Back in 2007, Google sent out an army of hybrid electric automobiles, each one bearing nine cameras on a single pole. Armed with a GPS and three laser range scanners, this fleet of cars began an endless quest to photograph every highway and byway in the free world.
Consistent with the company’s mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” this enormous project, titled Google Street View, was created for the sole purpose of adding a new feature to Google Maps.
Every ten to twenty meters, the nine cameras automatically captured whatever moves through their frame. Computer software stitches the photos together to create panoramic images. To prevent identification of individuals and vehicles, faces and license plates are blurred.
One year ago, Jon Rafman started collecting screen captures of Google Street Views from a range of Street View blogs and through his own hunting. This essay illustrates how his Street View collections reflect the excitement of exploring this new, virtual world. 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. At the same time, he acknowledges that this way of photographing creates a cultural text like any other, a structured and structuring space whose codes and meaning the artist and the curator of the images can assist in constructing or deciphering.
In part 3 of Snapkeep’s mini-series, we feature some of Jon’s collections.