“Artless and indifferent, without human intention”

Nine Eyes of Google Street View is over ten years old now. For a while, no new photos were being added, but it seems to have picked up again in recent months. Here are a number of old articles about the project, interspersed with some of the newer images.

Nine Eyes of Google Street ViewNet Art Anthology
In 2008, Jon Rafman began to collect screenshots of images from Google Street View. At the time, Street View was a relatively new initiative, an effort to document everything in the world that could be seen from a moving car. A massive, undiscerning machine for image-making whose purpose is to simply capture everything, Street View takes photographs without apparent concern for ethics or aesthetics, from a supposedly neutral point of view.

Towards a postinternet sublime: Jon Rafman’s Street View romanticismRhizome
As postinternet photography, the images in Nine Eyes of Google Street View testify above all to the processes of their own making and dissemination. There is no coherent subject matter unifying the images. Certain themes recur, such as glitches in the stitching system or people giving the finger to the camera, but what organizes the photographs together into one single work is simply that they have been selected from Street View during one of the artist’s marathon surfing sessions. Rafman highlights the digital aspects of his photographs—such as pixelation, watermarks, and the navigational interface which appears in nearly every image—but this never detracts from the sense that the photographs portray something real. Instead, they declare the extent to which offline life is always already structured by the online. This is what leads Geoff Dyer to describe Nine Eyes of Google Street View as giving the impression that not only is Rafman not an “old-school photographer,” but that it almost seems as if he has never even been outdoors, and that “his knowledge of the world derives entirely from representations of it.”

Poaching memories from Google’s wandering eye – The New York Times
At first I saw the camera as totally neutral: It’s just whoever happens to be out gets captured. But the truth is that the neutrality of the camera is actually somewhat . . . there’s hidden ideologies within it. For example, the camera only captures who’s on the street during daylight hours, while most, let’s say, white-collar workers are in their offices somewhere. People like prostitutes, people living on the street, they have much more of a chance to be captured by the camera.

He’s not the only one working in this area of course.

How Google Street View is inspiring new photographyThe Guardian
[Michael Wolf] saw quickly that the indifferent gaze of the Street View camera randomly recorded what he called (in one of the series resulting from this discovery) Unfortunate Events: altercations and accidents, pissings and pukings, fights and fatalities. The Street View cars usually go about their business unnoticed – or at least unheeded – but occasionally people respond to their all-seeing presence by giving them the finger (hence the title of another of Wolf’s series, FY). And so Wolf combed through mile after uneventful mile of boring footage in search of moments that might or might not prove decisive.

So perhaps we can all be armchair photographers now.

Images of Hong Kong

I felt that last post about China was a little negative, but perhaps this one about the amazing imagery of Hong Kong might redress the balance.

Fan Ho’s street photography of 50s & 60s Hong Kong
Dubbed the “Cartier-Bresson of the East”, Fan Ho patiently waited for ‘the decisive moment’; very often a collision of the unexpected, framed against a very clever composed background of geometrical construction, patterns and texture. He often created drama and atmosphere with backlit effects or through the combination of smoke and light. His favorite locations were the streets, alleys and markets around dusk or life on the sea.

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Housing there looks a little different now, especially in Kowloon. Here’s Toby Harriman’s take on that (via Laughing Squid).

The Block Tower // Hong Kong Aerial
For years I have seen pictures of these public housing/apartment tower blocks being built and knew that they were something I wanted to see and document for myself. Rather than just creating stills from these, I went with the goal of taking abstract videos and displaying them more like art, showing off their true scale.

The Block Tower, by Toby Harriman

Interestingly, he says that “Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with an overall density of an estimated 6,300 people per square kilometer”, but there are no people to be found anywhere in the images he captures, just the occasional glimpses of laundry drying on balconies. I think the photos feel a little unreal as a result, simply too immense to get your head round.

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Crazy colour schemes, though.

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Whilst the drone footage is impressive, I think I prefer Michael Wolf’s more atmospheric interpretation, Architecture of Density, from a while back. Looks like glitch art.

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Michael Wolf photographs the architecture of density
The structural urban fabric of the city of Hong Kong is one of the most astonishingly condensed, populated and vertical in the world, propelling its edifices soaring into the sky to contend with the lack of lateral space. German photographer Michael Wolf — and current resident of the Chinese metropolis — has captured a series of images that acutely acknowledge the landscape’s overwhelming concentration of soaring buildings and skyscrapers. ‘Architecture of Density’ is a collection of large scale works, which focuses on repetition of pattern and form to cause an infinitely complex visual reaction and rediscovers the city scenes by highlighting its forest-like expanse of high rises.

It’s not just the grand scale that interests him, though.

Michael Wolf captures abstract, accidental sculptures in Hong Kong alleyways
For over 20 years Michael Wolf has been photographing Hong Kong. During that time he has captured the towering pastel facades of its high rise architecture in a vein similar to Thomas Struth or Andreas Gursky, but perhaps more interestingly he has delved into the hidden maze of the city’s back alleys. What he found and has faithfully documented, are the innumerable abstract urban still lifes seen throughout. All the city’s flotsam and jetsam, from clusters of gloves and clothes hangers, to networks of pipes and a full colour spectrum of plastic bags, are photographed in strange, but entirely happenstance arrangements.

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And check this out for an unusual point of view.

Chan Dick’s aerial photos of a Hong Kong fire station taken from a toilet window
“One day I was busy in my workshop when I heard a noise coming from the bathroom. Curious, I opened the window and looked down and saw firefighters playing volleyball,” explains Chan. “For the next month, I dedicated myself to observation and bit by bit discovered the routine of this small unusual space.”

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