Saturday, September 24, 2011
Michael Wolf: A Series Of Unfortunate Events As Presented By Google Street View
Posted by Jay at 6:54 PM
What defines street photography from other forms of visual documentary? At its purest, street photography is just that: objectively photographing what happens on the streets. That definition might be stretched to include works that have been digitally manipulated, but what about images that have been photographed by someone, or more accurately, something else? Michael Wolf asks that question through his unique street photography as presented through the eyes of Google Street View cameras in a project entitled "A Series Of Unfortunate Events".
Michael Wolf is a photojournalist who has already gained fame for two different but equally powerful projects: he won the first prize in the World Press Photo's Contemporary Issues Category in 2004 for his photographs of China as the Factory of the World; and another first prize from the same organization in the Daily Life Category in 2009 for his Tokyo Compression story on the crowded city of the same name. His latest claim to fame is his project Street View: A Series of Unfortunate Events which collects images with the ill-fated theme, all from Google Street View.
For anyone not yet familiar with Google Street View, the service gives online viewers an almost eye-level view of the streets and roads of most of the cities of the world. Since its inception almost five years ago, Street View has allowed users to virtually roam the streets of other countries from the comfort of their homes. In his Unfortunate Events series, Wolf uses these Street View captures but selects only those images that are less than photogenic, to put it lightly.
The idea of scouring Street View for unusual happenings isn't new; a quick search will yield dozens of websites and hundreds of images to that query, but Wolf took it to a whole other level. The photographer submitted a handful of these personally selected images to the prestigious World Press Photo Awards this year. To the surprise of some viewers and critics, and even to Wolf himself, his entry earned an Honorable Mention in the Contemporary Issues category.
To those who didn't quite agree that Wolf's entry was in line with the WPP's standards for photography, Wolf defended his work, explaining that with the influx of digital images today, it's about time that someone "curate them or incorporate them into our work."
Between the accusations of appropriating (or some would say stealing) from Google and lowering the standards of photojournalism, Wolf has managed to put into the spotlight what would otherwise have been relegated to the funny pages of the internet. It is indeed street photography, in some sense at least, but one for the 21st century. After all, what better medium to continue the legacy of street photography than through a service aptly called Street View?
In addition, good photojournalism is supposed to provoke relevant discussion on the subject matter. In this case, issues on privacy, art, and even photojournalism itself are again being questioned. Still, many argue that the World Press Photo Award was a bit much for a collection of images taken with a camera mounted on a tripod and aimed at the computer screen, as Wolf did to capture these stills.
Whether or not you agree with the photographer's rationalization, the Google Street View images themselves are quite amusing. Michael Wolf's website is here. Some more images from his Series of Unfortunate Events are also on his website. Be sure to check out Wolf's other award-winning projects here and here.