Hand Job Under a Manchester Underpass

The first time I experienced Street View it registered as a shock. The type of shock that is rare for someone who has lived in a large city for a long time. Its arrival appeared with a generalised anxiety. It initially awoke collective fears about privacy. Newspaper articles debated questions as banal as; could it be used by criminals to plan robberies? Can the cameras see into my house? Will I be caught in an embarrassing act like the famous examples of the people photographed leaving a sex shop, vomiting in the street, being arrested or being given a hand job under a Manchester underpass?

I was instantly captivated by Street View and its hyper-real parallel universe. I hoped the privacy lobby wouldn’t turn Street View into a morally sanitised ideal representation of the streets. Street View would loose its seduction if the possibility of stumbling across the seedier sides of urban life were airbrushed away, the moral brigade finally getting to recreate the city as they would like it to be rather than how it is. Questions of morality and privacy seem to miss the fundamental essence of the shock. On experiencing Street View I intuitively recognised a more fundamental process coming into being. Street View represented the first real attempt of the digital to breach its own boundaries. Mapping a territory is well known to be a prelude to colonisation, but no colonial power ever documented a territory to the level Google has mapped the physical world. Google maps, GPS, and Street View combine to form an abstraction of the physical world. The would-be digital colonists of the physical have taken radical geography seriously. They have read de Certeau, and paid attention to mapping both the totalizing overview and the view from street level. Cartesian mapping is employed to enable social tagging.

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John Wild

John Wild is a London based artist who works across photography, video, sculpture, code and performance to explore and reimaging the digitally expanded city.

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