GOOGLE STREET VIEW: A New American Picture

Doug Rickard

#44.779976, Chicago, IL (2007), 2010 by Doug Rickard

A lot is made of the way that architects are educated. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard some version of: “architectural thinking can be applied to any problem.” As I’ve wrestled with this idea over the years – at times feeling that it diminishes other professions or overstates our capacity – I’ve begun to identify a few aspects of architectural training that I believe support this bold claim. I’ll share one in my post today.

Because architecture operates at such large scales, architects – by necessity – become professionals at breaking the world down into simpler (or more complex) constituent parts. Whether its called mapping, cataloging, taxonomizing*, typologizing* or a million other (sometimes made-up) names, it all points to the same desire to see the world as it is and imagine what it could be. My blog colleagues have written about this tendency in many of their posts so I won’t spend too long dwelling on it, but this phenomenon presents itself differently depending on the thing being studied or the idea that one is trying to communicate. We see it surface as geographic maps, infographics, a cleverly cut section, a compelling mash-up of charts, and on and on.

I say all of this, because lately I’ve realized that the Google Street View project could be seen as the world’s most meticulous and thorough mapping operation. Obviously the project is in some ways a literal mapping  – its stated aims are geographical and functional – but because photography is pseudo-indexical at best and highly dependent on framing, timing and light the Street View project becomes an interesting lens through which to see our cities.

Apparently Doug Rickard feels the same way. In his “A New American Picture” series, he selects photos from Google’s Street View based on his own set of aesthetic criteria. He names them with a series of four pieces of metadata: geographic marker, city name, the date the image was recorded and the date he reappropriated it.  I love the results for their unexpected beauty: Rickard gets me thinking that Google Street View is Jose Camilo Vergara 2.0 – technologically omnipotent, but similarly significant for cataloging neighborhood change.

Camden Series, Jose Vergara

Fern Street in N. Camden, NJ from 1979-2004 (Clockwise from top left 1979, 1988, 1997, 2004), Camilo José Vergara

*These are real words that sound a lot like fake ones.

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2 comments

  1. mikepellas · · Reply

    Loved the Vergara. I am located on a very busy street in my city that has an extensive photographic history. It’s interesting to look at my neighborhood, what is was, what it is, and how the city has tried to force change. For something as organic as a city, it should be easy to realize change should be and will be natural you just have to keep a close eye on it.

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