Google Street View is a boon for honing in on precise locations or checking out the home you grew up in. Consumer watchdogs, less keen on its convenience, argue that it violates people’s privacy.
Street View has also, somewhat surprisingly, provided artists with plenty of inspiration for all kinds of projects, such as these surreal landscapes, and these carpets. Serendipitously, Canadian artist Jon Rafman’s work on 9 Eyes smartly straddles the issues on privacy and art by compiling images that are both cinematic and intensely personal.
Rafman started surfing Google Street View in 2007, shortly after the program launched. To wade through the volumes of imagery available, Rafman says he’d get hopped on energy drinks, find the locations of the Street View cars (they indicated the location of the newest imagery), and click through image after image. The images he captures are sometimes salacious (prostitutes at work on the highway) and occasionally devastating (vandalism and car wrecks).
But Rafman is also artist enough to ruminate on the process. In an interview with the New York Times, Rafman points out the oddity of sending a robot out in the world to accrue street photography:
At first I saw the camera as totally neutral: It’s just whoever happens to be out gets captured. But the truth is that the neutrality of the camera is actually somewhat…there’s hidden ideologies within it. For example, the camera only captures who’s on the street during daylight hours, while most, let’s say, white-collar workers are in their offices somewhere. People like prostitutes, people living on the street, they have much more of a chance to be captured by the camera.
Still, it’s not all bleak. There’s some humor to watching life happen through a robot’s eyes, such as a runaway baby, crawling alone outside a Gucci store, or the duplicate images of a person that appear when the Street View cars encounter a camera error. Some images, such as architectural wonders, even come off as magisterial. And you quickly discover that laundry hung out to dry can be wildly beautiful too.