Monday, July 30, 2012

The Problem with Google Street View Art

I've written about Geoff Dyer before. Since then, my ambivalence about him has only grown. In his New York Times Book Review column, for instance, he often seems to be reaching for appropriately quirky subjects. But this article in The Guardian about Google Street View Art is equal parts fascinating and disturbing, for reasons he's probably not even aware of.

Dyer rightly points out that the attraction of these images is their uncanniness, their contextlessness. We don't know where they came from or exactly what is going on in them. But he also acknowledges that they are a form of armchair art. Their makers, and by extension, their audience, is removed from the human experience contained in them.

But in a discussion of the most disturbing set of photos in the article, Dyer eventually goes even further than the artists he discusses in turning the photos' subjects into abstractions. In discussing Doug Rickard's images of what he dubs "the economically ravaged fringes of cities," he rhapsodizes about "wastelands" inhabited by "forlorn figures [who] look like they will never quite make it to the opposite kerb." 

But all I see in these images is a new way to aestheticise the poor. Those kids crossing the street aren't abstractions, and I'm pretty sure they'll make it across. They could end up as Trayvon Martin or they could end up teaching at a university, but turning them into blurred symbols for the fall of Capitalism is just another way of refusing to acknowledge the actual humanity of the poor (and it must be pointed out: black) people depicted. Worst of all, Rickard didn't even have to drive through these "wastelands" to get his images. He only had to search the Web.

1 comment:

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