One year ago, I started collecting screen captures of Google Street Views from a range of Street View blogs and through my own hunting. This infinitely rich mine of material afforded my practice the extraordinary opportunity to explore, interpret, and curate a new world in a new way. To a certain extent, the aesthetic considerations that form the basis of my choices in different collections vary. For example, some selections are influenced by my knowledge of photographic history and allude to older photographic styles, whereas other selections, such as those representing Google’s depiction of modern experience, incorporate critical aesthetic theory.
Within the panoramas, I can locate images of gritty urban life reminiscent of hard-boiled American street photography. Or, if I prefer, I can find images of rural Americana that recall photography commissioned by the Farm Securities Administration during the Depression. I can seek out postcard-perfect shots that capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson coined “the decisive moment,” as if I were a photojournalist responding instantaneously to an emerging event. At other times, I have been mesmerized by the sense of nostalgia, yearning, and loss in these images—qualities that evoke old family snapshots.
This very way of recording our world, this tension between an automated camera and a human who seeks meaning, reflects our modern experience. The world captured by Google appears to be more truthful and more transparent because of the weight accorded to external reality, the perception of a neutral, unbiased recording, and even the vastness of the project. At the same time, I acknowledge that this way of photographing creates a cultural text like any other, a structured and structuring space whose codes and meaning the artist and the curator of the images can assist in constructing or deciphering.
– paraphrased from his essay IMG MGMT: The Nine Eyes of Google Street View, published by Art Fag City, August 2009
Jon Rafman (Montreal, Canada) holds a BA in Philosophy and Literature from McGill University and received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008. His films and new media have been exhibited worldwide including solo exhibitions at International Art Object Galleries and M+B (both in Los Angeles, CA), American Medium (NYC), Angell Gallery (Toronto, ON), among others, and group exhibitions at the New Museum (NYC), and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome (Italy). John’s artwork has also been featured in several publications with featured work reviewed in The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, The Guardian, Modern Painter, Frieze, Der Spiegel, and Libération.