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GOOGLE STREET VIEW – THE DEMOCRATIC PHOTOGRAPHIC PROCESS

There is little intentionality on the part of Google to be transformative or metaphorical through the means of its Street View. A photographic process is not (at least for now) the intended purpose of the images. According to Google, “Google Maps with Street View lets you explore places around the world through 360-degree street-level imagery.” Although there is a slightly subjective voice at work, Google does after all choose if only for practical consideration from what perspective (street-level, i.e. where their car can go), the product’s intent is simply to allow one to explore an approximate representation of a particular place. Perhaps another decision by Google to consider in qualifying Street View as a unbiased process is their recent effort to upgrade to HD imagery starting in places such as New York City and not Macon, Georgia. That too however might be a purely economic or practical decision and given time might be a mute point. Although there have been projects such as Street With A View by Robin Hewlett & Ben Kinsley who directly employed the use of Google Street View and the Street View Team or the more intriguing and transformative A New American Picture by Doug Rickard, Google’s Street View is perhaps as close a democratic photographic process to be produced. Although Rickard and the others have done some interesting and insightful work using Street View as their medium, they have transformed it into something else. The images from Street View, once observed, becomes something new. They are the tree falling in the woods and what we hear is our interpretation. But it is the opportunity to interpret which makes Street View work so well as a photographic medium. The images captured by Street View are that: images captured, yet they are captured without the subjectivity of the artist and thus one more layer removed between sight and observation. Or to continue the analogy, the tree in the woods was not cut down, it simply fell and we were there to hear the thud.

All of this is perhaps why I have been enamored recently by my discovery of someone I know captured on Google Street View. Seeing someone I know (refer to top image) when trolling Street View was an unexpected discovery. Given the opportunity to connect to a photograph without having to sift through someone else’s intentionality I have thrown all sorts of thought towards what these photographs mean. This led me to the Street View of my childhood home (directly above) and for whatever reason that dull pixelated image has the weight of some of the best photography I have recently seen. The irony perhaps, is that now that I have seen, I have observed and thus making what is so unbiased and great about the image skewed by my own perspective.

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