[NYC] Viewing streets differently through googly eyes

As Google forges ahead on its neverending quest for world domination, artists, parasites, hackers and developers continue to mine its data, reappropriate its images and misappropriate its misrepresentation. When it comes to the ubiquitous Street View and Google Earth, the applications are endless. Its topological texturing algorithm may be patented, but the API is free.

The latest in a spate of online gags is Einar Öberg’s Urban Jungle Street View, which exploits Street View’s undocumented depth data to plot sprites of crawling ivy, invasive shrubs and tufts of tall grass onto almost any urban streetscape on Google Earth. The concept is playfully simple yet deceptively empowering, like a preset wysiwyg interface for pseudo-augmented reality that suggests just how easy it can be to distort our “official” perception of the planet.

It’s hard not to reminisce about the GitHub favorite Streetview Stereographic, which a couple years ago invited us to enter any address and see the bulbous fisheye view that could be spun 360 degress, from above or below. It was  fascinatingly photogenic, strangely subversive and much more fun. The concave scene could either be twisted to appear as if reflected in a shop surveillance mirror or shaped into a spherical landscape of a miniature planet.

Photo on top: Beaver Street in Lower Manhattan, as seen through Urban Jungle Street View.

Brooklyn Bridge and Dumbo as seen through Streetview Stereographic.

Speaking of surreal satellite imagery, Clement Valla extracted the “melted” corners of Google Earth’s seams in order to expose the Universal Texture algorithm’s often overlooked (but known) glitches. For his Postcards from Google Earth, he carefully printed and exhibited the curiously distorted photographs in real space. Last autumn, three high-quality prints were sold at auction.

“Deception Pass” by Clement Valla. © 2013 Terrametrics

Last spring, David Thomas Smith reappropriated more perpendicularly positioned satellite images from Google Earth for his exhibition Anthropocene. Each artwork was an almost abstract, kaleidoscopic composition made up of myriad aerial photos representing a specific city or locale. Seen from a distance, each print resembled a finely crafted mosaic of symmetrical proportions; close-up examination revealed the depth of detail expressed in so many pixels.

Silicon Valley, CA, United States of America 2009-10 © David Thomas Smith.

A more recent conceptual project is Jim Andrews’ Teleporter, which very simply teleports you visually to another random exotic location on planet Google Earth—at street-view level, of course. Rather than subvert the functionality of the service, Teleporter introduces just enough whimsy to make the experience adventurous rather than pratical. As a result, we feel like a true explorer in the freest sense, zapping through locations, scanning the vicinity, always moving on, omniscient and empowered.

Street View of Antarctica, channelled through Teleporter.

Yet even more exhilarating is Teehan + Lax Labs’ experimental project Hyperlapse, which emerged last April as a powerful tool to create time-lapse videos using Google Street View images between points A and B. Also available as open source code on GitHub, it’s inspiring to imagine how we can literally be armchair travelers speeding around the world—as long as we trust Google to guide us on our journey.


Cherise Fong