Sometimes I drive out to Topanga,
and I park my car in the sand.
—John Phillips, “Topanga Canyon”
We wander for the sense of place that our journey grants. If we return with photographs, it is to inculcate that sense into the images. When wandering a virtual representation of urban space—for example, Google’s Street View product—I find certain advantages: I can visit fondly remembered places that are no longer accessible, as well as those to which I desire to journey. I like to photograph into the light, and due to the 360 degrees of view captured, there is almost always an angle toward the sun, so long as the day is not overcast. I can look for the humanity of the Street View vehicle’s operator, beneath the precision of the methodical imagemaking, in stops snuck at cafés or gas stations. The altitude of the camera is wonderful—there is no better photographer’s tool than the stepladder, and the Street View images, thoughtfully, are made from a camera bound to the top of a car. Because the car drives down the center of streets, the images tend to be clear and unobstructed. Of course, there is some challenge to working with these images. Unlike a photo editor who is in dialogue with dedicated journalists seeking truth or glory, as a Street View culler I’m more akin to a security guard monitoring too many opportunely placed surveillance cameras. Not to mention the difficulties of a stiff interface, low-resolution imagery, a pre-positioned camera, and the continual overlay of extraneous data.
If I find an image, I feel in no way that I am appropriating it (that was ’90s art-speak for an attempt to lessen the inspiration of others to the cynicism of the appropriator). In contrast, Street View culling tries to return an aura to a mechanically produced series of photographs. This is in line with the photographer’s task: to find meaning and personal feeling in a view of the world, though sadly one now distanced to behind keyboard and monitor.