Michael Wolf On His Fascination With “Peeping”

When photographer Michael Wolf had to move to Paris in 2008 because of a job opportunity for his wife, he wasn’t too thrilled with the situation. He thought that living in one of the most photographed cities of all time, surrounded by the inevitable cliches of such a place, wasn’t conducive to creative, unique photography. So he sat down at his computer and began browsing through the then only 6-month old Google Street View, which ultimately led to a unique photographical project that fit right in with his long-time fascination with “peeping” into people’s lives through photography.

In this video, Wolf begins by discussing his Paris Street View project. He talks about what it takes to draw a moment out of a 360-degree street view photograph, how much of a role cropping plays in composing that image, and how his favorite images suggest a story. In some ways this is street photography without actually going out into the street, and as long as you have a keen eye for interesting or beautiful moments then Wolf has discovered that you can find them all over the street (views) of Paris.

He goes on later in the video to talk about another, earlier peeping project called Transparent City, a project for which he photographed both the Chicago architecture and the interior of those buildings from afar, sometimes very voyeuristically. Ultimately, peeping is there to satisfy what Wolf describes as his “very nosy” personality. It’s up to you to decide whether it falls under the umbrella of art, voyeurism, or both.

(via A Photo Editor)

  • NotImpressed

     So… he takes photos of other people’s photos (Google’s) and this becomes ‘art’. For the rest of us, this would be called ‘Copyright Infringement’. I think I might go out, buy a photo book and take photos of that. I’ll then apply my own ‘crops’ and call it my own work!

  • Michael Godek

    Transparent City is the series that inspired my Twilight series photographing Chicago architecture at that moment when the ambient light outside matches the interior light of the buildings so you can see in, see people living literally 10 feet apart from each other, yet there’s a possibility they have never met. 

    If you haven’t seen that body of work, it’s truly amazing!

  • rtfe

    that’s been done. called Post-Modern Photography

  • michaelp42

    Ego much?  So basically he’s just doing a screen grab and cropping to his “view”.  Urgh!

  • Gavin Stokes

    Its been done before and to much better effect particularly by Doug Rickard in his “A Forgotten America” which personally I found quite impressive 

  • Tomasz Tom Kulbowski

    Let’s not go crazy with “copyright/copywrong” – does Google own the buldings or streets in the Streetview? Michael Wolf used a piece of our reality and in a clever way converted it into something that goes beyond reality, can tell us something new… Yes, I believe that’s art.

  • Tomasz Tom Kulbowski

    I love Aaron Hobson’s landscape work, beautiful! But still, if we’re talking about the street photography genre/style – Wolf is still the closest one to it. 

  • PictureTaker

    It takes an American to find Paris photographically uninteresting…

  • Richard Horsfield

    It’s not about who owns the buildings.

    Copyright belongs to the person or identity who took the photo. In this instance Google owns the copyright to the images they have taken.
    If in doubt, read this: 
    “Can you give me permission to show your content without attribution, or put the attribution at the end of my book/movie/TV show?””Without exception, we require attribution when Content is shown. If you are unwilling to meet our attribution requirements, please contact our data provider(s) directly to inquire about purchasing the rights to the content directly. “If he were to take “photos” of images on my website he would still be infringing my copyright.
    The fact that he is cropping the images to turn these into “art” is irrelevant.It’s not clever, it’s lazy.

  • Gavin Stokes


  • Tomasz Tom Kulbowski

    We’re dangerously moving towards the “religious” discussion about what is and what isn’t a modern art! :-) 

    I’m not going to try to convince you, but please believe me – I honestly find myself experiencing this complex and unique aesthetic “feeling”, that I always have in contact with art, when I look at Michael’s work. I promise. I think both his photos AND the way he creates them, can say a lot about our reality, times, ways of communication, society, etc. Pretty much like street photography in general.One could say that his creative act is not that much lazier than pressing the shutter of a digital camera on the street… Maybe a bit lazier, as you don’t have to go outside – but the concept and thinking process behind it is not without meaning, it requires some work and I respect Michael for it. Even if I prefer the more traditional approach and actually love to go outside to take photos.Putting the urinal on show in the gallery is far lazier :-)

    Thanks for explaining the Google rules. Fair enough. Luckily there are still some ways around it that so the old, outdated, pre-internet, black & white copyright model won’t stand in the way of creativity…

  • Daf

    Not keen.
    I’ve never been a fan of photographing/making art (rather than documenting) through photographing other art pieces i.e. sculpture or graffiti – to me feels too much like using someone else’s creativity.
    This just feels like a continuation of that – photographing a photograph. Not enough has changed.
    Besides – why does he photograph it? Others have done similar projects just using a screengrab/print screen.

  • Daf

    In a past interview:

    He’s said :
    “I use a tripod and mount the camera, photographing a virtual reality that I see on the screen. It’s a real file that I have, I’m not taking a screenshot. I move the camera forward and backward in order to make an exact crop, and that’s what makes it my picture. It doesn’t belong to Google, because I’m interpreting Google; I’m appropriating Google. If you look at the history of art, there’s a long history of appropriation.”

    A – what’s the difference bewteen file in camera and on computer – you silly man.
    B – “Interpreting Google” ha – If I were to “Interpret” work from Getty and sell as my own work I’m sure they’d come down on me as a ton of bricks.I appreciate it more in terms of journalism, but not so much photographic art.

  • Flgraphics

    so if I take a Michael Wolf photo, and I crop it to my own  taste, it become my own? sweet deal.

    this guy is lazy. flat out.

  • harumph

    If the “message” behind this concept is to communicate that the artist is a sad, unimaginative shut-in, then bravo. The guy moves to Paris, complains about it, and then spends his time sitting in front of his computer monitor instead of taking on the challenge of finding non-cliche images of the city? Even disregarding what I think of the final images, it’s all really rather pathetic.

  • sandervanderveen

    Totally agree.. what a lame ass..

  • jj_tt_m

    And it takes someone with your apparent shallowness to buy into clichés about Americans.
    I am American, have lived in Paris for the past 11 years, and believe me, if you want to find people convinced of their own superiority/blind/indifferent/superficial/egocentric – shall I go on? – you need come no further than Paris.
    But here’s the thing: you can find that anywhere.
    Do yourself a favor and jump off the American-bashing bandwagon. Otherwise you’re just the type of copycat that you accuse Wolf of being.
    You must be a pinhead. Really.

  • TheSuperZimmer

    Weak. Really, really weak.

  • Pryere

    Lame & lazy.