Google Maps Experiments

Street View

The images shown in Google Maps are a collaboration with Google Earth. Street View images are referenced with third party satellite data to create a seemingly whole image. Dramatically slowing down the transition reveals how incoherent the image actually is. Slowness creates space to contemplate what we are being shown. It does not look the same zooming out as it does zooming in, and it appears as if the image is created anew each time.

Renarrativizing the Screen

Some wealthier neighbourhoods in Los Angeles County are not accessible on Google Street View. This raises questions around who has the privilege of privacy within the visual construction of urban space, and what that privilege looks like. Filming the screen applies traditional camera perspectives and techniques to the space of Google Maps. As Giuliana Bruno has argued, film is the most appropriate way to research architecture and space. A handheld camera allows for focus on details that might seem irrelevant for navigational purposes, but which can provide insight into Google Maps’ field of vision. Handheld camerawork also produces a particular affect of physically being in the space, which addresses an expectation around who and what constitutes normative surveillance. Boundaries between public and private in these neighbourhoods are visualized through a mix of infrastructural and personal constructions: hedges, gates, sidewalks, fences, telephone wires, manicured lawns. What is the role of Google Maps in this mediation? It’s not simply a mediation but a construction of representation around the ownership of space, a representation partly informed by values of legibility and surveillance.

Google Maps as Archive

Google Maps is also a somewhat open ended resource for other kinds of research. It distributes both Google’s images and 360 images taken by anyone. This helped me to expand my research into the post-industrialism of Hamilton, Ontario and create a richer story. For example, moving back in the Google Maps timeline allowed me to visualize a workers strike at a major steel production plant, which prompted me to look into it. This was purely accidental as obviously the Google car was not there to document the strike. The far reaching technopower of Google Maps means that more moments like this in cities everywhere become archived and narrativized. How is that valuable, and how is that dangerous? Of course, Google does not really have the best interest of these communities in mind. Through their endeavours towards complete visibility and navigation, they are creating a visualization of urban history that is biased towards their interests. This history also includes the perspectives and images uploaded by the public. I’m interested in moments where the image falls apart, or becomes ambiguous. Seams mismatch, a ghostly figure lingers, or scenes out of context become strange. This signals an opportunity to creatively intervene in this particular construction of seeing urban space.