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New Art Exhibit Highlights Google Street View Images

Sometimes Google captures more than just addresses. Credit: Jon Rafman and Google

With the introduction of the first camera, machines began mediating how people view one another. More recently, the Google Street View camera has taken that process a step further, removing the photographer all together so that only the camera and the subject remain. Artist Jon Rafman curates and presents the shots taken by Google's roving eye to create photographic collections that highlight just how profoundly Google has affected human interactions.

Rafman's work appears both in "Free," an exhibit currently showing at the New Museum in New York City, and on his website. The collection shows people at their most candid, confrontational, and vulnerable, while reflexively highlightingthe uncaring, HAL 9000-like eye that observed them in the first place.

"With Street View, you have this camera that’s passing by purely by chance, with no mission other than recording data. That restored a distance between the photographer and subject, which added to the authenticity," Rafman told TechNewsDaily. "It is documentary photography taken to its ultimate conclusion."

To create the collection, Rafman scoured thousands ofGoogle Street View images, picking about 15 percent of them out for further consideration. That collaboration between man and machine adds another dimension to the work, which Rafman sees as give-and-take between his judgmental, human mind and the emotionless, thoughtless device that first snapped the images.

"I feel like these Google programs are an extension of my own mind," Rafman said. "We didn’t think of this when the idea of the cyborg first emerged, you think of metal bonded to flesh like the terminator. But when I’m surfing the Internet, I feel like that’s almost what a true cyborg is, because it’s human agency mixed in with these powerful machines, almost seamlessly."

The exhibit "Free" will run through January 23rd, and a larger collection of the pictures Rafman culled from Google can be viewed at

Stuart Fox currently researches and develops physical and digital exhibit experiences at the Science Liberty Center. His news writing includes the likes of several Purch sites, including Live Science and Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries.