Street View Photography: from Doug Rickard through Jacqui Kenny

Interesting to see Google’s promotion today: Meet the artist who photographed the world without leaving home, a mini-site video profile of Jacqui Kenny (“the agoraphobic traveler”) whose Instagram (@streetview.portraits) blew-up earlier this year with her beautifully formal appropriated compositions.

Back in 2011, blogger Wayne Bremser did a round-up of who was using Google Street View at the time with photographic intentions, including Doug Rickard’s “A New American Picture” which was included in New Photography at MOMA that same year.

I recall Mishka Henner’s roadside photobook project “No Man’s Land” creating controversy around the same time, not just in the fact that it was screen-grabbed from Street View, but because of the privacy concerns surrounding photographs purporting to be of sex workers.

In fact, in looking back at some of these projects, including Michael Wolf’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” it’s interesting to see how normalized working with screengrabs (from Street View, YouTube, CNN’s Gigapixel (self-link), or name-your-platform) has become.

When considering the future of similar efforts, it’s interesting to see that Google has now implemented the ability to go “back-in-time” on Street View, a functionality that’s long been available in Google Maps.

Which means the low-res, overlooked streetviews of yesteryear might yield tomorrow’s hottest photo project.

The view of ACP’s office is available in both Oct. 2014 (above) and Nov. 2007 views.

Which also means the low-res pixellation of early, 2011-era Street View-based projects (like Rickard’s) will give way to higher-res initiatives (like Jacqui’s) which will eventually be indistinguishable from similar non-robotic efforts by actual humans, in real space, with DSLRs.

While looking back, I encountered this surprising anomaly. Two of the exact same “Street Views” percolated into two projects at the time. Jon Rafman’s ongoing 9-eyes project featured the image on the right, and Michael Wolf’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” featured the image (from Main St., Rapid City, North Dakota) on the left.

Michael Wolf (at left) — Jon Rafman (at right)

The difference: Wolf made the choice to photograph his screen, making clear the tactileness of the sourced pixels, and Rafman chose to include Google toolbars and widgets in his pictures, as a nod to Street View’s source.

(Edit: And sure enough, I just discovered that Pete Brook outed this similarity back in 2011 in an article for WIRED. I’m only six years late to the game!)
(And Geoff Dyer noticed it too: “His website actually features crops from some of the same Google scenes as Wolf’s — so whose pictures are they?”)

As more of the world comes online (in Street View, at least) the options for photographers (while seated) will only increase. Did Street View in Peru come online this year, precipitating and inspiring Kenny’s latest posts?

Either way, dogs will be dogs, chasing cars. Eminently photographable.

— MDM 20171025