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Google Street View is Watching

Posted by Carolyn / October 4, 2010

Rafman Nude.jpg

Google Street View vehicles, mounted with nine cameras, roam the earth recording panoramic images of whatever happens to cross its path--from tumbleweeds floating across deserted highways to Justin Bieber's grandparents in the front yard of the pop star's Ontario home (an occurrence which aptly earned it the nickname "Googlerazzi"). The Google cameras act as a detached observer, providing gimpses of landscapes and life captured in a passing and indifferent moment. Curated by Chloe Roubert, Within Which All Things Exist and Move--arguably the highlight of Art Pop--brought together and juxtaposed artist Jon Rafman's Google Street View images with documentary photographer Gabor Szilasi's urban shots from the 1950 to the 1980s.

Jon Rafman, Muslim Women. 78 Myrdle St, Poplar, England, UK, 2010.

Fascinated by Google's global archiving project, Rafman selected Street View images which often pose questions about the nature of the relationship between the individual and his or her environment. Rafman's most poignant image presents the backside of a nude woman in Puglia, Italy standing by the edge of the ocean and watching the tide come in. Whereas the Street View cameras indifferently and automatically record the woman, Rafman claims and reasserts her individuality by selecting and framing the print. The image was contrasted with Szilasi's 1958 photograph of women in bathing suits posing together on a dock at Lake Balaton in Hungary. Another particularly striking contrast was created between a black and white photograph of nuns in Florence and a Google image of three women wearing Niqabs, their eyes deliberately blurred, on the streets of Poplar, England. Szilasi's stunning historical photographs emphasize the intimate nature of Rafman's images as windows on the world--capturing true moments of life within the process of global surveillance.

Jon Rafman Paris.jpg Jon Rafman, 76 Boulevard de Clichy, Paris, France 2009.

Gabor Szilasi.jpg Gabor Szilasi, Supersexe, 696-698 St. Catherine Ouest, Montreal 1979.

Szalisi captures the beauty in everyday people and prosaic places through the lens of his camera, in a more deliberate and subjective format than the Street View images. Together the prints explore public space then and now, some in direct comparison of content--such as images of sex shops on St. Catherine and the Boulevard de Clichy in Paris--and others in a more abstract relation, juxtaposing various uses of public space.

The intimacy and voyeur-esque quality of the images is a direct result of an unplanned moment captured in complete spontaneity and raw truth. According to curator Chloe Roubert, "Photography looks like the truth but you can never go back to that true moment. However, with Google street view you can go back to the true moment. That's something new that Google can do and photography can't." The unobserved becomes recorded, observed, and framed, and therein is injected with new and profound meaning. The juxtaposition of the images opens up a wealth of space for interpretation. As Rafman describes his own work in a recent interview for Art45, "As this detached, indifferent mode of recording often parallels our own mode of perceiving the world, by framing and reframing the images, I hope to undo familiar conventions of seeing the world, and highlight this sense of human disconnection."

Don't miss Gabor Szilasi: The Eloquence of the Everyday, a retrospective of the artist's works coming to the McCord Museum on October 8.

First image: Naked Woman. 58 Lungomare 9 Maggio, Bari, Puglia, Italy, 2009.



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