Google Sheep View!

From Sicily to Scotland, Norway to New Zealand, a celebration of sheep and the great outdoors

Just when you think there’s no more fun-times to be had with Google Street View, along comes a screen-grabbing pranksters like Ding Ren with a cute one-liner and all the visuals it gives rise to.

Google Sheep View (GShV) is a freeze-frame flurry of scampering sheep. From the Texel sheep of the Netherlands to the famous Herdwick breeds of the English Lake District, Google Sheep View is a multi-stop drive-by for all things Ovis Aries.

“The sheep can be the connection between different places and cultures, they might be kept in different types of pens and are comprised of different breeds depending on where in the world they are,” says Ren, who launched Google Sheep View with her partner Mike Karabinos in 2015.

“We wanted to build up our queue with content so [we went] to places that we knew would have lots of sheep such as in New Zealand or Ireland and hope for the best,” says Ren. “Sometimes we’d get lucky, especially in New Zealand, and the first random spot would have some sheep. More times than not though, we’d have to find a rural road and follow it slowly, looking on both sides to scan for sheep.”

Years ago, Ren got fascinated by the glitches, chopped off heads and replica people that the Google Street View cameras and cars stitch together. She and Mike played a few games of GeoGuessr every day and saw the glitches.

GeogGuessr (screengrab)

“Every time something ‘off’ about the quality of the photo in GSV appeared, I’d take a screenshot and save it to a folder on my desktop,” recalls Ren.

“I wasn’t sure how I was going to use the screenshots but I have always been interested in the moment when a camera reveals its presence in the image through weird glares and reflections — the moment when the picture doesn’t come out exactly the way you intended but you don’t realize it and you can’t correct for it.”

Ren made hundreds of screen grabs. Then, she forgot about them.

The grainy photo of a sheep for sale that ignited the idea for Google Sheep View. “Sheep are surprisingly affordable!” says Ren.

In the intervening years, both she and Mike enjoyed meeting the gamboling lambs and goats at their neighborhood petting zoo. So much so she browsed the listings for a sheep on Marktplaats — the Dutch equivalent of Craigslist — and found some lovely photos!

“I went to save a photo and saw my other Google Street View glitch photos in the folder,” says Ren “That is when the two random yet similar elements merged together.”

What’s in a name?

The name seems so obvious but it was a bolt from the blue.

“I asked Mike to look something up on Google Street View and said Google SHEEP View by mistake,” says Ren. “Guess I just always have sheep on the mind!?”

An immediate search for “Google Sheep View” returned zero. They had it. Internet gold.

They started snapping along country roads where they’d seen sheep during IRL bike rides or train journeys. Dutch sheep are relatively easy to spot because they aren’t kept behind tall partitions.

“Much of the Netherlands is reclaimed land, so the landscape is extremely flat,” explains Ren. “Fields are separated by narrow waterways for drainage. No real fences are needed like in some other countries so the sheep are a lot closer to the road, and easier to spot on Street View.”

There’s pink sheep, black sheep and blue-spotted sheep. GShV even gets inside a animal market. This is lighthearted fun. Ren hopes it’d provide some comic relief between the more directed activities of our days.

“Want to take a break from writing a term paper or while you’re waiting for dinner to finish cooking? Search for some sheep!”

For Ren, putting Google Sheep View together has been an exploration of necessary proportions. Flitting about has, by turn, grounded her.

“I’m always seeking to find cross-cultural patterns that are both foreign and familiar. Instead of obvious patterns, I am interested in smaller traces in the geography that might reveal connections between different cultures.”

“It directly comes from my personal experience being born in China, growing up in the US, and then living in the Netherlands for almost 5 years now. To make sense of the experience of living in-between cultures, I photograph moments that have both familiar and foreign elements to them,” says Ren.

So far the response from fellow sheep enthusiasts has been heartwarming. Baby Goats and Friends and The Pocket Sheep gave warm digital applause for Ren’s curation.

It’s not just Ren making the grabs. Folks from all over the work are counting, and snapshotting, sheep.

“We are getting a nice stream of submissions,” says Ren. “That’s been a nice way to get to know the world and our followers, who have been sharing their knowledge of where to find sheep with us.”

So, if you’re cruising Google Street View and spot a sheep, make a screen grab, send it in.

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