When Google sent out an army of automobiles, each equipped with nine cameras on a single pole, each armed with a GPS and three laser range scanners, each pointing the cameras at nothing and everything at the same time, I wonder what exactly Google thought they were mapping?
Montreal-based artist Jon Rafman delved into this question with The Nine Eyes of Google Street View, a strangely intimate collection of screenshots taken from Street View blogs and his own virtual searching.
“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,” Rafman wrote in an essay about the project for Art Fag City.
“The collections of Street Views both celebrate and critique the current world. To deny Google’s power over framing our perceptions would be delusional, but the curator, in seeking out frames within these frames, reminds us of our humanity.”
“Street View collections represent our experience of the modern world, and in particular, the tension they express between our uncaring, indifferent universe and our search for connectedness and significance. A critical analysis of Google’s depiction of experience, however, requires a critical look at Google itself.” - Jon Rafman
“The artist/curator, in reasserting the significance of the human gaze within Street View, recognizes the pain and disempowerment in being declared insignificant. The artist/curator challenges Google’s imperial claims and questions the company’s right to be the only one framing our cognitions and perceptions.” - Jon Rafman
“In theory, we are all equally subject to being photographed, but the Street View collections often reveal it is the poor and the marginalized who fall within the purview of the Google camera gaze.
Even though Google places a comment, ‘report a concern’ on the bottom of every single image, how can I demonstrate my concern for humanity within Google’s street photography?” - Jon Rafman
Images: Jon Rafman
Jon Rafman’s full essay: Art Fag City