Googorama -- a critique of street photography?

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by eugene_scherba, Jul 25, 2007.

  1. Thanks to monochrom, I stumbled upon this slideshow of street images captured with Google Street View, and thought it was a cool thing to share.
    Take it as a flamebait if you will, but in my view it reaffirms my suspicions that street photography is getting more and more banal -- first with digital, then with cameraphones, now with Google Street View. It always relied on the photographer "being there," and now this is not necessary anymore. Perhaps now is the time to embrace other forms of documentary.
     
  2. Banality is a perfectly respectable subject for art.

    But Street photography does not have to deal with that, so your suspicions are in error.
     
  3. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    I agree with Jacob on banality as a subject.

    I completely disagree that equipment has anything to do with what photos are showing. It's been at least five years since I saw a street fight in San Francisco. I haven't seen any major arguments on the street. The "bad" areas that were interesting have been homogenized into bland modern landscapes with anything other than walking moved into the interiors. I used to feel an edge that gave me a creative burn while walking certain neighborhoods in big cities, but not I just feel placid. This is why I have increasingly moved into shooting indoors.
     
  4. << ... It's been at least five years since I saw a street fight in San Francisco. I haven't seen any major arguments on the street. ... >>

    This is because all Bay Area residents are in basic agreement ... on everything. Can't move there unless you agree. :)

    But in seriousness, I don't think that if one finds the photos dull, the cameras are to blame.

    This much I'll say: with more and more people out photographing and "publishing" (on photo sites, facebook and similar places, and via email, etc.) there are far more photos out there -- more dull ones, but lots of good ones, too. So the challenge is to find the photos that interest you.
     
  5. I can't say I agree with much of what is being suggested here. Google Street View is not photography - it is documentation. It's a set of cameras mounted on top of a truck driving down the street capturing everything it sees. There is no thought involved, no consideration for composition, and no ambition for artistic quality of attempt to make a statement. I find it strange that it is being considered as 'photography'.
    As a comparison, is a dictionary a form of literature? Should it be compared to great novels? Should it reflect banality upon genuine attempts at literature?
    Give me a break.
     
  6. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    When did someone say there has to be thought, consideration, or ambition for photography? I've never seen any definition that says that. A lot of street photography is idle snapping while hanging around, it's the editing that usually makes it work.
     
  7. Banality is a perfectly respectable subject for art.
    Jacob, that is indeed correct. But I was not saying that street photography is becoming banal because its subject is Banal. I was saying that -- I suspect -- street photography is becoming banal because it became incredibly more pervasive than it once was -- *not* because it is "showing Banal". It think this is similar to the advent of 35mm film, when snapshot photography became incredibly more pervasive, and -- possibly, just possibly -- pushed back the acceptance of photography as an art form.
    Again, please do not misunderstand me by saying that I claim that everyday snapshots cannot be art (or that snapshot aesthetic cannot be used to make art). That's exactly what Joachim Schmid or Wolfgang Tillmans are doing, and I do not say it is not possible. My claim is that the aesthetic that relies on photographer "being there" (which is commonly found in street photography) is becoming more banal, because cameras are now everywhere.

    I completely disagree that equipment has anything to do with what photos are showing.
    Jeff, that is true of course as long as you -- the artist -- are free to choose any equipment you like. But technology is a part of our everyday life and it unavoidably influences it. Because everyday life is a subject of your photographs, it turns out that technology also influences your decisions of what to shoot and when, no matter what you're shooting with.
     
  8. Google Street View is not photography - it is documentation... There is no thought involved
    Mike, did you look at at the link I posted? Here it is again. True, there is no thought Google's lens, but this photographer, using careful cropping and "magpie-like attitude" (in a good sense) has put together a better portfolio than I see among many street photographers.
     
  9. Google Street View is not photography - it is documentation... There is no thought involved

    Mike, did you look at at the link I posted? Here it is again. True, there is no thought behind Google's lens, but this photographer, using careful cropping and "magpie-like attitude" (in a good sense) has put together a better portfolio than I see among many street photographers.
     
  10. Dammit, I forgot how to post HTML.
     
  11. Jeff, the subject here is the suggestion of banality in street photography and a link to a series of Google Street View images as the only supporting document for this statement.<br>
    Google Street View is banal by definition and by method. I can't imagine anyone seriously suggesting it be considered for anything other than what it is, simple and obviously banal documentation. Akin to a telephone book. Tell me, should a telephone book be placed in the same category as Stephen King? Shakespeake?<br>
    To answer your comment and to back up my own statement I did some quick googlesearching for you, and I learned that it was Ansel Adams that said "You don't take a photograph, you make it." This requires conscious thought. Even the most idle of "snapping while hanging around" involves thought and (hopefully) vision. Driving around in a truck with a computer snapping the shutter at everything it sees is a different category altogether.<br>
    My humblest of opinions =)
     
  12. Sorry for the double post,<br>
    Eugene, yes I looked at the link and yes I find the images to be very interesting, but the person that sat behind his computer and put these images together into a gallery shouldn't be called a photographer for it.
    I could googlesearch a whole bunch of Luis Royo's art, slap them into a gallery and be called an artist?<br>
    guys, come on...
     
  13. but the person that sat behind his computer and put these images together into a gallery shouldn't be called a photographer for it
    Why not, Mike?
    I could googlesearch a whole bunch of Luis Royo's art, slap them into a gallery and be called an artist?
    Yes, you could be called an artist if you reinterpret Luis Royo's work, which is precisely what happens in the link I posted, where the photographer repurposes and reinterprets Google Street View imagery.
     
  14. Again, this definition that the photographer "has to be there", has to "take" the picture literally is getting old and boring.
    I could hack into the security camera over in Times Square, NYC and take excellent photography with it without lifting my behind from the computer chair where I'm sitting right now.
    How does it differ from what the photographer in question is doing? He just has a little bit less control, that's all.
     
  15. Look up this guy for example: Joachim Schmid. You may not like what he's doing, but it cannot be argued that it is not art.
     
  16. should a telephone book be placed in the same category as Stephen King?
    Actually some telephone directories are the finest examples of typographic art of modern age, so you might just be wrong on that.
     
  17. Darn it all, Eugene, I wish I had some backup here =)<br>
    I don't know. I don't claim to know everything but I also don't think the views I'm expressing here are out of the ordinary.<br>
    Look, the gallery in question is a database of images, most of which are throwaway shots that Google funded and that someone independently sorted though and posted the ones found that were interesting. Maybe the answer is in the way we define 'photographer'. For me that means being there, holding a camera, seeing something you feel is worthy, thinking about what you are doing, and pressing the shutter.
    "Photographer" does not mean sorting through images as described above, that would be the job of, say, a digital artist or a database manager but certainly not a photographer.<br>
    Now, if it was someone's conscious thought to mount their camera on the top of their van, drive around snapping millions of pictures and then sort through to find the "good" ones, then I suppose I have to concede that, yes, that would be a form of photography, wouldn't it. Heck, we've all done blocking or bracketing haven't we? Just not to such an extent.<br>
    Personally I just don't find this to be such a case as the intent to do so was never there and the person who put this gallery together wasn't there and didn't hold the camera. I also don't think that Goole Street View reflects on the genre of street photography as a whole.<br>
    That said, I'm going to run away now =) Good luck in your quest and thank you, sincerely, for an interesting topic to think about.
     
  18. ". "Photographer" does not mean sorting through images as described above, that would be the job of, say, a digital artist or a database manager but certainly not a photographer."

    Perhaps "curator" is the word you are looking for? Curator of Google found views?
     
  19. the problem is the definition:<br>
    Joachim Schmid's work (from what I read) is not photography, but certainly can be considered an art form. Also I wonder about it's relevance to the debate at hand.<br>
    Whether you are in control of a camera half a world away, or you have a nice, long lens, then you are "there" and you are taking the picture, aren't you? Google Database does not offer this kind of power, does it?<br>
    Again, in the definition, typographic art is not to be lumped into the same category as a Stephen King novel or a Shakespearean play.
     
  20. Curator of Google found views?
    Nope. Curator sorts through artists, not through images per se.
    Joachim Schmid's work (from what I read) is not photography
    Well, it deals with photography doesn't it?
     
  21. People often seem to have trouble with the definition of 'artist'. I think in the art world it is generally accepted that the older definition which included an exposition of skill and the act of creating something is no longer exclusively held. Artists like Duchamp and Jeff Coons (who is more like a project manager than a craftsman) probably finished that one off. So using the skill or craft of photography is probably not a requirement for calling oneself a photographer any more. In that case collating images from other sources (found photos, security cameras, web pages, whatever) does probably qualify an artist as a photographer.


    Who knows!
     
  22. Somebody sorted through a bunch of banal images and found a few real winners--nothing
    new there. Seems to me mostly what separates boring street from good street is editing.

    Is "1964" a great book because Garry got a winner every time, or because Trudy Wilner-
    Stack is a great editor? I mean, I love Winogrand, but my money's on her.

    "Art" is about creating something awesome that wasn't there before. If your raw material is
    a bunch of random Google shots, so be it.
     
  23. Somebody sorted through a bunch of banal images and found a few real winners--nothing new there
    You did not bother to study the subject before posting, did you?
     
  24. "Art" is about creating something awesome that wasn't there before.
    Please let us stop with defining what art is and get back to the subject. Being smart is also art in a sense, and smart people do not discuss a subject like this without doing some homework.
     
  25. I guess it really comes down to the rule of math. The more pictures taken the more likely an extraordinary image will occur. At least that is what it appears to be. If this is true, we may be seeing some great stuff coming out of London since AFAIK there are now cameras on just about every street corner. Maybe some of us here should offer to serve as a panel of sorts and sift through it all searching for these extraordinary images (however we may define such an image).

    Remember several weeks ago in the news there was that story of the young woman somewhere in the Mid-West or back east who was stabbed at a gas station and she walked into the mini-mart and collapsed on the floor in front of the counter? The security camera showed how people just went about their business and stepping over her to get to the counter as she bled to death. One person actually took a cell phone picture and later uploaded to some website. I wonder what kind of person would do that. Then I wonder if society has always been like this or if this is just a sign of the times and if so how much more worse it's going to get.
     
  26. Marc, thanks for a solid reasonable response
    <br /><br />
    At least someone doesn't take up the discussion of what is art
    without first graduating from an elementary.
    <br /><br />
    Yes, I know about the stabbing story you mentioned and had it in the
    back of my had for a while recently.
    <br /><br />
    As a kid (10 years old), I remember myself and peers going to a
    scene of a terrible accident where an elderly woman was run over by
    a freight train (almost nothing remained of her), and to this day
    I've been wondering whether that was a guilty thing to do or not. We
    could not have helped her anymore. Was it moral to go watch the
    gruesome scene? It probably wasn't, but as a kid I did not know
    that.
    <br /><br />
    So there are moral issues involved when we have an "overarching" eye
    that allows us to see everything. That is one of the conclusions.
    <br /><br />
    Can we make art out of it?
    <br /><br />
    The line is much more blurry than it seems at first. Above I
    described a hypothetical example of a "hacker-photographer" taking
    over a security camera and controlling it remotely to take street
    photography or art photos or whatever you want to call it.
    <br /><br />
    However, let's say that this "hacker-photographer" has a dayjob and
    he/she knows something important or interesting is going to happen
    over
    at Times Square during the day. So he/she
    decides to let the camera take pictures unattended at regular time
    intervals.
    <br /><br />
    Next day the "hacker-photographer" comes back, sorts through the
    pictures and discovers
    (however unlikely) that the camera has taken, among a whole bunch of
    trash, a few incredible,
    smashing, artistic pictures. The "hacker-photographer" is not
    surprised, because,
    as everyone knows, if you take enough pictures, you are bound to
    take one or two decent ones even if you're a bad photographer.
    <br /><br />
    So the "hacker-photographer" goes and publishes the photos. Is the
    he/she an artist? That depends on the pictures and the intention. Is
    he/she a photographer? But of course!
    <br /><br />
    Yet another day the "hacker-photographer" discovers that he/she
    forgot to
    turn off the camera, and the camera has been continuing to take
    pictures. In other words, we have an equivalent of Google Street
    View Camera taken pictures without the photographer's knowledge or
    authorization, and then we have the photographer sorting through the
    images.
    <br /><br />
    Is he/she still a photographer? But of course!
     
  27. One day we will be able to walk up to a robot and say: "Go take
    pictures of this, that so they look such and such." <br />Will we be
    still
    photographers? Yes.
    <br /><br />
    Now what if we tell the robot to take pictures *at random* and then
    sort through them and choose the best ones. <br />Are we still
    photographers? Yes.
     
  28. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    I always thought the Patty Hearst bank robbery photos were terrific. They should have been handed over to a good darkroom person and turned into gallery pieces. Better than what many photographers shoot.
     
  29. Is there life on mars ? Will we photograph it ? Will we be sending robots up there telling
    them to go photograph something ? Are spaceengineers photographers ? If the universe is
    everything and everything is in the world and the world is being photographed then the
    universe is a photographer ? If we tell a robot to go eat something at random will we still
    be hungry ? But of course !
     
  30. "I was saying that -- I suspect -- street photography is becoming banal because it became incredibly more pervasive than it once was"

    Then you might as well say the same for photography in general. This generation is being overwhelmed with visual input to an extent humans never were previously.

    We see more photos, which by definition means were see more crap photos, more banal photos ... but also more exciting photos, more new photos, more photographers than ever possible before as well.

    The Google "portfolio" does have some interesting images. But that's not unexpected -- after all, 1) editing shapes vision, 2) editing makes or breaks one's work, as Jeff notes, and 3) 'found objects' can be just as much art pieces as thoughtfully constructed art.

    "Now what if we tell the robot to take pictures *at random* and then sort through them and choose the best ones. Are we still photographers? Yes."

    Yes, the conscious editing is an artistic process. Editing found objects and elevating them to highlight the process of the aesthetic editding focus of the artist. Might not be great art (maybe it could be) but it's art.
     
  31. Hey Phylo, watch out, there is a big space Hoobastank coming to get
    you.
     
  32. "Curator of Google found views?

    Nope. Curator sorts through artists, not through images per se."

    I don't think that's right. What curator has no say about which works go into an exhibition? Curators choose themes to illustrate, do they not?

    Surveillance cams or google vans could each be considered sources of artwork waiting for someone to organize and distill meaning from the images.
     
  33. "Will we be sending robots up there telling them to go photograph something ? "

    Phylo, It has been done already and they remain some of the most viewed images of all time. Check out NASA's site.

    So, nothing is new with Googlecam.
     
  34. Hi =) 24 hours later I still don't buy it and I'm just shaking my head.<br>
    If I find a photo, lying on the ground, I am suddenly a photographer? If I find a painting floating down the river, I am suddenly a painter? If I find a handcrafted cuckoo clock in the garbage, I am suddenly a carpenter?<br>
    My goodness, I think I'm going to have to update my resume!<br>
    Not to mention that google street view images are copyright (http://www.google.com/intl/en_us/help/terms_maps.html - look under "Photographic Imagery"). Therefore "Mr. Photographer" sifting through the database, cropping and presenting an image he likes is stealing, right? As I said before this process doesn't make him a photographer and now it makes him a thief.<br>
    But I don't think I'm going to sway anyones opinions here =)<br>
    Answer me this off topic question, would you like to see "found art" like this google database stuff posted on Photonet? "hey everyone, look at what I did, I am a great photographer, huh?"<br>
    Think film (movies). A filmstrip has thousands and thousands of individual photos. There are many famous photos that were produced by presenting a single frame from a motion picture. Who is the photographer here, the man in control of the camera (whether it is a remote control camera on mars or a handheld inches from the subject), seeing and capturing the picture, or the man who does the grunt work of editing that one picture out.<br>
    Harrumph!
     
  35. pho?tog?ra?pher
    a person who takes photographs, esp. one who practices photography professionally.

    done.
     
  36. If you find a piece of driftwood in an interesting formation and call it art, are you an artist?
    Anyone who knows the name Duchamp knows the anser to that question.
     
  37. HAHA! I was just going to mention Duchamp and his infamous entry (what was it named again...Edgar Mutt?) into an art exhibit whose name escapes my. Talk about irony huh?

    Anyone see the 1986 film from Argentina "Man Facing Southwest"? In it a man (actually an alien) listens to an organ being played. He asks "Where lies the magic? Is it in the organ player? In the organ? In the person who wrote the music? In the people who listen to it?"

    I say all of the above. Just today as I was driving home from work I listened to a cd of some piano concertos by Mozart. These past few weeks have been pretty bad for me especially the past few days. Just hearing this extraordinary music lifted my spirits like nothing else.
    It was like nothing else in the world mattered then this music. This is why Mozart is held in such high esteem. In any art the cream will always rise to the top. This may happen after such an artist is dead of course but still...think what would have happened if Mozart or any other artist decided to follow the straight and narrow and become a so called "productive" member of society. It has always seemed to me that artists create because they have to not because they want to.
     
  38. What curator has no say about which works go into an exhibition? Curators choose themes to illustrate, do they not?
    Yes, but they do not sort through raw imagery.
     
  39. Maybe there is more to StreetView than is immediately obvious. People might find this talk interesting: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/129
     
  40. Surely a photographer is someone who thinks about a shot before physically taking it, and then presents the shots. This Google street view - well, none of the images is thought about by a person prior to being captured and so there is no photographer involved. But the images are then presented. So the person who has presented them is just a presenter who has selected ones of interest.
     
  41. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    Surely a photographer is someone who thinks about a shot before physically taking it
    Where is that required?
     
  42. Jeff, I don't know where that's required - but in my mind (addled though it may be!) a photographer is someone who takes a photograph with camera in hand and looking through the viewfinder (or whatever). Somehow, I don't think that if I just set up a video camera somewhere, left it, then went through the tape doing the occasional screen capture of interesting images that it would be quite the same as photography - I'd just be sorting through millions of randomly captured images for a few that looked good, rather than being there at the time they took place, deciding they were interesting and then photographing them. It seems to devalue the whole process of taking the photograph.

    But then again, I can see you point. I guess it's no different from someone using a camera, going snap snap snap snap snap pretty much without thought, and finding a few good images out of hundreds. Someone who works like this would, I suppose, still be a photographer in the sense the the end result is a collection of photographs.
     
  43. I'm interested in exploring this idea that there's an assumed link between a photographer (defined as a person directly involved with creating a photograph) and the creation of imagery 'en masse'.

    The traditional idea of a photographer has been a person who composes images into a photographic recording device of a particular perspective from the objective environment, with the intention of purposefully creating some sort of photographic image. So there's the idea of 'intent'.

    But perhaps we've moved into a realm where a photographer now is a person who composes images, not from the objective environment, but from the virtual environment of mass preassembled imagery. In theory, if every possible angle and perspective were available for selection within the virtual universal image bank, then the job of a photographer is really that of editing.

    Sort of like Photoshop, where you first create an image bank of 'raw' files, then edit and adjust to create the finished image.

    Also like what photography has always been about: the question of where do you put the four edges of the border that define the frame.
     
  44. Boring.

    Great stuff for boring people,who live boring lives,who take boring photos. And then kiss each other when they have taken a crap photo of a broomstick. And then they have a lovin.

    Actually, i actually looked ar one. Some folk crossing a street...too exciting for me to look anymore.
     
  45. There's something I read abou the other day called Wayfinder or something lie that. It's a software app for mobiles phones with GPS capability that makes the phone automatically take pictures and logs the point where the picture was taken. You strap the phone onto your arm or whatever as you're walking around. I wish I could remember more of the details.
     

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