By Sonya James
Posting in Cities
Canadian artist Jon Rafman's shocking collection of photographs question the nature of Google.
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
Sep 6, 2012
"The artist/curator challenges Googleâs imperial claims and questions the companyâs right to be the only one framing our cognitions and perceptions" Funny, the curator is far more responsible for manipulating the framing of our cognition and perception, for the curator is, after all, the artist forcing us to see the random in a specific way. Google drives down streets and captures one moment in time, nothing more. Send random people down all the aisles of a grocery store and each one will have their own perception of reality and will form their own conclusions. Google has far less ability to manipulate perceptions than even a grocer. Google has no choice what's to be seen on any street at any given time. The "curator's" attempt to assign motives to Google is so far fetched as to approach paranoia.
Rafman says "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." Isn't that the fault of the collectors? They don't choose images unless they seem exceptional, so ordinary or "non-marginalized" people don't make the cut.
This whole story reminded of the many times I have heard people cry foul! at innocent things because they themselves are the ones that are tainted. The biggest one that comes to mind is the Playstation pair of ads that had one with a black women pinning a white woman to the ground and another that had the white woman grabbing the black woman's face. The whole thing was about the new choice in colors of the newest Playstation at the time. Many times a person will super-impose their own bigotry, hatred, racism or whatever onto an innocent set of data to advance their own agenda. They may even be ignorant of the fact they are doing it but the end result is any normal-thinking person can see that there is no story there. Remove the flowery speech and the only thing left is a man who found a few pictures out of millions and tried to advance his own prejudice against big business or Google specifically.
Thanks for your comment. That line also jumped out at me, but I came to think of it as referring to private space as an exclusionary space. In this context, marginalized populations are seen as inhabiting a more public space, precisely because of their social positioning. If you look through the complete collection, you see many folks working and sleeping on the street. But I would love to hear how others interpret Rafman's idea. Is he, as "artist/curator", simply narrowing down on something that is already there? Thanks again!
Perhaps the curator is showing us the effects of poverty and neglect. It's interesting that this implies a prejudice against big business in some minds.
âThe collections of Street Views both celebrate and critique the current world. To deny Googleâs power over framing our perceptions would be delusional, but the curator, in seeking out frames within these frames, reminds us of our humanity.â These pictures neither celebrate nor critique. They are pictures in a map that may or may not have things going on in them. If a person decides to add meaning to them, in any way, shape or form, they are the ones responsible for meaning not the company that blindly snapped the pics. Calling Google 'imperial' because they have been the only company to take objective pictures is a direct insult against the company. âThe 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 Googleâs imperial claims and questions the companyâs right to be the only one framing our cognitions and perceptions.â He directly says that Google has declared people as insignificant. Yet another example of his prejudice being overlayed onto innocent data. He questions their right to be the only one framing our perceptions yet they are the only ones framing that perception if the only pictures you ever looked at were in Google maps. "A critical analysis of Googleâs depiction of experience, however, requires a critical look at Google itself." Google went around taking pictures of everything with no thought or intent other than to capture everything you would see on every street. The content of which they have no control over. How can any normal thinking individual not see that? Why would an objective action that has no obvious malice need a critical look unless the writer himself is simply looking for a reason to be critical of the action's performer?