the strange, uncanny beauty of google maps street view photography
Your laptop is your viewfinder; a screenshot is your shutter snap. The world, as seen through Google Maps, is your oyster.
For artists who thrive in foreign landscapes and crowded street shoots, quarantine and social distancing measures have been creative burdens. Many are still restricted to their homes and dorms. However, NYC-based photographer and filmmaker Bảo Ngô has found an innovative and free way to scratch that itch. Meet your newest hobby: Google Maps Street View Photography.
By Ollie Barry
It’s a fairly simple process with rewarding results: pick the place on Earth you most wish to be at this very moment, place that little yellow Street View man on to an accessible street, and screenshot away. The overexposed, under-saturated photos serve as a blank canvas, ready for any photo editing software.
Ngô’s creation “wasn’t as much of an outlet for photography as it was just a way of seeing the world from my bedroom at the height of COVID-19 hitting New York super hard.”
For many creatives, restrictions breed inspiration. This conceptual photography erases many of the gifts of real-life photography: the fleeting geometry of a model’s pose; the perfect cloud cast by a transforming sky. At first glance, the unsaturated views are stretched and emotionless. All human models have blurred faces for legal anonymity. But the dull photos spring alive with the form and color imparted upon them by the artist’s eye.
By Lena Song
Street View photography redefines forced perspective. The permanence of Google Maps, with some rural locations still stuck in 2012, ignores the perils of time caused by natural disasters, gentrification, or virus-impeded tourism. Movie theater marquees promote old-world blockbusters and summertime hotspots are frozen in winter weather. Very few locations have been updated to the current year, which offers the viewer a blissful ignorance.
Artist Chloe Palmer presents digital images in a physical way. Her piece “Point de capiton” is a hand-bound book filled with images of home mailboxes. Seemingly ordinary, they actually essential functions to society and the human experience. In her artist statement, Palmer writes: “Mailboxes can be defined as a marker; they are often the name that we give to the places we inhabit…The pandemic highlights the importance of physical space in every sense. There is a purpose in looking back to the physical spaces that were potential safe havens; posts for series of narratives that are not only about being trapped or isolated but rather often memories of exchange.”
By Chloe Palmer
“I love finding images that look quiet to me, if that makes sense— isolated, peaceful, serene,” said Ngô. “It makes me forget about the specific brand of chaos that envelopes us in 2020.”
We, as artists, have the power to recycle "2020 vision" — to rethink what is traditionally informational that may be conveyed as art; what is public that may become personal; what limits can be used to your advantage. There are dozens of Wikipedia search games, and “randonauting," using a random number generator to navigate nearby coordinates, has taken a strong footing in 2020. Ngô has also used FaceTime, Minecraft, and Animal Crossing to capture digital photos.
“I rely on shooting photos to get all my social interactions in,” said Ngô. “I could find a way to create alone if I wanted to, but for some reason, that’s not as fun for me. I love how collaborative my process normally is.”
Whether you’re holed up in a once-bustling city or wishing you could be back in the hallways with friends, the solution to your cinematic wanderlust might be a few clicks away. ✴
Ollie Barry is a digital video editor and sound designer from New Jersey and an alum of Boston University. Find them online as @officialmomdad.