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2010, Dec 09
Short rant about Google Street View and photography

With some regularity, Google Street View art comes through my internet. As far as Street View and photography are concerned, I don’t think there’s any real use in discussing seriously whether Street View work “is” photography or “isn’t” photography. Photography is a pretty wide medium (as Friedlander once said), so there is no point in trying to nail this down right now; after ten years or so we’ll be able to observe how much (or little) this kind of imagery and photography have converged.

But for the sake of argument, let’s look at Doug Rickard’s new book as photography. Much like Peter Funch’s boring work of last year, all I take away from this work is that it’s the result of a time-intensive technical process. I imagine long hours spent in front of the computer, combing through Street View images to filter them based on their coincidence with the photographer’s own aesthetic sensibility. There is nothing “wrong” with this (could be nothing wrong with it!), but like Funch’s images it just strikes me as phenomenally boring – what could Rickard really have learned from this procedure? And what is the audience supposed to take away from it? He knew basically what he wanted from the start, and got it. As it is, I already spend enough time in front of the computer; I’m not interested in the distillation of someone else’s computer time in photobook form.

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Google Street View

Comments (8)

I follow a few tumblrs based on Street View images and I enjoy them as part of the mix. I like when they provide a sort of old-fashioned national geographic “wow the world is an amazing place” feeling vs. the fetishization of surveillance imagery.

There’s a quote somewhere about the experience of making a photograph being captured in the image (whether that’s a person hauling an 8×10 to the mountains or walking the back streets of a 1930s French village with a Leica). In this case it’s either endless hours driving around cities or the hours later in front of the computer. I guess I always saw them and thought the former, but after reading this…

Hey Wayne, thanks for the comment. Yes, I think Street View definitely offers a lot of creative interesting possibilities, and it’s not that I never want to see another Street View image again! I mean, who even knows what will come along in a few years to blow Street View away…

Anyway, for me, I just can’t get behind an entire book of raw Street View images.

Have you seen the actual book?

Hi Russ, no I haven’t.

Forgive me – late to this party. Isn’t just filtering views that come in front of the lens what every photographer does? Is what Doug Rikard has done really so different?

Hi Simon, thanks for the comment. I want to answer your question straightforwardly. Sure, I have no problem saying that this is a work of photography – I’m not interested in roping off what “is” and “isn’t” photography. You’ve framed your comment in terms of technique, and in a technical sense this is no different from what others have done.

It’s just that, this strikes me as an exercise in technique, and little else.

I really find interesting the book and work of Doug Rickard, especially since it focuses on American suberbia. For those who have not yet seen, and since the blog mentions him below, it is worth having a look at Michael Wolf’s work related to google street view, especially the ones he did on Manhattan and Paris.

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