Tag Archives: Virtual World

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.

Looking at the Land From the Comfort of Home

Andy Adams works almost exclusively in the virtual world of contemporary photography. Whether you visit his photography website FlakPhoto.com, follow him on Twitter or take part in his daily Facebook discussions, you’ll find Adams diligently working as a young cultural anthropologist. Reaching far into the online photo ether, Adams always tries to present us with something new that he hopes you’ll be equally thrilled by.

Since 2006 FlakPhoto has grown to become a defining resource for anyone interested in the latest trends in photography online. Institutions like the RISD Museum of Art have recently taken notice of his work, calling upon Adams to curate an installation and accompanying online exhibition to complement its most recent massive show America in View: Landscape Photography 1865 to Now.

In the fall of 2010, Adams curated a similar project for FotoWeek in Washington, D.C. called 100 Portraits, which was a broad survey of contemporary portraiture. Beyond the physical installation Adams, of course, put the project in its entirety on the Internet. LightBox recently spoke to Adams about his projects:

[100 Portraits] was the beginning of my realization that you could bring the ideas of online publishing and art exhibition together to produce a public digital exhibition for everyone in the world that has access to the Internet.

The focus of the RISD exhibition curated by Jan Howard is an historical survey of American Landscape photography from 1865 till now. The parameters for ‘Looking at the Land’ were also very broad and the website component is an exploration of current photography in the documentary style with interviews that analyze and understand the evolving landscape photo tradition. 

The constraints were fairly simple — I wanted this to reflect contemporary styles and current practice, and photographers exploring new directions. In the interest of serendipitous discovery, and hoping I would see something new, I put out a public call online seeking images ‘depicting the American Landscape since 2000.’

While curating the 100 Portraits project, which I coproduced with Larissa Leclair of the Indie Photobook Library, she impressed upon me the idea that this web site that I’ve been publishing every day was becoming a kind of archive and collection unto itself. In a way, the Web has become this giant collection of contemporary photography—portfolio websites, photo blogs, Tumblrs. That’s really interesting. 

What I’ve witnessed in the last few years is this real anxiety about the abundance of images in the world, on the Internet. That’s one way to see things. I prefer to view the situation as one with infinitely more opportunities to discover new, interesting work. Of course, the hazard of what I did here is that you have to look through more than 5,000 pictures to make sense of it all.

I’m interested in learning why people photograph landscape so I asked each of the 88 photographers the same questions: ‘What compels you to photograph the land? What does that mean?’ 

One of the things that I’m trying to do is to foreground the perspective of the image-maker. This may be another way to add meaning to that huge abundance of pictures. 

I also asked each photographer: ‘Why did you photograph this place?’

With landscape photography it’s easy to tell a pro-environmentalism narrative that shows the destruction of the land or how human alterations have forever destroyed that land. That’s all true, of course. But I don’t have an agenda with this project; I’m more interested in understanding why contemporary image-makers make landscape photographs to learn how that tradition is evolving in the 21st century.

If there is a dominant theme in the show it probably is the absurd juxtaposition of nature and culture, recognition that this is the way things are now, that we co-exist with nature. Rather than preach at the spectator, many of these images describe that disconnect with irony and humor.  

One of the things that I think might be indicative of this generation is that you have all these photographers that grew up in suburban sprawl, so that whole concept of home and place is different. Maybe we’re not even lamenting development and the loss of wilderness anymore because we’ve come of age without it? I see a lot of these photographers coming to terms with those ideas and the place where nature and culture are colliding. That’s why some of these pictures seem humorous or ironic. They are less an indictment and more of an acknowledgment.

It was important for me to show the American landscape and real places. America looks very different than it did 100 years ago. It’s also important to remember that these images are not objective facts — they’re subjective interpretations, personal perspectives about how the world looks today. 

This is very much a research project that I’m making public. The ideas that I’m trying to understand and the things that we are interested in have existed before this exhibition and they will exist after. I’ve attempted to tap into the new public sphere that exists in the global online photo community, to learn collectively what these things mean and to hopefully contribute to the history of things, so one day people can look back and learn from it. That’s the bigger picture goal.”

Andy Adams is the founder of FlakPhoto.com and curator of Looking at the Land — 21st Century American Views, a collaboration with the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. The exhibition is on view until Jan. 13 and you can visit the online version here.

The Point by Kirk Crippens and Michael Jang

Somewhere in the virtual world, I came across The Point, a new Blurb book that is the collaborative effort of Kirk Crippens and Michael Jang. I’m a big fan of both photographers, and I love the idea of working apart and together to create a significant project. Their statement and some of the book’s imagery follows, but as this is an on going project, there is surely more to come. Congrats to both photographers for a terrific project and book.

The Point is an ongoing collaborative project between Michael Jang and Kirk Crippens. Each spread in the book spans a decade, with one unlabeled photograph by each artist. The series began in 1999 when Jang, a native San Franciscan, became curious about the often-ignored Bayview/Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. Sometimes referred to as The Point, this was the last remaining San Francisco neighborhood left untouched by developers. http://www.kirkcrippens.com/portfolio.html?folio=2011

In the process of taking pictures, Jang built trust with some of the residents and heard rumors of big changes on the horizon: the area was slated for massive redevelopment. He completed his work on the series in 2001, set aside the negatives, and per his usual practice, moved directly on to another project.

A decade later, Jang was making his way through his volumes of negatives when he discovered the Hunters Point work and began editing and printing it. During the same time he came across Kirk Crippens’ series on The Great Recession: The Dealership Wreck. He sent an email to Crippens that began, “I know you shoot change…” and he asked Crippens if he would consider continuing his Hunters Point series. It was an unusual proposition, but Jang had an intuition. So did Crippens, who began working in Hunters Point the next day.

He chose a church in the heart of the neighborhood and began attending services each week. The congregation immediately
welcomed him, making an effort to shake his hand and remember his name. Soon Crippens found himself describing the project to the pastor. Meetings were then coordinated with pillars of the community who invited him to photograph their homes and granted access to photograph some of the iconic rooms slated for redevelopment.

Although a core group of long-term residents remain, many changes have taken shape in and around the neighborhood since
1999, and the changes continue. Today, a vast wave of construction just north churns closer each day. The largest redevelopment site in San Francisco, the decommissioned Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, promises to convert 700 acres of The Point’s eastern waterfront into 10,000 residential units. Photography has also changed dramatically since 1999. When Jang completed his work in 2001 he was using film, processing with chemicals, editing on a light table, and printing at a color lab. By the time Crippens began working on the project he had the opportunity to make digital images, upload and edit on a computer, and print large format photographs in his home.

Still, much of the process Jang and Crippens employ in the creation of The Point remains the same. Relationships must be
formed, trust must be earned, and access must be granted.

Penelope Umbrico (photographs) Book Launch

david kim .

 

Penelope Umbrico (photographs) offers a radical reinterpretation of everyday consumer and vernacular images. As the artist describes, she works “within the virtual world of consumer marketing and social media, traveling through the relentless flow of seductive images, objects, and information that surrounds us, searching for decisive momentsbut in these worlds, decisive moments are cultural absurdities.”

Join us in celebrating the first monograph of artistPenelope Umbrico along with a reading by poetRob Fitterman and a conversation withVirginia Rutledge, Vice President and General Counsel of Creative Commons.

 

Wednesday, June 15, 6:30 pm
FREE

Aperture Gallery and Bookstore
547 West 27th Street, 4th Fl
New York, New York
(212) 505-5555

Click here to purchase the book Penelope Umbrico (photographs).

Life and Learning

I’m still a little overwhelmed by the reaction to Friday’s post, written at the end of an intense month, when I was dealing with an out flow of monies and energies that was unusually large. I was thinking out loud as an educator, sharing my thoughts of my own leaning curve, not realizing how viral the post would become. heating contractors . Obviously it has touched a nerve. And obviously, what happens whenever you put something out into the virtual world, there are things you wish you could have held back or thought through more thoroughly.I think what we are experiencing is the confluence of the downturned economy and creating work at a time where traditions and methodologies are rapidly changing. No other art form has had to readjust so quickly to change. That combined with an expanding population where every man, woman, and child owns a camera, we are questioning our journeys more than ever.No matter how hard it might be to navigate the fine art waters these days, I have to say that I am so very proud to be a part of this amazing community. This was made crystal clear by my involvement with Life Support Japan. Time Warner Internet . I was blown away by how incredibly caring, giving, and supportive this community is. Not only did photographers submit work to the sale, but so did gallerists and gallery directors. We supported each other in the purchase of images, we cheered each other on, and in the process, got to know each other better. A shout out in particular to Crista Dix who has worked tirelessly on this project since it’s inception. This sale is just one example of the power of our community (there are still many wonderful images available)– and there are so many others.The good news is that we are making photographs during a time when a banquet of opportunities allow us to get our work out into the world. There are many dedicated organizations and galleries working hard to help emerging photographers get recognition, probably more than in any other art form. E-zines and blogs and other forms of social media have also given photographers tremendous exposure. And we have the ability to pick and choose from this banquet. We shouldn’t take that for granted.I also believe in Portfolio Reviews. This process is totally unique to photography. I think of a portfolio review as part of my education and they ultimately cost the same amount (or less) than a week long workshop. We are lucky to have the opportunity to meet with so many significant people in the photography world face to face and develop relationships and dialogues with them. I have had incredible experiences at portfolio reviews, and certainly will continue to attend when I have new work to present.I thank you for all your comments, and I hope we can continue to share constructive ideas and feedback about our photographic lives. I learn something new everyday, and much of it comes from making mistakes, by talking and sharing, and critically thinking about my photographic path–so I appreciate all your observations and ideas. For those of you who have figured it out, bravo…I want to learn from you. I’m feeling more positive and more educated already.

“Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance”

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum March 26 – September 6, 2010 View the online exhibition and more at www.guggenheim.org Much of contemporary art seems haunted by the past, by ghostly apparitions that are reanimated in reproductive media, as well as in live performance and the virtual world. recycled glass votives . Highlighted here are several artists from the exhibition, documenting the widespread contemporary obsession with the past. Made possible by the International Director’s Council of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Social Outbreak . Used Cars Denver . Additional support provided by grants from The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and the William Talbott Hillman Foundation. The Leadership Committee is gratefully acknowledged.