Agoraphobic Traveller, globetrotting from home via Google streetview
July 26, 2017 8:57 PM   Subscribe

Jacqui Kenny is searching for the perfect Google street photo (Wired), as seen on her Instagram feed, Agoraphobic Traveller/ Streetview Portraits. Kenny especially likes when you can see the Google car's shadow or dust kicked up as it rolls by. "It gives it an otherworldly feel," she says. At first, she would pick locales more or less at random, poking around the streets of faraway towns and taking screenshots whenever she stumbled upon a striking image. After a while, she began seeking out certain kinds of views: arid regions with clear horizons; latitudes where she found that the sunlight fell at a dramatic slant. (New Yorker)

Her Instagram name isn't just a name (Nat Geo). As noted in the New Yorker article by Andrea DenHoed:
Kenny, who is friendly and witty in conversation, suffers from anxiety that, on a bad day, can make it difficult to leave the house. Contrary to a common misconception, agoraphobia is often less a fear of open spaces than it is a fear of losing control. Sometimes, she has difficulty going to aisles of the grocery store that are too far from the exit, and getting on a plane is a huge ordeal. To go to her sister’s wedding, in New Zealand, she told me, required months of therapy beforehand. The Street View project has become a way for Kenny to visit places that she could never go to herself—the more remote, the better, she said. It’s also a practice that involves a tension between control and surrender: she has the ability to parachute into anywhere in the world, but her views and angles and lighting are in Google’s hands. “So many times,” she said, “I’ll see something in the distance that looks amazing, but then the car stops or something gets in the way. It happens ninety per cent of the time. I always have to be prepared for that disappointment.”
posted by filthy light thief (24 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Beautiful selection of (automatic) photographs.
posted by flippant at 9:12 PM on July 26, 2017

The copyright nerd in me wonders whether these are sufficiently original to attract protection for her works separate from any copyright that might exist in the original images. Certainly her selection of the images seems to involve skill and judgement, because they are really excellent.

I also wonder if she does much processing on the captured images -- they have a very similar colour palette and lighting in them -- but maybe that's just what Streetview tends to look like in some places?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:26 PM on July 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've always been fascinated by maps and atlases. I can spend hours on Google Earth and street view which I think are really the most marvelous creations of the Internet age. It's how I've decided I'm retiring on the coast of Lake Baikal in Siberia which I've kidded/not kidded my spouse about. My youngest son is non-neurotypical and inherited this obsession with maps from me. He is just now learning to navigate google maps and street view on his iPad and it's been amazing to watch him. We are fortunate enough/prioritized it enough to travel extensively with the kids and our trip planning almost always starts with my sons' developing an interest organically in a place -- London, India, Iceland, Vancouver Island, next year Siem Reap.

I hope Kenny gets to travel to these places someday. Street view gives you more of a sense of place than any tour book or website while clearly not giving the impression that you've actually been there yourself, just an unfiltered tantalizing taste.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:37 PM on July 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

Passed the Instagram link on to a friend who suffers agoraphobia (so bad he couldn't even play MMOs for a while) but is slowly and successfully beating it.
posted by Samizdata at 9:38 PM on July 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

What’s the next for this project?

I’m already working on the next phase of the project. I’m working on a website that will allow people to visit my images within Google Street View but the most exciting development for me will be making my images available in Daydream, Google’s VR. I was able to experience one of my images in VR mode and it was amazing. So I would really love to have this option available to everyone. I am also planning to teach a neural network to understand my style of photography. Over time it can start identifying features that it knows I like and make judgement calls for me. I'm excited to see if I can teach a machine to search for interesting Google Street View images for me.

This is really, really cool. And the photos are frankly way better than I was imagining they would be.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:47 PM on July 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think part of the appeal of these images is not just their look but their location. Google Street View systematically covers all those back streets that we would be unlikely to explore even in our home town - let alone on a trip to Ulaanbaatar. In that sense the scenes are, at the same time, both utterly every-day and incredibly exotic - Jacqui Kenny, on account of her agoraphobia, is getting to venture where no other tourist is every likely to have gone.

(I particularly love the one of the Chilean kissing couple who have somehow managed to avoid being pixelated - even while the pink overturned bin lying next to them has not been.)
posted by rongorongo at 10:51 PM on July 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wow. These are fantastic because she has such a distinct point of view. What an engaging project to specifically curate something so universal and recognizable into a distinct mood and message.
posted by missmary6 at 10:59 PM on July 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's like the best episode of House Hunters International.
posted by Keith Talent at 12:03 AM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is great. These are great. I wonder if I would have twigged that they were street view photos had I not been told? Unlikely, probably.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:13 AM on July 27, 2017

What are these two tiny people in red carrying a plastic crate?
posted by Segundus at 1:28 AM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

#15 clearly launches the origin story of Bolivia's own version of Daft Punk.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:02 AM on July 27, 2017

Segundus, I believe they were carrying their own heads. As in, wearing the crate, which they could see out of, in order to conceal their faces.

This is a great collection - so spare, and still so rich.
posted by Caxton1476 at 5:28 AM on July 27, 2017

You can definitely tell what landscapes appeal to her. I've seen a lot of collections of google streetview photos, but this is the first I've seen that so carefully selected for inadvertently perfectly-composed and framed photos. I can only imagine the hours and hours it would have taken to find these images among so many others.

I am also interested in how much editing she does -- not just the colors, but also cropping and so on. I don't mean that in any kind of critical way, because that editing is clearly a key part of the project, but out of interest in her artistic process and selection.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:37 AM on July 27, 2017

Kenny especially likes when you can see the Google car's shadow or dust kicked up as it rolls by.
I've got a picture that will blow her mind, then.
posted by cardboard at 6:33 AM on July 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

From PBS News Hour:
To create the compositions, Kenny may spend hours on Google Street View searching for a compelling subject. Once she’s found it, she’ll experiment with screenshots from a number of angles. “It’s very hard to get a clean shot because of the nature of Google Street View, you’ve usually got cars or something in the way,” she said.

When the shot is composed, she’ll post it to Instagram, where thousands of people follow her page “Agoraphobic Traveller.” She usually keeps color-correcting and filters to a minimum.
And on how she picks locations now:
At first, she was “just looking at places randomly” to find subjects, she said. But after experimenting with a number of landscapes, Kenny found herself drawn to desert settlements in the U.S. and South America, along with central Asian countries like Mongolia, which she said was her favorite place to view.
I, too, hope she is able to comfortably visit some of these locations in person some day.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:37 AM on July 27, 2017

What an amazing find!

Besides the beautiful photos, I have to wonder if consciously making a trip via street view prior to a live trip could have a therapeutic effect for agoraphobia if done right.

The amount of our planet that has been captured in street view is astounding to me. My personal favorite is the street view of our home: In the 2011 view my wife was captured waving to the camera as she took a break from yard work. The Google car has been down our little street four times in the past ten years.

The street view car was at an intersection I was driving through in our area late last year. A few months later when I looked I saw my car, but today the view has been replaced by another. I can only imagine the processing power that goes into analyzing the mountains of visual and mapping data they collect.
posted by SteveInMaine at 8:07 AM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

This also reminded me of the wonderful GeoGuessr (previously!), which drops you in a random Street View location and challenges you to figure out where you are by 'walking around' and finding context clues.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:11 AM on July 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Most of these are absolutely wonderful. One or two are like meh, but I'd look through them all afternoon to see the best ones. Lovely
posted by BlueHorse at 12:20 PM on July 27, 2017

So this inspired me to check out some parts of the world I'd always wanted to see in Street View, and they've covered a lot of ground in just a few years. Interestingly, Kyrgyzstan - my favorite stan - seems to be the only Central Asian country Street View has covered. In trying to find why I only found this article celebrating Kyrgyzstan's inclusion, but little else. Still, very happy. Great post.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:53 PM on July 27, 2017

I often do little Street View travels when I have the spare time. Just plop myself into some random part of the world and go try to find the nearest pub. I love exploring the world that way, not to mention it gives me the power to teleport!
posted by Metro Gnome at 9:26 PM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I love Google Street View, and it loves me too. It came through my neighborhood in 2016 and took a picture of me gardening in the front yard. I'm so thrilled that my least favorite activity ever - digging rocks out of the dirt - has been captured for all of eternity.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:37 AM on July 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm more thrilled by the idea that other agoraphobics are also using google streetview to "see" places they never will. Off and on, for years, I've been on a trip from Southern Spain through Southern France (and heading for Southern Italy)--a "dream vacation" that will never happen, even if I could afford it.
It never occurred to me to look for (take?) a "photo" of an area, but then, I'm bad about doing that in real life as well. A rare two-day Disney trip only has 4 or 5 photos to show for it.
posted by whatgorilla at 10:43 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

whatgorilla: It never occurred to me to look for (take?) a "photo" of an area, but then, I'm bad about doing that in real life as well. A rare two-day Disney trip only has 4 or 5 photos to show for it.

I'm the opposite, and I've actually been "scolded" by a tour guide for not just living in the moment, so now I try to find a better balance between Capture All The Sights and enjoy being there. (Then again, my memory for details isn't great, so photos help jog recollections for me.)
posted by filthy light thief at 8:20 AM on August 1, 2017

I love Google Street View, and it loves me too. It came through my neighborhood in 2016 and took a picture of me gardening in the front yard.
posted by Elly Vortex

Your Claim to Fame.

Not only are you digging rocks, but you're totally recognizable because they caught your best side!

I keed! I keed!
posted by BlueHorse at 11:04 AM on August 2, 2017

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