A common plaint by photographers, evinced increasingly over the last decade, as every young girl and their grandad ‘snaps’ away on their smart phones (although there is no ‘snap,’ really, if you think about it; there’s no ‘real’ shutter mechanism and it’s an artificial construct, a vestigial remnant of an earlier time), is that everyone now thinks that they can take photos. And share them. So what is it, now, to be a photographer?
A new project by artist Jon Rafman might seem to further muddy these philosophical waters: “The Nine Eyes of the Google Street View” (http://9-eyes.com/) is a suite of some amazing photographs taken by Google maps employees, who, equipped with a constellation of nine cameras on a single pole (designed to capture a simulacra of 360 degree vision), plus a GPS and three laser range scanners, began traversing the highways and the byways of the world.
Their mission was to turn every single pixel of the unmapped world into something familiar to people, presumably, needing directions on their GPS, or whatever. But what they came up with, on occasion, seems to confirm that the world is more interesting, every day, than we give it credit for. As a collection of arbitrary wonderment, these pictures affirm a reality that we hope exists for the world; that strange shit happens, within our purview, every single day, if only we notice it our of the corner of our eye. And can capture it.
Devoid of immediate context, we can see these images scroll down the web site, showing us such wonders as :
– a tiger walks across a deserted parking lot.
– prostitutes pose on various sidewalks in various countries (there’s a practical reason why they are picked up by Google on streets more than most other professionals….)
– a brush fire burns against an uncaring landscape of chaparral.
– a crappy chorus line of unsuspecting Segway drivers cross a Pennsylvania intersection.
– a middle-aged Parisian couple kiss, as a local lad, oblivious, sucks on his cigarette.
And so on, and so on.
It’s all amazing stuff. And it could definitely qualify as whatever you want to call “art”; in that, as a suite of images, it captivates and engages us. These images undeniably keep you clicking on the forward button; waiting to see what else it can show us of the sacred and the profane, and the boring and jaw-dropping. Here is the whole world for our delectation, captured in pixellated nuggets, stripped of the boring stuff: life and tigers and whores and accident victims and angry people and people in rabbit suits and cool unknown stuff that engages us for at least three seconds per image; even as cameras map everything and leave us with no dark continents left to explore. On every street in the world.
Except that it’s not art, really; if the definition of art is that a product starts out as a creative intention, guided by the subjective eye of the artist. It’s just a collection – a cool, conceptual, collection admittedly, profound in its own way – curated by Rafman from tens of thousand of images that he’s leafed through from a database of, what, tens of millions?
Take that last image on the list above, of the couple kissing. When Robert Doisneau captured “Le baiser de l’Hotel de Ville” in 1950, he was actually stood on that Parisian street; when Alfred Eisenstaedt’s image of nurse Edith Shain and a Navy sailor celebrating the end of World War II in August 1945 was published in “Time” magazine, he actually took that picture himself. Neither photographer selected it from a massive mapping database that a corporation put together for commercial purposes. In fact, Google would probably edit the kisses out of the official version (try it, as a test: how often can you zoom into Burbank or Bangkok on official Google maps and see some serious frottage?).
Rayman is an artist in the sense that Conceptual Art, from the ‘60s onwards, has made any self-designated curator an “artist” by dint of the ability to simply select. But it’s not the same as capturing an image yourself; either technically, professionally, emotionally, or simply “Screw you I did this all by myself (not forgetting my unpaid PAs, but they will benefit from the experience.).”
And the conversation continues..