google street view as photography
January 7, 2010 5:15 PM   Subscribe

The Nine Eyes of Google Street View "It was tempting to see the images as a neutral and privileged representation of reality—as though the Street Views, wrenched from any social context other than geospatial contiguity, were able to perform true docu-photography, capturing fragments of reality stripped of all cultural intentions."
posted by dhruva (35 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Google gets an A for the photos (thanks for sharing). Author gets an F for the prose:
This tension between meaning and non-meaning is especially evident in those images that seek out the significance of the human, even if it is by illustrating its absence.
I've Googled all those words and I still don't know what that means.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:24 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


DarlingBri, it means the pictures lack captions, in not so many words. There's emotion and a story to each one, but being what they are, no one can know what that story is.

It's a concern that he brings up over and over again, a bit too much.
posted by Malice at 5:36 PM on January 7, 2010


More Moments Caught on Google Maps Street View
posted by netbros at 5:38 PM on January 7, 2010


My favorites: the punk teens in Northern Ireland and "Rod Stewart Fan Club" in Scotland.
posted by i less than three nsima at 5:46 PM on January 7, 2010


Malice: DarlingBri, it means the pictures lack captions, in not so many words.

But that was a caption!
posted by DarlingBri at 5:47 PM on January 7, 2010


The guy mooning from his front porch is my personal favorite street view moment for various reasons. Most impressive is that he didn't actually have to leave his home to bomb the photo.
posted by Potsy at 5:50 PM on January 7, 2010


Love the guy with the enormous mustache, in Paris. He looks like the 19th century in person. I also love the chunky Spanish guy who is holding a chihuahua. If we have a sort of shorpy.com in the next century, these pictures will surely be a mainstay.

The next to last picture, on Rose Garden Way in Oregon, looks like a Sim who's complaining up to his operator that he can't do some damn thing that the mouse clicked on. HEY! FLABBA NOO WAY? URGH.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:53 PM on January 7, 2010


DarlingBri, it means the pictures lack captions, in not so many words. There's emotion and a story to each one, but being what they are, no one can know what that story is.

I don't think that's what he's saying. He's saying, first of all, there's a tension between the way that Google collects these images in an entirely automated, standardized, impersonal way, and the way we inevitably seek to find specific meaning in any given snapshot of life.

That's a good point. But unfortunately that sentence is a car-wreck, because in trying to say that human meaning can be found even when there are no humans there (the mysterious Rod Stewart Fan Club sign on an otherwise blank facade, hinting at the passions behind the door, like a Hopper painting) he talks about "those images that seek out the significance of the human". This really is pretty close to meaningless — images can't "seek out" anything, especially given that his whole point is how Google's photographing and our interpreting are so different.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:58 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nine Eyed Omniscient Google Oculus will pull your soul out through your eye sockets like a magnet.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:59 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This tension between meaning and non-meaning is especially evident in those images that seek out the significance of the human, even if it is by illustrating its absence.

I've Googled all those words and I still don't know what that means.


The tension between meaning and non-meaning is especially evident in this sentence that seeks out the significance of the profound, even if it is by illustrating its absence.
posted by Sova at 6:08 PM on January 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


However we ignore the ones that don't have much meaning and find the ones that do. Sort of like how a photographer ignores most of what they see, and heck even most pictures they take sometimes, to find the scenes and photographs that seem to have some meaning.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:10 PM on January 7, 2010


This tension between meaning and non-meaning is especially evident in those images that seek out the significance of the human, even if it is by illustrating its absence.

The inclusion of non-meaning in his statement is what causes it to fall flat. The extent to which the landscape has been documented in this manner constructs each photo-interval as place (even in the abstract sense), constructed through the presence or absence of those producing it. The Google car is still occupying it, and thereby implying meaning in it. But non-meaning? I see he's directing us a tension between the two but...ennh, I just don't like the use of 'non-meaning' when discussing place.


posted by avocet at 6:23 PM on January 7, 2010


Ugh. Clearing my own logic up in that second sentence: Google's election to document such swaths of rural and 'empty' land implies a sense of place in the landscape and an undefined audience to consume this (commodified) imagery, regardless of whether or not anyone is actively maintaining these photographed places.
posted by avocet at 6:38 PM on January 7, 2010


More Psychedelic Upstate New York
posted by swift at 6:40 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


DUDE IT'S LIKE TRON

Also: it's pretty awesome how far Google Street View has managed to penetrate into the secure areas of some North American ports.
posted by avocet at 6:43 PM on January 7, 2010


I'm pretty sure that that's what West Coxsackie, New York actually looks like. Wasn't it in that one Stephen King story?
posted by Countess Elena at 6:43 PM on January 7, 2010


The President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council approves of this prose.
posted by Babblesort at 6:45 PM on January 7, 2010


I find something new in google street view every day. To me, it is one of the greatest things to ever happen on the web, similar to wikipedia or amazon.com. I look forward to the day when most of the earth is accessible through google street view.
posted by mattbucher at 6:52 PM on January 7, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm so happy I have a MeFace to connect to Apres Garde!
posted by avocet at 6:56 PM on January 7, 2010


I look forward to the day when most of the earth every conceivable data point, discrete or abstract, is accessible through google street omni view.

That's more like it.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:58 PM on January 7, 2010


One hundred years from now these images may will be analyzed on some site like shorpy.com.

There's something eerie to me about google street view and even Bing maps bird's-eye view. Perhaps it has to do with the lack of human involvement in the taking of the picture.

A few months after my father died I happened to look at my parents' house using one of these services - and there was such a strange, fake-Hollywood set feeling to the whole scene. Yet at the same time I also had the somewhat contradictory (and poignant) thought that when the pic was taken my father was probably still alive and inside that house.
posted by NorthernLite at 7:13 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow it's fun to "walk" around other cites.
posted by thylacine at 7:52 PM on January 7, 2010


I find something new in google street view every day

That's great, but seriously, why the hell don't you tell us where these places are or provide links to them? Finally, we have the technology to do something truly incredible - the kind of thing that we used to dream about but was so farfetched it wasn't even worth wishing for - we can look at an amusing photo, or a beautiful scene, and we can turn around and look either side, or in the opposite direction. We can almost be there ourselves. When I used to watch Mr Men as a little kid, a wonderful but crudely animated cartoon, I used to wish I could wander off over to the top of the hills on the horizon to see what was on the other side. I was desperate to go there, to see beyond what the animators decided I was going to see. It didn't even really matter that there'd just be more of the same perfectly round green hills, I wanted the freedom to explore a new world. Later, when crudely rendered graphics became available on text based adventure games (I'm thinking specifically of Twin Kingdom Valley), I had similar feelings. I was sort of in control, they gave me a glimmer of hope, but I still couldn't wander off into the trees, because there wasn't a path there, my only exits were North and West! How tantalising and cruel!

Now, in the year of our lord 2010, thanks to the miracle of hybrid motor vehicles, digital camera technology, broadband and lots of other mystifyingly complex phenomena, we have that chance. We can see a picture, of somewhere we've never been and never will go, and we can wander around beyond its confines, we can see the context. You can show me a photo of some camels in a field, or a dog walking across the street, and I can turn around and face the other way. I can see where the dog's heading, and where it's just come from. I can choose to not be interested in the dog at all, and just meander off in the opposite direction. But no! You deny us this. Suddenly its 1979 all over again, and we're left with the frustration of enforced statis.

You might think it a minor criticism, and you might also think that I'm driven by wanting what I can't have, that I'm driven by a desire for the forbidden, and if the forbidden becomes allowed it's no longer desired (I only want to walk up the Mr Men hill because I know it's not possible). But I'm actually quite serious, that I see this as a truly (as yet) missed opportunity to do something really exciting that was never possible with books or prints or photoblogs.

If it turns out there is a link after all that, and in a really obvious place, then I'm going to feel very foolish.
posted by Beautiful Screaming Lady at 8:28 PM on January 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


I understood that sentence perfectly, but then I did once do a Lacan seminar. As for what type of post one expects to find on a blog labeled "Art Fag City" ....

This isn't about captions, really, although in a sense it actually is about mental captions that we put on photos. We have in the past presumed that the camera is something like a human eye, or at least an intermediary between a human eye and the subject. The camera's direction, view, and subject are all chosen by that human for some reason, and so whenever we encounter a photograph we endeavor to assign it a meaning or reason: Why di the photographer choose to show us this? But when you have an automated camera that consumes literally everything in its path, that inherent meaning is lost. This does not prevent us from still attempting to divine one when we see one of these street scenes. What are those people doing? Are they reacting to the camera or unaware of it? Are they staging something? Yet we also intellectually understand the automation, so want to simultaneously assign the photograph a "non-meaning", that is, a lack of intentionality. I think the point being made is that the mind of the viewer may settle on one of these -- meaning or non-meaning -- but is never completely settled either way. That's the tension between the two ways of looking at it that he's talking about.
posted by dhartung at 8:56 PM on January 7, 2010


I liked the point one of the commenters made about the true function of the "report concern" button:
the “report a concern” feature [...] IIRC, was a PR response to people discovering and publicizing StreetView images of crimes being committed.

Google’s reaction at the time was to remove controversial–or potentially brand-tarnishing–images soon after they were publicized. So while it might at first seem like the “concern” is for the people/places in the photo, it’s really the viewer’s concern for his own discomfort in seeing something. Or it’s the company’s concern for the public perception of its own vast venture.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:10 PM on January 7, 2010


That's great, but seriously, why the hell don't you tell us where these places are or provide links to them?

Every other streetview blog does that. There are tons of them out there, all looking for topless sunbathers and guys mooning you and you will have no problem being entertained by scrolling around in streetview and seeing that these framed events occur in mundane settings or context that is irrelevant (and that does take away some of the mystery. Yes, you can see what's behind you in the shot. So what? This photo is from Mexico. etc.). What I do is more like a photograph of a photograph or found art. There are likely billions of images stored in google streetview but I only focus on a few frames. Like the link says, I am more interested in the frames within the frames than trying to capture the whole.

I like games like Grand Theft Auto where you can just walk around and explore a city. I like exploring cities and countries on google streetview. And when I see something that interests me, I take a snapshot. That's all.
posted by mattbucher at 9:33 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


To me the joy of Street View is the ordinary and unexceptional. I can, virtually, travel back roads in Spain or travel down a small street in a small Italian village, visit small town America and see a moment in time that is just ordinary. There is nothing particular special or dramatic about any of these links. They just are. Of course each view has its history that we can only guess at. And I think that is one of the charms and joys of Street View: to travel and imagine and dream of hsitories we can never really know.
posted by vac2003 at 10:05 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


My cat and I are on GoogleMaps. Still waiting for my royalty check.
posted by saladin at 5:04 AM on January 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


dhartung: I understood that sentence perfectly, but then I did once do a Lacan seminar.

can you explain the bit about "images that seek out the significance of the human"? Because I contend that this is a truly meaningless phrase. Images can't "seek out" anything. In most contexts, I'd be guilty of pedantry in pointing that out, since what the writer would mean would be "the photographer seeks out". But in this case his whole point appears to be that the images are utterly different things in the eyes of Google and in the eyes of we viewers, so attributing agency to the images in this way seems profoundly nonsensical.

Beautiful Screaming Lady: That's great, but seriously, why the hell don't you tell us where these places are or provide links to them? Finally, we have the technology to do something truly incredible - the kind of thing that we used to dream about but was so farfetched it wasn't even worth wishing for - we can look at an amusing photo, or a beautiful scene, and we can turn around and look either side, or in the opposite direction. We can almost be there ourselves.

The assumption that because something is possible it's therefore (likely to be) a good thing is pretty much the biggest error in thinking about the web at the moment if you ask me. In imposing the constraint of providing an image only, mattbucher is adding value to his blog, taking it one more step away from "Why don't you just spend a few hours perusing Google Street View" towards a personal, distinct, unique outlook on Street View's mass of undifferentiated information. By looking at his blog I get to share in that outlook a little bit.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:23 AM on January 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here I am in front of a friend's house.
posted by peeedro at 9:06 AM on January 8, 2010


Has the Google Van ever been in an auto accident?
posted by drileynyc at 9:50 AM on January 8, 2010


Here I am in front of a friend's house.
posted by peeedro at 9:06 AM on January 8 [+] [!]

Sweet! Rockin' the "jorts"
posted by stormpooper at 10:11 AM on January 8, 2010


Van on fire in Toronto, minutes before it blows up.
posted by Kabanos at 10:18 AM on January 8, 2010


In this white van, I'm sitting in the passenger seat with my coworker, and he's playing podcasts from Denis Miller's radio show while we drive. We're on our way to Minot to work on a project which involves huge 13"x22" books, full of hand-transcribed legal documents. We're five minutes away from a rest area that looks like an old gas station, because I asked to stop there, because I didn't think I could wait until Bismarck.

Exactly at the moment this photo was taken, I looked over my shoulder and said:

"Hey, that was a Google car - you know, the Google car, with the camera, for StreetView!"
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:14 AM on January 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I find Street View a bit jarring in its temporal discontinuity and how it mucks with my recollection of time: my folk's house across the state was 'graphed after mine was, but then again, when the hell did they come by either place? I used to be able to kind of guess by the cars in my neighborhood -- that one period the neighbor had people living with her, wasn't that 2006? When did we get rid of that tree? When did the neighbors get a new motorhome? I would have sworn both New Phat and Save Mart were newer than that, etc.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:13 PM on January 8, 2010


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