Google Street View As Art: Modern Portraits of the Poorest Neighborhoods in America

There are many artists who use Google’s all-seeing eye as ready-made material for their work, but Doug Rickard’s series “A New American Picture” sources Google Street View to create a beautiful and melancholy new photographic document of the United States.

Although I didn’t see the exhibition in person, which debuted in Paris last year and finished last week at Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco, Rickard’s careful selection of images made by Google’s roving cameras struck me for their surreal, impressionistic portrayals of downtrodden outskirts of U.S. cities such as New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore, Jersey City, Fresno or Dallas. Editing from the massive internet archive, Rickard picks out unexpected portraits taken by Google Street View camera cars and creates a cohesive, autonomous portrait of our bleak and forgotten streets.

Doug Rickard, #41.779976, Chicago, IL (2007), 2011, from the series A New American Picture, Archival Pigment Print

Doug Rickard, #33.665001, Atlanta, GA (2009), 2011, from the series A New American Picture, Archival Pigment Print

Doug Rickard, #39.177833, Baltimore, MD (2008), 2011, from the series A New American Picture, Archival Pigment Print

Doug Rickard, #82.948842, Detroit, MI (2009), 2010, from the series A New American Picture, Archival Pigment Print

Doug Rickard   #96.749058, Dallas, TX (2008), 2010, from the series A New American Picture, Archival Pigment Print

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Some may say Rickard is not a photographer, but just an appropriation artist who recycles images from the internet. But I believe Rickard is the modern, Google-augmented, cyborg descendent of photographers like Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, or Gordon Parks (to name a few) who were employed by the Farm Security Administration from 1935-44 to document the U.S. during the Great Depression. As part of a New Deal program, these photographers had the task of “introducing America to Americans,” and were essential in bringing the plight of the rural farmer into the public eye.

Rickard turns the accidentally captured political. And like the great photographers before him, he documents inhabitants of a derelict American backdrop: the site of a widening economic gap between these portraits’ viewers and subjects. Rickard employs Google’s tool not for its voyeuristic potential but to make visible the often-neglected and under-represented corners of the U.S. landscape. Rickard’s photos of the faces blurred by Google technology are poignant; how much of the “Great Recession” is out of sight, out of mind, but there, archived on the Net for discovering, if we just look?

All Images © Doug Rickard, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York