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Google FloorView

An expert image erases the trail of its creation. That is, it hides its own production so that it comes to seem like a window onto reality somewhere else. We're not supposed to see the armature, the seams, the editing afterward, nor are we supposed to consider what's outside the frame. The most effective imagery presents itself as self-evident.

This also means that the most effective imagery is the most insidious, because it circumvents a critical way of looking. In a time when images are used not only to sell us things but to convince us of certain realities or events ("The Gulf War never happened," said Baudrillard), it would be not only foolish but irresponsible to accept images at face value. So any instances of those seams – any interruptions – are of increasing value in understanding systems of production that work too well or quietly for us to notice them. Speaking of the Google Earth glitches he collects, in which roads melt into canyons and rivers because of limitations in the mapping system Univeral Texture, Clement Valla noted that "[t]hey are created by an algorithm that finds nothing wrong in these moments. They are less a creation, than a kind of fact - a representation of the laws of the Universal Texture. As a collection the anomalies are a weird natural history of Google Earth’s software. They are strange new typologies, representative of a particular digital process."

When Google StreetView first came onto the scene, it was possible at any point to scroll down and see the top of the StreetView car itself. Over time the car disappeared, one step toward producing a seamless image world so convincing that a few people actually asked me whether it somehow existed in real time. Nowadays the only signs of the car -- a symbol, in this case, of the production of imagery that tries to appear sui generis -- are the occasional shadow of the car (with a soccer-ball-like thing atop it), a few reflections in mirrors and windows, and even fewer instances in which StreetView goes through an In-n-Out drive-thru, a reminder that the human inside must eat. There was the time the StreetView car hit a deer, an indication not only of the image production's physicality but also its temporality (the deer is upright, the deer is falling, the deer is down). A few drivers have been caught up close in the imagery, cleaning the camera and inadvertently offering a view up their nostrils. But the car itself has been erased, and Google Streetview exists like a series of navigable image-tubes born from nowhere.

In 2011, Google began offering the opportunity to "Look Inside" participating businesses, many of which are in my immediate neighborhood. From the point of view of a Google Maps user, this simply represented a magical addition to the availability of StreetView imagery, an expansion of access no different from that already granted so far. But as Joanne McNeil noted in her New Aesthetic talk at SXSW that year, this move had entirely different and more complex implications for the people and spaces caught on camera than traditional StreetView did. It is also produced differently, usually by a person entering the space with a tripod. Now, if one scrolls down in one of these businesses, there appears to be a sort of singularity or badly-healed scar at the center of the image-- or in the case of outdoor panorama points, a black void reminiscent of of a Mandelbrot set. But, just barely, you can see the tripod legs sticking out from that void: the last reminder of how each and every one of these images was produced by a certain person at a certain time under certain circumstances. The practice of collecting these accidental footprints is meant as a metonym for the ability to find the same seams everywhere else. While we walk through a series of produced realities, that production is often right under our feet.

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