Google Street View: the new documentary

Posted by on Feb 29, 2012

I realise I am probably coming late to this party in discussing Google as the ultimate documentary photographer but I’m going ahead anyway. Jon Rafman’s Nine Eyes of Google Street View has been getting quite a lot of coverage  online in the past couple of weeks. Having myself completed several uneventful “journeys” by Street View when trying to locate a certain place, I realised that it must have been quite a trawl for Rafman to carry out before collating the found images. In doing so, he has made one thing very clear: Google is the definitive documentarist.

jon rafman

Jon Rafman’s Nine Eyes of Google

Pre-digital,you might consider it good fortune to get 5 usable photos from a 36 exposure film (just check out the Magnum contacts if you don’t believe me, actually maybe 2 usable photos….). Google has nine eyes, travelling as many roads as it can, seeing, recording, documenting. If it was a 36 exposure film, it would probably come home with nothing.

So what does this mean. Is Google Streetview the ultimate photographer? Actually, I think yes. And it creates a new way of working for the photographer/artist. The new armchair photography can thank Google for being in the right place at the right time.

Other projects of note are that by Doug Rickard, the MoMa blurb stating “he composed images on his computer screen”, giving rise to a new photographic language too perhaps. All in, Rafman’s project seems rather more honest: by including the google arrows and controls, more questions remain with the viewer on society, technology, art.