. In their different ways, practitioners believe, these spirits determine our fate and must be consulted and appeased.

Beckoning the Loa requires elaborate preparations unique to the particular spirit desired. Practitioners indicate the Loa they want to call upon by drawing its vever, or symbol, in cornmeal sprinkled on the floor. They place offerings on an altar and perform particular songs and dances. When the Loa possesses the worshiper Taggart says the scene becomes wild, very physical and intense. Though she works with black-and-white still images, Taggart is able to convey the noise and energy of these rituals.There is screaming and thrashingsometimes [congregants] run around the room as if confused. It can happen suddenly, so it’s often jarring. People immediately gather around the one possessed and assist them with what they need and catch them if they collapse. Practitioners say the experience induces short-term amnesia; Mambo Rose Marie is always surprised (sometimes shocked) to see my documentation of what has taken place while she was possessed, recalls Taggart.

Popular culture often depicts Vodouas dark and menacing, but fails to understand its more unusual elements. One example, animal sacrifice, exists to rejuvenate the Loa after exhausting ceremonies. Taggart says that the chickens, pigs, goats and cows are killed humanely and eaten immediately. In Haiti, where there was no safe way to store meat, the practice provided people with a regular source of safe nourishment, Taggart explained.

Another often misunderstood practice is the presence of weapons in Vodouceremonies. A man in slide #2 is shown possessed by a warrior spirit named Ogou. He holds a large machete symbolic of that Loa. But as Taggart explains, weapons like these are not used to harm others. Instead, they are relics of Haitian slavery that Vodoupractitioners have appropriated as symbols of their faithmuch as the cross is a relic of Christian persecution that Christians have turned into a symbol of their faith. These exercises, born of practical and psychological necessity, are far from the spooky behavior that appears so often in film and folklore.

This December, several of these Brooklyn practitioners will undergo a two-week long initiation rite in Haiti. Accompanying them will be Mambo Rose Marie and Taggart, who will photograph the ceremonies. Blog Commenting . I don’t know what I will find there, but I am assuming it will be a special experience, she says.

Shannon Taggart is a Brooklyn-based photographer. See more of her work here.

Kiss the Past Hello by Larry Clark

The idea is to put all these fucking teenage boys in one place and just finish it there. tri state area . just put the whole obsession with going back in one book and maybe it will be finished, maybe I can do something else. – Larry Clark interviewed by Mike Kelly

Larry Clark’s latest is a book titled Kiss the Past Hello which was published on the occasion of his show at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and it has one promising quality, if you missed out on Tulsa, Teenage Lust, Punk Picasso or the Los Angeles 2003-2006 Volume 1 then this would be a book to fill a gap on your shelf. If you have any of those aforementioned books then this will seem nothing more than a reshuffling of the same deck of cards. Seems putting the past away is much harder for Mr. Clark since he spoke to Kelly in the late 1980s.

No doubt Clark has produced a few great books over his lifetime and this is no small task as most suffer a sophomore slump and fade quickly. Clark obsession with youth and specifically boys comes from, in his words – a desire of wanting to “go back” and “be them” and not possess them – has remained the motivating factor in making new work in both still images, collage and films. An honest and sad confession that has made his work worth following.

As he shifted from the drug scene into describing narcissism the pictures became looser and less edited (reminding Kelly of action painting), the next logical step for Clark was to move into film. The difficulty is, with exception of his first film Kids, the way Clark approached film has sucked some of the spontaneity out of his process with contrived plot lines and action.

So in a way, Kiss the Past Hello is the return to his youthful, confessionary truth that he seems to partake in every few years but no matter how many times work can be recycled, the need to republish it in a book turns him into a franchise.

Kiss the Past Hello will be hard for fans of Clark to resist. It comes in a box, has a nice design, a poster and a supplement booklet with several essays and the interview with Kelly. The book is fairly cheaply printed and seems like it is the quality of on-demand production even though it was printed in Antwerp. It was produced in an edition of 2500.

If you haven’t had enough of kissing the past hello you will no doubt also hear about Clark’s Tulsa Reader 1971-2010 which is an ‘artist book’ of interviews, articles, press releases, gallery memos, letters to the editors – surrounding Larry Clark’s controversial photo series, Tulsa.

I thought at first this would be something worthwhile and it might be for someone, but the content looked much less interesting than it sounds. The presentation is a thick xerox book perfect bound (basic unsewn glue binding) with floppy materials. The ‘collage’ aspect that seems to be touting an artist book flavor seems a stretch but I guess that is cutting it too close to defining what an ‘artist book’ can be. Past or present this seems like shelf filler to me.

Kiss the Past Hello by Larry Clark

The idea is to put all these fucking teenage boys in one place and just finish it there. just put the whole obsession with going back in one book and maybe it will be finished, maybe I can do something else. – Larry Clark interviewed by Mike Kelly

Larry Clark’s latest is a book titled Kiss the Past Hello which was published on the occasion of his show at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and it has one promising quality, if you missed out on Tulsa, Teenage Lust, Punk Picasso or the Los Angeles 2003-2006 Volume 1 then this would be a book to fill a gap on your shelf. If you have any of those aforementioned books then this will seem nothing more than a reshuffling of the same deck of cards. Seems putting the past away is much harder for Mr. Clark since he spoke to Kelly in the late 1980s.

No doubt Clark has produced a few great books over his lifetime and this is no small task as most suffer a sophomore slump and fade quickly. Clark obsession with youth and specifically boys comes from, in his words – a desire of wanting to “go back” and “be them” and not possess them – has remained the motivating factor in making new work in both still images, collage and films. An honest and sad confession that has made his work worth following.

As he shifted from the drug scene into describing narcissism the pictures became looser and less edited (reminding Kelly of action painting), the next logical step for Clark was to move into film. The difficulty is, with exception of his first film Kids, the way Clark approached film has sucked some of the spontaneity out of his process with contrived plot lines and action.

So in a way, Kiss the Past Hello is the return to his youthful, confessionary truth that he seems to partake in every few years but no matter how many times work can be recycled, the need to republish it in a book turns him into a franchise.

Kiss the Past Hello will be hard for fans of Clark to resist. It comes in a box, has a nice design, a poster and a supplement booklet with several essays and the interview with Kelly. The book is fairly cheaply printed and seems like it is the quality of on-demand production even though it was printed in Antwerp. It was produced in an edition of 2500.

If you haven’t had enough of kissing the past hello you will no doubt also hear about Clark’s Tulsa Reader 1971-2010 which is an ‘artist book’ of interviews, articles, press releases, gallery memos, letters to the editors – surrounding Larry Clark’s controversial photo series, Tulsa. coral calcium powder .

I thought at first this would be something worthwhile and it might be for someone, but the content looked much less interesting than it sounds. The presentation is a thick xerox book perfect bound (basic unsewn glue binding) with floppy materials. The ‘collage’ aspect that seems to be touting an artist book flavor seems a stretch but I guess that is cutting it too close to defining what an ‘artist book’ can be. Past or present this seems like shelf filler to me.