Check out 9 Eyes, the amazing photo gallery of images captured from Google Street View:
The page’s title refers to the device, basically a pole with nine cameras attached, that is Google’s weapon in its ongoing campaign to photograph… well, everywhere and everything.
In the last few years Google has dispatched a fleet of vehicles armed with the nine-in-one cam all over the world in an attempt to get as much visual data of our planet’s streets and byways as possible. Thanks to this endeavor, surely the largest photographic project in history, we can now access images of every imaginable corner of the world – and plenty of unimagined corners.
9 Eyes’ “curator,” Jon Rafman, combed through the all-but infinite archive of images on the Google Maps’ Street View function (along with other Street View blogs) and selected images for their artistic or documentary value. The results are spellbinding: a sequence of randomly made, ingeniously selected images cascading down the page one after the other with no context, no explanation, each one revealing something beautiful or bizarre or breathtaking.
After a while, the cumulative effect made me laugh out of delight and disbelief – and once or twice I even felt tears jump into my eyes. It has something of the effect of Koyaanisqatsi, the majesty and mayhem of our shared destiny presented nonjudgmentally. It seems to tell a story. But it’s a weird story.
“Google Street View is the greatest photographer ever – when paired with a good editor,” wrote a friend of mine. Rafman has brilliantly curated this project as if he was dealing with the work of an artist – or indeed, many of them. The “show” alternates between grim photojournalism – prostitutes, paramilitary forces, hostile baby gangsters on prosaic street corners – and glimpses of staggering beauty. Some of the images have the fascinating industrial forms and postmodern juxtapositions found in the work of Andreas Gursky and Edward Burtynsky. Rafman also cleverly includes lovely rainbows of digital noise to illuminate his collection.
I can’t even begin to imagine all the work that went into the editing.
Mistakes make for some of the most interesting photos. The random framing and lighting of a camera test or a drunken snapshot reveals an object or room in unexpected ways. Candids let us study weird, unselfconscious body poses. Examples have only proliferated in the digital age. I’ve often thought such photos would make a great show; 9 Eyes is the logical progression of that idea. Google Street View is a database of millions of candids.
It’s something to see some of the things that we think of doing in the street. Look at how many people are laying down in these pictures – some for good reasons (they’re hurt, or they’re drunk), but with others there’s no guessing. They look like characters in an absurdist film.
At times, a particular quality of light or movement will make a person or object seem unnatural. In one photo a group of little girls running towards the camera look like they’re floating above the ground. Some of the images are so inexplicable they seem to be dreams.
Other things you see a lot of on 9 Eyes:
- car accidents
- people flipping off the camera
- people under arrest
- people scaling walls
I love how in many cases there’s no obvious way to tell where in the world these things are taking place. It’s a testament to the underlying unity of our civilization: how similar are the corporate plazas, how similar are the ghettos.
- Did the Google drivers (or technicians or whatever they are; I can’t imagine they’re well-paid) ever stop to help the many accident victims seen here?
- Can Google’s photographs be used as criminal evidence?
- Did the drivers ever sneakily alter or improvise their routes to purposefully photograph something crazy or beautiful? Is it all really random?
- Come on, how the hell did they get that snapshot of the gorillas?
The lack of text on 9 Eyes is one of its strengths, but Rafman provides thoughtful commentary on his creation at Art Fag City:
It’s a great supplement to the gallery, with some photos that didn’t make the cut, and captions that shed different light on the images.
At the heart of his project, as Rafman explicitly states, is the question of whether any one company or entity has a legitimate claim on fabricating our vision of our world. Are all of these prostitutes and victims and people and animals doing strange things what the world really looks like? If there’s something funny or disturbing here, if it seems like art, or a hallucination – is that just a trick of the process? Is this our world, or just the world as Google sees it?
Or actually, since we’re at one more remove, is it just the world as Jon Rafman sees it? Never mind, I’ll take it for now.