Many people turn to Google Street View in moments of boredom to see their homes or other places they are familiar with. The tool doesn’t seem to have much utility aside from indulging the voyeuristic impulses of the armchair tourist. Montreal-based artist Jon Rafman sees it differently, however. For him, Google Street View is a means of achieving a truly objective photography. As he writes, “It was tempting to see the images as a neutral and privileged representation of reality—as though the Street Views, wrenched from any social context other than geospatial contiguity, were able to perform true docu-photography, capturing fragments of reality stripped of all cultural intentions.”
For his project, called 9-eyes after the nine-lensed cameras on Google’s trucks, Rafman searches through Street View finding the humorous, absurd, tragic, and aesthetically powerful images that the trucks inadvertently capture. He curates these images on his website, 9-eyes.com, placing them sans-commentary to let the images and the scenes within speak for themselves.
Within the images, he sees a disturbing distance between the uncaring and unmanned lens, and the human scenes it unveils: “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.” This has a disturbing moral dimension, as well, since “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.”
Images: Google Streetview curated by Jon Rafman