When allowing everything in the free world to be photographed at random you are bound to come across some creepy, compromising snaps highlighting human imperfection… although I’m sure Google Street View’s primary mandate didn’t exactly intend to create a montage of prostitutes that would able you to compare the attire, modes of seduction and preferred client of ‘sex workers of the world,’ but as is the nature of invention, when put in the hands of man, things tend to take on an unintended yet inescapable course.


This prompted artist Jon Rafman to scan through thousands of images, globally available to the public, of people going about their daily lives and come up with a kind of anthropological study of people in their most natural state.



Google declares that the purpose of this visual exploration ‘enables you to view and navigate 360 degree street level imagery of various cities around the world, providing greater understanding of a specific location or area.’ Let’s be dramatic, because it’s more fun, and plant the (probably infertile) seed of Truman Show similarity; a panoptic invasion of human solace.



Street View, launched in 2007, is the somewhat nosey addition complimenting its powerful digital navigator, Google Maps. It involved the dispersion of electric cars; transformer-like creatures each boasting nine cameras enabling panoramic photographs, a GPS and equipped with laser range scanners. Although there is no need to go into the endless debates on surveillance, conspiracy and all the other invasions of the Google monopoly, there is still the invisible fine print to take into account.  It is available in real-time to anyone who has access to the internet, shots directly of faces and registrations are automatically meant to be blurred out, although there are always those cases of machine malfunction and identities are exposed.



Jon Rafman’s project is called ‘Nine Eyes of Google Street View’ and in all its simplicity, presents an unaffected study of the modern world; one that highlights the binaries, cultural nuances and the ironies in human life. The omnipresent relationship of an abandoned and uncaring universe where we try and find a sense of belonging and purpose becomes evident in the stills. A moment that has authentically lived within all of us has been captured and a of a new kind of street photography has emerged, each stamped with the unmistakable ‘zoom’ icon in the top left corner.


We get to see the less savoury aspects of life, the ‘de-glamourised’ reality of society from prostitution, car accidents, crime and drug-taking and its balance with some of the most serene moments in life.  The tumultuous scale of pain is balanced with the beauty of catching nature in motion, passionate lovers, timeless architecture and raw outbursts of emotion.



So, where a photographer calculates for days to take the perfect shot, Google can achieve in minutes with an automated catalogue consisting of photojournalism, wildlife photography and idyllic landscapes from locations all around the world, removing human agency. Just one more thing in the world that Google can now do better than you… how niggling.



Words: Megan King