There are a few common threads you will notice after scrolling through the photos in Jacqui Kenny’s Instagram. She favors strong, white light, clean lines, and pops of vibrant color. The photos look frozen in time, often taken at an odd camera angle. If people are featured, which is rare, their faces are blurred. Many of them are in arid landscapes, with a hazy filter—as if they were taken just as a car was kicking up dust on the road.
These photos were not taken by Kenny herself—or even a human for that matter. They are all photos from Google Street View, snapped by an automated camera perched on the top of a roving Google Maps car. Kenny has been posting them for a little over a year under the moniker Agoraphobic Traveller—a reference to the anxiety she suffers, which on bad days can make it difficult to leave the house, to say nothing of traveling to another country. Instead, she transports to foreign lands through Street View, collecting and curating the moments these automated images catch a scene that is stark and bright and unusually beautiful.
“[Google Street View] really intrigued me,” Kenny tells Co.Design, referencing how she started the project. “It’s this parallel world with billions of automated photos. I found that really fascinating. I wanted to try to find some magic moments of this world.”
Kenny started going on her screen-based sojourns in early 2016, after she closed down a digital production company in London that she helped found. One day at home she started playing around in Google Street View—dropping herself in a place near the equator, then finding the closest small town to take a scroll through. After taking a few screen grabs of images that appealed to her—she’s drawn to bare, arid landscapes; hot, mid-day light; interesting architectural elements or compositions—her sister encouraged her to make it into a larger project. For about a year, Kenny says, she would spend pretty much all day every day searching through remote towns and hard-to-reach places—in Mongolia, Peru, Arizona—until she found the perfect image to screenshot and save.
In June of 2016, Kenny decided to put them onto Instagram as a way of connecting to others who also have agoraphobia. Besides being able to virtually travel to places without having to leave her apartment, Kenny says the project also offers an interesting parallel to the tensions between control and surrender that people with agoraphobia struggle with. “On the one hand, I can go anywhere in the world and that’s a real luxury,” she says. “On the other, there are so many elements in Google’s hands. I have no real control over those images. I often think the images feel quite removed because you don’t have a chance to influence what you’re looking at.”
Kenny also points out the ways that the medium within which she works has influenced her aesthetic: the angle of the camera, which often casts long shadows. Stray dogs are in several of her photos, since they will often chase the Google car as it passes. “I love a good shadow, and [the camera] exaggerates the shadow as well,” she says. “It gives it an otherworldly feel.”