I bit the bullet and signed up for this workshop which is part of Australia’s Head On Photo Festival. Head On has done an amazing job putting their exhibitions online, coupling them with artist’s talks and offering various panel discussions and workshops as well – all free. With the time difference between Sydney and Vancouver I found myself sitting in front of my PC at 1:00 am this morning to attend this workshop. Needless to say I was not feeling my brightest, but I really wanted to attend this workshop to see if there would be any helpful tips that could apply to my work going forward for L3 and especially during this Covid crisis with all the accompanying lock-down restrictions.
The workshop was presented by Natan Dvir, an Israeli born photographer who came from a background of computers and who then graduated towards photography. Dvir holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University and a MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts (New York). The aim of the workshop was to demonstrate how to use online resources such as Google Street View and Google Earth to create powerful images.
Dvir introduced his audience to well known photographers who use Google Street View and Google Earth – most of which were known to me, having cropped up in various modules. He used various images as well as videos of work of these artists.
Doug Rickard – probably the most well known in this category. Rickard photographs images from his computer screen using a camera mounted on a tripod “freeing the image from its technological origins and re-presenting them on a new documentary plane” (Rickard, s.d.). The low resolution creates a rather painterly effect and this is accentuated by the blurring of faces of any people who have been photographed by the Google camera, and this creates a rather surreal effect. Rickard cleans off the Google markers and further processes the image during post-processing. In the same way that Robert Franks, Stephen Shore and Walker Evans walked the street, Rickard “drives virtually” down the American suburbia roads.
Dvir brought up the philosophical question of does this constitute street photography? All the standard pros and cons were mentioned, but something that gave me pause to think was Dvir’s comment that do we really understand reappropriation? Rickard was creating his own personal imprint on the image, choosing what angle to shoot, what to include in the shot, zooming in to exclude or enhance details and then curating the images afterwards – this is the same process one would apply if one hit the streets physically. But the nugget for me was that this Google Street View is in a virtual world. The only difference between the virtual and physical is that the virtual world is frozen. That world is determined by the confines of the screen and just as in the physical world, the photographer is looking for something specific to photograph.
The next photographer under the microscope was Michael Wolf. Wolf captured a series of Google Street view scenes of people falling in his series A series of unfortunate events. Again the emphasis is on the framing and choices one makes in creating these images (see video below). He received an honourable mention with the World Press Photo awards and he realised that he was pushing the limits of what photojournalism can be. He received very many negative comments about this work, but ascribes this to people not being familiar with the history of appropriation in art. Wolf leaves the artefacts and markers on his images and this in turn emphasizes the surveillance nature of the photographs. He presents his images very large – more than 1 metre wide. He described this street photography as “a virtual way of interpreting our reality” (Michael Wolf (2011 Photo Contest), 2017). It is important to note in the video below that Wolf mentions that Google will not sue anyone who is using Street View for artistic purposes.
Another artist that Dvir mentioned is Canadian artist, Jon Rafman. He has an ongoing project called 9 Eyes, which derives its name from the 9 lens camera that Google uses. His body of work can be seen here: https://9-eyes.com/. Many of the images in this body of work, though are made off road, so to speak and this is because Google Street view began utilising cameras mounted on people for the purposes of accessing the inside of buildings, but also for non road access. The surveillance net widens.
I just happened on another of Jon Rafman’s body of work which is a video (You, the World and I), made by blending the use of Google Street View as well as Google Earth. In this video the author is trying to find an image of a woman – his girl friend perhaps – and he scours the world virtually looking for her going to all the places they lived or visited. The video at first draws you in, but after a while you become aware of the amount of surveillance that is probably happening in this world right now and it becomes quite chilling. But it is quite amazing what can be done with this technology when its pulled together.
Mishka Henner’s No Man’s Land was also mentioned. The images contain photographs of women out in the edgelands in Spain and Italy. These locations are where women solicit for sex, the locations apparently advertised on the internet. Henner scoured sex sites to find these addresses or GPS coordinates and then photographed them via Google Street View. Google’s images are taken every 5 metres, stitched together and geotagged and of course are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The work does not have a narrative, as Henner is more interested in the seriality of the images. Its a body of work that speaks to social and economic conditions. The sex worker is represented as a modern history of capitalism. She is an entrepreneur, who is her own product as well as being a consumer. But she is also being exploited by the viewer’s gaze. According to Dvir, the name of the project is refers firstly to the men going to these locations to find something as well as the physical space where Henner is photographing (this virtual world again). Following the surveillance route, Dvir looked at Henner’s Feedlots images whereby Henner makes use of Google Earth to photograph various cattle feedlots in the US to illustrate the artificiality of today’s meat industry.
Clement Valla’s Postcards from Google Earth was quite fascinating. Apparently appear to be certain glitches in the algorithms when 3D architecture is overlaid with topographical information (I won’t even pretend to explain or understand this – too far above my pay grade), but anyway this cause screenshots of structures like bridges or roads to take on a “Salvador Dali-type surreal” appearance. However, according to Valla’s research “these images are not glitches. They are the absolute logical result of the system. They are an edge condition—an anomaly within the system, a nonstandard, an outlier, even, but not an error. These jarring moments expose how Google Earth works, focusing our attention on the software. They reveal a new model of representation: not through indexical photographs but through automated data collection from a myriad of different sources constantly updated and endlessly combined to create a seamless illusion” (Valla, s.d.).
Dvir finished off the workshop by providing some tips on creating these types of images and certain things to consider:
- seriality of places over time
- screengrabs vs photographing via camera
- with or without interface markers
- consider angles
- consider working within a theme
His final presentation was a selection of assignments that he had set his own students. They had to create three series of images by photographing their own hometown, then photographing a place they wanted to visit, and finally photographing a place that they would never want to go to. He demonstrated that within each set the students had unconsciously photographed in dissimilar fashions. Some of the images were more intimate, some resembled travel photos, others revealed anomalies.
Unfortunately the webinar connection was a little flaky and connection was lost during the middle of the presentation, but quickly restored, but lost again just as the Q&A session was starting. At this stage it was well past 2:00 am so I didn’t bother to try and connect for that.
Dvir, N. (2020) Workshop – Armchair street photography | Head On Photo Festival. At: https://www.headon.com.au/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=140 (Accessed 06/05/2020).
Michael Wolf (2011 Photo Contest) (2017) Directed by World Press Foundation. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbRQ7vpFts4 (Accessed 06/05/2020).
Photographer Spotlight: Doug Rickard (2015) Directed by LA Review of Books. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJuqDThTGCo (Accessed 06/05/2020).
Rafman, J. (s.d.) 9 Eyes.com. At: https://9-eyes.com/?og=1 (Accessed 06/05/2020).
Rickard, D. (s.d.) A NEW AMERICAN PICTURE –. At: https://dougrickard.com/a-new-american-picture/ (Accessed 06/05/2020).
Valla, C. (s.d.) Postcards from Google Earth. At: http://www.postcards-from-google-earth.com/ (Accessed 06/05/2020).
You, the World and I (2010) Directed by Rafman, J. At: http://youtheworldandi.com/ (Accessed 06/05/2020).