Can screengrabbing be the new photography? How have artists responded to Google pervasive photography of our urban lanndscapes?
Google’s innovations have always tended to inspire new ways of thinking and doing.
In this post, we turn to Google Street View as an especially rich platform for creative inspiration that has brought about numerous art projects positioning screenshots as a new way of doing photography. Our sample of art projects is based on this post from Wired’s Raw File.
Shaping Human Stories Out Of Data
While Google is concerned with capturing data, artists are interested in voicing their perspective on what Google is doing. For example, in discussing his work, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Michael Wolf said, ‘It doesn’t belong to Google, because I’m interpreting Google; I’m appropriating Google.’ Having worked as a photojournalist, Wolf frames his creative process in a political manner. He manually crawled Google’s street photos looking for oddities, mishaps, and comedic moments.
Echoing this is UK photographer Nick Mason, creator of Versificator, which curates natural scenery devoid of human beings. His images are cool, subdued, and ‘empty’ but his thinking insists that what he’s reframing are the original goals of Google Street View, ‘These images were never intended to be more than mere information… [but] I’m interested in the re-structuring of information and the ‘rehabilitation’ of data.’
You will find more overt statements in the projects of Jon Rafman or Doug Rickard. Jon Rafman captured numerous grimy events in Nine Eyes. His photos often have a moral dimension, such as police arresting suspects or prostitutes on a street. Doug Rickard created A New American Picture which focuses on poor areas in the USA.
All of these projects demonstrate how innovation by a larger company can lead to creative inspiration for others.
Pranks As A Form Of Resistance
Both Pittsburgh and Germany made a huge deal when Google sent its vans to photograph their streets. Pittsburgh locals Ben Kinsley and Robin Hewlett created Street With a View, a project where they staged fake happenings to be archived in Google. There was also a prank that happened in Berlin last year where a group staged a fake birth in the streets.
Breaking Away from Photography Traditionalists
Photography is a powerful, ever-evolving medium. Mishka Henner, creator of No Man’s Land, points to the fact that Google Street View artists don’t work in a vacuum by themselves. They are more likely to incorporate the findings of others into their artwork than traditional photographers
The assumption that artists are spending weeks and months roaming GSV looking for material is just not true. It isn’t GSV that’s being mined but all the community generated sites out there that point to all these sightings found on GSV. In this work, the artist is for the most part following the crowd or making work that tries to sculpt [the crowd's product] into a coherent and revealing form. The photo traditionalists haven’t caught on to that yet, they seem to think other people’s sightings are not valid material for making documentary work.
Indeed, much of the work mentioned above calls for collaboration and community engagement. Artists will always be concerned about privacy as society becomes more complacent under the wings of data companies. Many of these projects directly and indirectly reactivate our thinking about privacy, but many also are more concerned with new photographic strategies and methodology.