From Things seen on Street View (2009)
The word simulacrum infers that one of these two identical objects is inferior to the other, but which of these images is the shadow version? The second image is less blurred while the first appears to be racing over Blackfriars Bridge towards its more sharply focused doppelganger. Plato would, one can reasonably infer, identify the second vehicle as the simulacrum, as it is intentionally distorted, the speed with which it moves is disguised by the speed of the camera, enabling us to see it as if frozen in place. In Baudrillard’s words: It masks the absence of a basic reality.
Depicting Speed, Street View, Blackfriars Bridge
Is Street View a form of High Speed photography or its opposite, a time lapse system? The glibbest answer is to claim it is both. It is a system of photographs taken over time and distance. Depicted above, is a movement, not exactly frozen but reduced to an incomplete blur, an illogical slow-mo. To my surprise the origins of slow- motion are attributed to the sixteenth century poet Edmund Spenser, his poem The Faerie Queene13 repeats the lines “So downe he fell” in such a way as to decelerate the action of this brutally fast-moving stanza, the poetic equivalent of time-lapse:
“So downe he fell, and forth his life did breath, That vanisht into smoke and cloudes swift;
So downe he fell, that th’earth him vnderneath Did grone, as feeble so great load to lift;
So downe he fell, as an huge rockie clift,
Whose false foundation waues haue washt away, With dreadfull poyse is from the mayneland rift, And rolling downe, great Neptune doth dismay;
So downe he fell, and like an heaped mountaine lay.”
The invention of mirrors in the fifteenth century enabled artists to signify themselves with what we consider a high degree of verisimilitude. The image above, however, is more than a self-portrait, it belongs to a genre of representation in which the artist depicts an assemblage of images, (including his/her own) producing a work that has compound functions; one thinks of Velázquez peering out from Las Meninas or Van Eyck reflected in the Arnolfini portrait. These works are multi-disciplinary: historical, ethnographic, psychological, socio-political and poetical. On self- portraiture Van Gogh wrote: ‘it is more than nature, it is a kind of revelation’.
Very Small Objects
Small things do not thrive on Street View, it is prone to favour near and middle sized elements and distances. Small objects emerge in a difficult blur. The number six illustrated above, for example, is not well grounded on the door; the texture of the door itself is also lost. In 2004 Brian Collier of Bloomington, Illinois published the very useful ‘Collier Classification System for Very Small Objects’. Despite the lack of detail available via Street View it is still possible to use Collier’s Classification System, to collect, name and classify very small objects.
The number six is too large to meet Collier’s criteria for a very small object (defined as being 8mm by 8mm by 25 mm long, and neither living or dead, gaseous or liquid). The Street View user wishing to start a collection of Very Small Objects is therefore faced with an exceptionally difficult task, identifying on the one hand and the even more complex task, on the other, of naming. While one might grasp that there is an object suitable for Collier’s specification there is unlikely to be sufficient detail to assist in its naming, despite his exhaustive classification charts.
Reporting a Problem
Today I reported the decapitation on York Road to the anonymous Google Maps Team. This is what I wrote: There is a severed head in the image, have the police been informed? Is this a suitable image for children or the highly strung? The automated reply I have received so far is:
According to our records, you recently submitted a report regarding an inappropriate image in Street View on Google Maps. We are currently reviewing the material you reported to determine whether the image should be removed from the product. We appreciate your assistance.
The Google Maps Team
The sky is like a canopy of silk that separates us from other worlds. It spreads itself over enormous distances but its depth is minimal. In Street View there are many gaps to be found in its crude patchwork, through which, it seems, one can glimpse abnormal intimations of other territories and second-order worlds. Likewise vestiges of reality do occasionally appear through the ruined surfaces of Street View, a friend walking home from work, a familiar gesture, a meaningful difference between the map and the territory. A lamppost shifts to the right so that it may fit into the frame.
Vestiges of reality: A friend seen on Street View
William B saunters through Street View with the ease and grace of a generation not merely accustomed to continual surveillance (which may be interchangeable with a ubiquitous sort of fame), but in constant gestural anticipation of it. Each step he takes is poised and camera ready. As he turns to face the Street-View car there is a look, not of terrified outrage (the stare my own generation might return) but adolescent weariness with the uninteresting paparazzatic mechanism. For William B this is no more than a quotidian nuisance, the price one pays for the limitless self-diffusion each day will bring.