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No Man’s Land (2011) by Mishka Henner is one body of work that has faced particularly hostile criticism. In his series of Street View images, Henner has singled out prostitutes soliciting clients along the sides of roads on the outskirts of cities in Italy and Spain, which Google’s cameras have happened to pick up. The work also exists as a video, which animates the action of a driver appearing to ‘hone in’ and turn their head towards the women as he drives past them. Although Henner reconstructs a view from within the driving seat and passes this experience on to the viewer, he was not the actual driver. Those who interpret Henner’s images as exploitative and
voyeuristic overlook the point that through this work he draws to our attention the relentless, indiscriminate and inescapable eye of the Street View camera, and the power that is wielded by Google. The title of the work refers to the irony that, despite these women’s apparent wish to attract men, there are no men to be found within Henner’s views. But there is surely also a reference to ideas about territory and ownership, which is perhaps infringed upon by the Street View camera.
A ‘map’ isn’t necessarily something used to navigate through unfamiliar territory; it’s also a visual ordering of features and information…a means of making sense of our physical surroundings in new ways. Alexander 2013 p67
Other artists and photographers who layer numerous different photographs include Idris Khan, Jon Spencer and Isidro Ramirez.
Creative possibilities have been opened up by digital technologies like:
Google Earth (2005): allows users to make a journey to literally anywhere in the world from the comfort of their computer, scrolling around sites of interest from the vantage point of Google’s satellite images.
Google Street View (2007): is limited in terms of its global coverage, but provides a more intimate, street-level view of our landscape.
‘Stay-at-home street photographers’ who have used these images – trawling through endless Street View images, framing and selecting these digital views as their own photographs – as a form of ‘appropriation’ art include:
Doug Rickard (born in San Jose, California, 1968) studied U.S. history and sociology at UC San Diego. He is the founder of American Suburb X and These Americans, aggregating websites for essays on contemporary photography and historical photographic archives.
Over a period of two years 2009 – 2010 Rickard became immersed in the comprehensive image archive of Google Street View to virtually drive through some of the most economically depressed areas of America – the unseen and overlooked roads, bleak places that are forgotten, economically devastated, and abandoned. The virtual eye enables him to go places that would be difficult otherwise. Collectively, these images present a startling photographic portrait of the socially disenfranchised, providing deeply affecting evidence of the American Dream inverted.
“I think that I chose pictures that partially represented those biases and media-affected notions of place, and yet I explored immensely these American places, a thousand hours or more, gaining an understanding of the conditions.” Political and social perspective ‘drive-by’ photography.manipulates to heighten sense of isolation – people cordoned off in terms of lacking a voice, from power.
In Google Street View, the absence of an engaged eye through which to interpret its images can lend them an eerie quality. “The height gives a feeling of looking down on the scene, and this affects the emotional read and subtext of the work,” There are different types of google cameras. High resolution tends to be for tourist areas. Some lower resolution for less ‘attractive’ areas. He finds the digital pixellation poetic. Rickard said. “Also, Google’s blurring of the faces and the lo-fi nature of the images changed the individuals into symbols or emblems and representative of larger notions, such as race and class, instead of personal stories that would have wanted to emerge with recognition.” His appropriation of these images, he said, is what makes them a valid form of photography. “I wanted to represent the inverse of the American Dream, and yet the work is also very personal and subjective, colored by my choices and selection,” he said. “The very definition of photography is expanding. Personally, I am ecstatic about it, and I see a massive frontier that is unfolding to feed and fuel my obsessions.”
Issue is cropping and editing from a sea of digital images. He looks for stories and ‘decisive moment’ – the colour of Shore and Egglestone. Composition where things line up. He rephotographs the machine-made images as they appear on his computer screen, framing and freeing them from their technological origins. Experimenting with geometry and distortions.
A limited-edition monograph of A New American Picture was published by White Press/Schaden in 2010. It was named a best book of 2010 by photo-eye magazine and is now out of print. This edition brings Rickard’s provocative series, including more than forty new images, to a wider audience. His images have become part of an international conversation .In 2011, A New American Picture was included in the annual New Photography exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. A solo exhibition is planned for fall 2012 at Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.
Jon Rafman (b. 1981) is an artist, filmmaker, and essayist. Rafman’s work focuses on technology and digital media, and explores the impact of technology on contemporary consciousness. In his multidisciplinary practice, Rafman often explores the relationship between the “real” and the “virtual” in contemporary life, urging viewers to reconsider the boundaries between the two.
Jon Rafman celebrates and critiques contemporary culture, while at the same time revealing the origins of modern loneliness and alienation. He offers a way to look at the melancholy in our modern social interactions, communities and virtual realities from an accessible place of humour and irony.Though Rafman rarely takes a moral stance toward the messaging behind his art, it consistently asks us to evaluate what it means to be human in the context of these new and ambiguous digital realms. His films and art are hauntingly evocative and utilize extremely personal moments to reveal how pop-culture ephemera and advertising media shape our desires and threaten to define our being, distancing us from ourselves.
9-Eyes – he finds a spontaneity and authenticity he finds is lost from current street photography. Fact that they are captured by a roving robot by chance makes it more poetic ‘modernist notion of god. God does not care about reality, just observes. Watching but does not take a moral stance. The human gaze then interpretes, finds meaning, beauty and stories. That tension gives power. He just takes screen shots. The Google link to report a concern is meaningless. Faces are blurred. Some stitched together so see people in two places.
An ongoing project of Rafman’s involves a tour around the virtual universe of Second Life, which is hosted by his avatar Kool-Aid Man. The work deals with how users employ creative exploits in order to bring to life an idealized self and entertain sexual fetishes in the virtual world.
Wolf was born in Germany and was raised in the United States, Europe, and Canada.He attended the North Toronto Collegiate Institute and the University of California, Berkeley. In 1976 he obtained a degree in visual communication at the University of Essen, Germany, where he studied with Otto Steinert.
Wolf began his career in 1994 as a photojournalist, spending eight years working in Hong Kong for the German magazine Stern. He won a first prize in Contemporary Issues in the 2004 World Press Photo competition for his photographs for an article in Stern entitled China: Factory of the World. The photographs depicted workers in several types of factories.
Wolf states that a decline in the magazine industry led to photojournalism assignments becoming “stupid and boring.”In 2003 he decided to work only on fine-art photography projects.
Notable artistic projects
Bastard Chairs / Sitting in China
He began non-editorial photography with a series entitled Bastard Chairs, small chairs that Chinese people would repair repeatedly using whatever materials were available. Wolf reports that the police detained him twice during the photographing of the series for “doing something which was harmful to the Chinese state.” Photographs from the series were published a 2002 book entitled Sitting in China. Although Wolf called the bastard chairs a “great symbol of the Chinese people’s thriftiness and resourcefulness,” and the book received positive reviews in the West, some Chinese people felt that the photographs made China appear “backward.”
The Real Toy Story
In follow-up to the China: Factory of the World series, Wolf created an installation entitled The Real Toy Story.It consisted of 20,000 toys made in China and purchased in California attached with magnets to the walls of the gallery, along with photographs of workers making the toys.
Architecture of Density
In this series, Wolf photographed of Hong Kong’s tall buildings in a way that depicted them as “abstractions, never-ending repetitions of architectural patterns.” The photographs excluded the sky and the ground, thereby emphasizing the vertical lines of the buildings.The images have been compared with those of Andreas Gursky and Candida Höfer.
The first book containing images from the series, Hong Kong: Front Door/ Back Door, was published in 2005. One review noted the book’s “representation of an overpopulated city emptied of its human presence” and praised “the visual intelligence of Wolf’s photographs.” The Outside volume of Wolf’s two-volume 2009 book Hong Kong Inside Outside contained a more extensive selection of photographs from this series.
In 2006, Wolf took photographs of residents in their rooms in a building in Hong Kong’s oldest public housing complex, the Shek Kip Mei Estate, that was going to be demolished. He used a wide-angle lens to show as much of the interiors of the rooms as possible. Each room was approximately 100 square feet (9.3 m2) in size, and he displayed photographs of 100 rooms, leading to the name “100×100.” In an interview, Wolf likened the series to a scientific project, “an investigation into the use of limited space.” The Inside volume of Wolf’s two-volume book Hong Kong Inside Outside of 2009 contained the complete photographs from this series.
Copy Art / Real Fake Art
Between 2005 and 2007, Wolf photographed painters in Shenzhen, China, who reproduced famous works of art such as Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh. Each portrait consisted of a “copy artist” along with an example of a copied work.The settings were described as “dirty alleyways and street corners.” One reviewer wrote that the pictures “document intimate cultural and economic facets of globalization even as they record and complicate critical dilemmas about authenticity and the non-economic values of art.”The series was collected in his book Real Fake Art published in 2011.
A series shot in downtown Chicago beginning in 2006 that “combine[d] impersonal cityscapes shot primarily at dusk or at night with details of the buildings’ inhabitants” became the basis for the 2008 book Transparent City.The photographs were taken from rooftops at dusk with a long lens. As in the Architecture of Density series, the exterior photographs excluded the horizon and the sky, leaving the windows of the buildings as the main subjects. In one interview, Wolf said that he came upon the idea of showing close-ups of people in the windows after he noticed that a man giving him the finger in a photograph. In another interview, Wolf cited the artistic work of Edward Hopper as an inspiration for the series because of its voyeuristic nature and its inclusion of architectural details.
Articles about the book connected the photographs to the film Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock. One reviewer described the book as “frightening,” causing a feeling of “remoteness.”The series was controversial because some people felt that the cropped and enlarged photographs of people in the buildings constituted an invasion of privacy. In 2010, the series was shortlisted for the Prix Pictet.
In the 2010 book Tokyo Compression, Wolf presented portraits of Japanese people inside crowded Tokyo subway trains who had been pressed against a window.The commuters’ expressions were characterized in one review as “traumatised” and “woeful.” Wolf stated that some people closed their eyes or hid their faces with their hands upon realizing that they were being photographed.
One reviewer concluded that Wolf’s Architecture of Density, Transparent City, and Tokyo Compression series represented a progression from long shot to close-up. Wolf won a first prize in Daily Life in the 2009 World Press Photo competition for his Tokyo Compression work. Martin Parr selected the 2010 book as one of the 30 most influential photobooks published between 2001 and 2010.
Tokyo Compression was part of Metropolis, City Life in the Urban Age, the 2011 Noorderlicht Photofestival. One of Wolf’s pictures was used for the poster, the cover of the catalogue and all media material of the exhibition.
Series using Google Street View
In several series, such as Paris Street View, Manhattan Street View, and A Series of Unfortunate Events, Wolf took photographs of Google Street View scenes on his computer screen. Wolf compared his method of finding interesting scenes online to those of a street photographer walking around in a city. He has called his Street View series “a statement about art.”
The Street View photographs were characterized by pixelation and image noise which were compared with techniques used by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol in their art.The work led to discussion of how the automatically-taken Google Street View images affected the “decisive moment” concept of Henri Cartier-Bresson; nevertheless, the photographs were said to contain “some mystery” in that they were “hard to interpret.”Some of Wolf’s photographs resemble recognized classics of photography such as Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (The Kiss) by Robert Doisneau.
Wolf won an honorable mention in Daily Life in the 2011 World Press Photo competition for his A Series of Unfortunate Events work. The award was controversial because some people were of the opinion that theappropriation of Google Street View screens did not constitute photojournalism.