The internet is the wild west of the digital age, they like to tell us. And Canadian artist, Jon Rafman is the roaming visual aesthete, constantly seeking every corner of the globe for inspirational occurrences. These aren't staged for him to capture, as conventional photography dictates. Instead, they are natural fleeting moments. And, Google Street View's fleet of hybrid automobiles - each equipped with a GPS, three laser range scanners and nine digital cameras mounted on an eight foot pole - do most of the leg work. As he puts it, "this is online surveillance made 'friendly'… gradually transformed into an accepted spectacle."
Rafman's fascination is two-fold. Like most people, he is attracted to the wonders of daily life as it unfolds before our eyes. Moreover, whilst the all-seeing digi-cams may satisfy any voyeuristic impulses, the Google Earth perspective is entirely neutral. There is no cameraman with any agenda; it is all automated reportage.
He takes this genuinely raw material and curates it, either in reference to older photographic styles - street, landscape, family portraits and so on - or by incorporating critical aesthetic theory. Colour and composition also play their part. As does camera "shake" - a digital aberration that he enjoys integrating into an image.
Google's premise is that the Street View images form an essential function in organising the world's information, making it universally accessible. Rafman's edit invites us, as typically curious external participants, to place context on the images. He shows a hooker approaching a truck by the motorway lay-by. The all-seeing eyes have revealed a unique private moment, now for anyone to observe. Inadvertently, of course. A lone tiger paces nonchalantly across the open courtyard of a highway settlement. Natural fires spark devastation of vulnerable forestry. Google's moral indifference is now infused with a series of open-ended social codes for each viewer to interpret.
Unknown Road, Shetland Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom
3081 Valmont Road, Boulder, Colorado, United States (2012)
Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, Johannesburg, South Africa (2010)
Mexico 178, Yucatan, Mexico, (2012)