In 2007, Google released Google Street View, in which a computer user could access a virtual panoramic image of many streets in the world. House or apartment hunters could check out properties from the comfort of their kitchen table before they made the trek out to visit a potential place.
In order to accomplish the giant task of capturing images from streets across the world, cars drove around with nine cameras in tow. But problems soon arose with respect to privacy issues, which is why when people intrude in the shots, their faces are blurred. And a new art form was born. Jon Rafman curates choice images from the Google Street View all-seeing machine, capturing surreal moments in time.
Rafman hunts through Google Street View pictures and accesses notable, jarring moments. Some are uncanny (e.g., two old men walking independently down a lone highway in matching outfits), others dramatically stunning (e.g., a black stallion rebelling mid-street), and others surreal (e.g., an alien lounging in tie-dye). The images themselves are raw and unimpressed, passing over empty streets and blood-drenched car wrecks with the same automated gaze.
The gap between the camera's indifference and the human eye's inclination towards narrative is where Rafman takes interest. In his words: "This very way of recording our world, this tension between an automated camera and a human who seeks meaning, reflects our modern experience. As social beings we want to matter and we want to matter to someone, we want to count and be counted, but loneliness and anonymity are more often our plight."
Rafman's images are full of dark comedy and wondrous beauty. Ripe with prostitutes, bums, kisses, car crashes and sublime natural forms, the collection shows how technology has not succeeded in reducing the world to a knowledge base. Call them accidents or glitches or simply the human need to find meaning in the world. Whether or not we live in an indifferent universe, we live in a richly mysterious one.
Check out Rafman's stunning images below and let us know your thoughts in the comments section. Is this an intriguing window into another world, or do you think Google has gone too far?
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