24 January 2011

Drive-By Shootings

Above are excerpts from photographer Michael Wolf's series The Architecture of Density, shot in Hong Kong and dating from 2006. In some aspects Wolf's series is representative of a certain trend we've seen in a lot of photography in recent years -- work that addresses specific recurring themes, especially those of the architectural manifestations of the globalized economy, urban density and sprawl, environment degradation, etc. Positively Ballardian? Yes.

But a more common theme that underlies much of Wolf's work seems to hinge on the production of social space in the contemporary urban landscape. It makes for intriguing documentation of human activity in the public domains of everyday life, of the "to-ing and fro-ing" between the open interstices and sheltering recesses of city streets, revealing some of ways in which people engage -- or disengage -- from their physical environment. (To say nothing of the issues of surveillance and voyuerism that immediately come to mind.)

Wolf's most recent exhibition is of the series Paris Street View, culled from (as you might've guessed) Google's Street View. He's done similar projects on this theme from a couple of other cities, including New York City. Between the various locations, he was also able to spin off a newer subset entitled Fuck You, Google Street View. About the use of Street View images, Wolf recently explained:

"It's a form of appropriation and I’m making it my own. They have copyright notices every 10 inches or so on every Google image, so you can see it in some of my photographs. I have images I'm showing in Paris of the sky and there's a 'Google copyright 2009' in the sky. I would look intentionally for the copyright sign to make a point. As Google, you can’t go and do this without asking people and expect to have ownership--and they’re making money off it, putting ads and stuff."

Effectively it's the blue-chip postmodern game of appropriation, except sans issues of "authorship" and originality and instead filtered through the more contemporary hot-button concerns swarming around copyright law, intellectual property, ownership and piracy, and the like. Judging from Wolf's Copy Artists series from 2006, it would appear that this is yet another conceptual trope that runs through some of the work. Later in the same interview at TMN, however, Wolf addresses the issue of privacy and indiscriminate surveillance/documentation. Worth reading in full.

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