Monday, January 9, 2012

Google Shadows

Google Maps has brought a kind of global-scale snapshot aesthetic into the 21st century.  Around the world, streets and homes and buildings and cities are photographed, and millions of people are backgrounded and foregrounded, strolling extras and wandering innocents (mostly), their faces blurred into indistinct, Francis Bacon-like visages. Recently, visual artists Jon Rafman (here) and Avi Steinberg (here) have written about the remarkable accidental but wildly intriguing imagery that Google Street View has captured in its insistent, egalitarian mapping of the world, from wild horses to burning homes to robberies to nudity to despair to revelry to tragedy.  The narratives, half-baked, wholly imagined, are riveting. The World Book Encyclopedia was enough to keep me occupied for hours when I was a kid; if Google Maps existed then, I might've never left the house.  With improved 3-D imagery and satellite clarity, we can now virtually fly-over old neighborhoods or places we haven't yet visited, Peeping Toms with wings.

Surprises abound. I've written before about my lack of photos of myself, so it was amusing to me when I saw that Google Maps has helped to rectify that.  I recently took a look at the view of our street, having read that the camera-mounted Google Map vehicles had made a re-sweep through the DeKalb area last summer, and that the satellite imagery had been updated, as well.  Nothing terribly new about the image of our house, but as I zoomed in I noticed a small but bright yellow disc of light on our back deck—strange—and, zooming in to the highest degree, spotted Amy's and my shadows on the deck.  What were we doing at that precise moment? Standing, yes. Talking?  Looking into the yard? A moment—likely trivial, unimportant, not even significant to ourselves in hindsight, probably—captured forever, or until the next Google Maps update.  It's an eerie thing, to learn that you've been photographed without knowing it, this strangeness more keenly felt when what's been captured is your thin, faceless shadow—elongated, exaggerated, rendered surreal. An ordinary moment caught in high-resolution and yet grainy in its drama, an odd gift via aerial or satellite.

Our street.

Our house.

Just us and our shadows.

And what's that bright yellow disc? I may never know.

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