For me, some photographers’ (like Mishka Henner’s) fascinations for automated technologies like Google Street View for instance, as way of deriving Art, originates from the idea that automation is quickly taking over and becoming much more prevalent and powerful as these technologies are getting more and more sophisticated. This is rather than or in addition to the apparent relative ease with which this kind of Art can be produced. To produce this Art however, Henner had to trawl through, for many hours, the many Google Street View images in order to gather images that conveyed what he was trying to show, so the relative ease with which the images were produced was only apparent. What was apparent though to me, was the infringement by Google Street View on the prostitutes the images displayed, despite it taking a lot of effort from Henner to make the images and infringements obvious to the viewer. This was in Henner’s (2011) series: No Man’s Land (Henner, 2011).
Although it is ironic that no man is to be found in Henner’s work, I find it noteworthy that the images are shown from the point of view, where the viewer is placed (via Google Street View) into the position of how a man would likely have been found to pick up one of these women. The automated way of using a program like Google Street View to find these women, is not unlike the mapping out of a route to find prostitutes in the heads of men, who I believe Henner is trying to depict. This shows that there are men present, at least in cognitive, theoretical terms.
It is for this reason that I felt, in a strange kind of way, that Henner has infringed upon the prostitutes’ territory, via a coincidentally and apparently informal automated program: Google Street View, in order to convey a perhaps premeditated message to the viewer. This is one of ironic, self-lamenting criticism towards the automated program’s pervasiveness itself, rather than or as well as the men who try to pick these prostitutes up. So it is actually perhaps a kind of critical highlighting of the very technology that made the photographs possible.
While it is accepted by me and presumably others that trawling through many, many Google Street View images to find interesting frames, like Michael Wolf for example have done, was hard work, I found it difficult at least at first to accept it as a kind of photography. Surely the skill and eye necessary to capture a ‘decisive moment’ – (Cartier-Bresson, 1952) even in typical landscapes rather than street photography was a more ‘valid’ form of photography? The underlying reason for this viewpoint by me was the idea that the ‘traditional’ photographer had actively gone out and captured something the way they saw it at the time and transposed this to the viewer, whereas with this ‘appropriation’ using Google Street View to effectively take the photograph for them, the photographer was reliant upon a program to create something.
However after reading through ‘How Google Street View is Inspiring New Photography’ – (Dyer, 2012) further, I realised Wolf was in fact looking for ‘decisive moments within this framework of Google Street View. A quote that caught my eye in particular, was: ‘combed through … boring footage in search of moments that might or might not prove decisive.’ – (Dyer, 2012). The words ‘moments’ and ‘decisive’ reminded me of when I had been learning about street photography; where sometimes I had found, it was necessary to take many ‘boring’ photographs (photographs in place of footage!), in order to eventually reach a decisive moment in a photograph. Therefore, I hesitantly opened my mind to the possibility that by replacing actual, ‘traditional’ photographs, with footage from Google Street View, through appropriation, perhaps Wolf had found a different way to capture the essence of a photograph. So, instead of dismissing the medium of appropriation photography as an ‘easy’ way of producing photography as I had done as a first impression, if it ultimately reached the same outcome as ‘traditional’ photography, then it should be considered viable by me as another means to the same end.
I read firstly in Dyer’s (2012) article that Wolf had started off making ‘traditional’ landscapes but discovered figures inside buildings he hadn’t realised were there and how he began wondering what possible things the inhabitants of his ‘The Transparent City’ (Wolf, 2008) might be up to. I found it very thought-provoking, the conundrum that occurred to Wolf when he became aware of what some of the figures inside the buildings could potentially be doing: using Google Street View or other powerful mapping programs themselves to do something similar to what he had been doing at that very ‘moment’ – namely, making images. This was quite close to some of the picture-in-picture ideas I had been exploring in my notes and I was intrigued to see where this led.
I partially understand another Google Street View appropriator Rafman, suggesting that by selectively cropping in on certain Google Street View images: ‘The artist, in the act of framing the images, undoes familiar conventions and alters our vision of the world’ – (Rafman, 2009). However, I would say compositionally cropping alone doesn’t alter our vision of the world but perspective also. Even though I didn’t think alteration of perspective was possible with Google Street View images, it was still overwhelming the way Rafman had cropped effectively the images to suggest meaning.
Other forms of appropriation include making tapestries of famous photographs by Marc Quinn (2012), where he cleverly likens the stitches of the tapestry to the pixels of the photograph. This manipulation of pixels is one twist but differing methods and mediums can also be found utilised among many appropriation artists. One includes painting over parts of a photograph; replacing pixels or emulsion with paint, as is found controversially in the work of Richard Prince’s ‘Canal Zone’ (2008), who painted over parts of Patrick Cariou’s ‘Yes, Rasta’ (2000) Rastafarian culture photographs. In my eyes, because the ‘painting over’ was so minimal and the photographs still recognisable, Prince should have asked the permission of the photographs’ owner – Cariou. Of course, the degree the photograph was painted over by the appropriation artist would be subjective and may be a reason the case went on for a while and had implications for other appropriation artists.
So far as utilising appropriation within my own work, for the moment, my preference would be to create something that has quite a strong basis in reality; mainly because this is how I envisaged landscape practice when I embarked on the landscape part of the course. Compositionally also, I felt there was more control, where the photographer could easily affect perspective as well as framing. However, I would be very open to exploring this ‘appropriate’ avenue, if I felt it would help me to further become more creative and made sense because of a direction my work may be leading towards.
Dyer, G. (2012). How Google Street View is inspiring new photography. [Online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/jul/14/google-street-view-new-photography?intcmp=239 [Accessed 1 Jun. 2015].