The Emperor’s New Photographs: Are Appropriated Street View Shots Art?

The debate rages on: should appropriated Google Street View photographs be considered art? There are quite a few artists and photographers out there who think it should be. Photographer Michael Wolf was awarded Honorable Mention for his curated screenshots at the World Press Photo 2011. Photographer Aaron Hobson takes screenshots and turns them into gorgeous panoramic photos. Jon Rafman’s screenshots were picked for an exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery.

Now here’s another case that might cause a lot more head-scratching: photographer Doug Rickard‘s Street View screenshots have been selected for the permanent collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Here’s a recently-aired PBS segment that takes a look at Rickard’s work:

Photographer Doug Rickard sees artistic possibility in the images of people captured in the photographic drive-bys that make up Google Street View. He has travelled thousands of virtual miles, looking for potential photographs in Google’s maps that have more than just utilitarian purpose. [#]

Acclaimed American photojournalist David Burnett has some strong words regarding Rickard’s work, saying that he takes exception to “treating the work of secondary ‘appropriators’ as ART”:

[…] when serious galleries decide that this kind of “appropriation” is the “art du jour” it denigrates all who think of themselves as artists. Does his work “evoke a connection to the tradition of American street photography, with knowing references to Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Stephen Shore.” Absolutely NOT. Anything that requires nothing more than a LOT of looking at images online, and then photographing them to make prints, is just NOT where any of those actual photographers ever were […] I’m sorry we don’t know the name of the driver of the Google Street car. That’s the guy who should have a major show at a major gallery, though your mileage may vary.

Interestingly enough, Burnett says that he was a member of the World Press Photo jury that originally “‘took note’ of the value of Google Street.”

Here are a couple more Rickard “shots” that caught our eye:

You can check our Rickard’s work for yourself over on his website under “A New American Picture.

Image credits: Photographs by Doug Rickard/Google Street View

  • JosephRT

    I was skeptical at first, but after watching the video I believe it is art. The “Super Fair” image at 2:58 in the video is particularly brilliant.

  • Dave

    It’s always a pleasure reading about childhood friends online. Yep Jon had a pretty nice collection of google maps pics.

  • BeJay

    Doesn’t google own the copyright on the images?

  • Andrew Doran

    I’m sorry, Looking through an archive of someone else’s work, and picking your favorites, does not make it “your” art. It doesn’t matter if it’s street view images, or some old Ansel Adams Negatives. If you didn’t create the image, it’s just appropriation. If Rickard looked through my old family photo albums, and reprinted his favorites, would that be HIS art too?

  • John Milleker

    I’m going to go visit the Louvre’s virtual tour website and shoot frames from my monitor. Who wants to sponsor my new show?

  • Steve Stevenson

    Rickard, why don’t you get in a real car and go the the places yourself?, and make real photographic art.

    My thoughts exactly.

    Though, art is what you can get away with.
    And who you know.

  • Sal Soul-Pilot Gomez

    Richard, as P.T. Barnum once said “You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”. And who is paying that curator? She needs to be fired for even insinuating that Richards work is “original”. He has stolen another person’s work and claiming it as his own!

  • Alan

    Make a relevant comment with the images and know what your saying and I’ll take a look at them.

  • Jeff Nachtigall

    this feels like a really good article from The Onion.

  • Omar A. Sierralta

    About a year ago in one of the schools of photography in my country’s capital, there was a “29 days challenge” with a plane ticket for two as the first prize. Each night at 8:00 PM was announced the theme of that day picture, and you had to submit it the next day in sake of continuity. At the end many people I know worked hard and beautifully to create these great images. But, the school who “organized” the contest, picked ONLY alumni from that school, leaving great works of others out. The first place was a lot of overexposed pictures. The second place was exactly this same thing, a guy just sat on his comfy chair taking pictures of his screen and google street view, while others worked their ass down. So, no this is a total bs if you call it art, it’s just a lazy guy who doesn’t have anything to do and stare on other peoples hard work. The third place can’t even remember what it was… Just seeing the second place angered the hell out of me.

  • Burnin Biomass

    I guess there is a “Found Object” or “Readymade” art argument to be made here, and the same arguments against those too.

    You can say the images have artistic merit (I like a few of them), so its purely a matter of who gets credit. Perhaps listing the artist as a photographer is the biggest issue, as they are more of an editor. Or Producer. “Taken By Google, Produced by Doug Rickard”.

  • Libby Stack

    I have noticed recently that google does have a copyright line.

    Hey this guy could always post them to pinterest too and break the law twice.

  • Thomas Hawk

    Bravo Doug. Keep up the great work.

  • gabe sturdevant

    I gotta disagree Thomas. This is not his art. It is him selecting art. He is a “buyer”, not an artist or photographer.

  • Brandon Downey

    Photography is the art of selecting where to put a frame around reality — this just seems like one step removed.

  • Geof Kirby

    Doug Rickard devalues everything we photographers stand for. Petapixel doesn’t help by crediting him as joint author. He’s not. At best he may be an uninvited curator or printer. At worst, he has appropriated the work. Whilst not exactly theft as the pictures are in the public domain, the creative input involved seems to be restricted to selecting candidates and printing them up. I’m insulted that anybody would recognise that this gives him any intellectual property rights. Next time you take snaps down to Walmart, beware !

  • madmax

    Google takes a zillion of pics a day and the probability of finding some of those pics to be “artistic” is quite high. It is the same with the search of “intelligent” life in other worlds: although most planets are too big or too small, too hot or too cold or maybe their atmosphere is poisonous, there are out there so many stars and planets that no doubt anywhere there is intelligent life.

  • Dean Forbes

    Boycott Aperture Foundation, publisher of Rickard’s book. Boycott Rickard’s book.

  • Raymond Larose

    This is like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa and calling it your own. This is sad.

  • Daf

    Agree with others:
    The images can be considered artistic as some have artistic merit – even if by accident.
    But the “artist” would be Google – others would just be editors/producers/curators.

  • The Fuzz

    hahaha… comparing Google Street View to Mona Lisa.

  • Raymond Larose

    Ha – that wasn’t the intent. Just the concept of ripping off others work (and my analogy was done pre-coffee). :)

  • Matthew Wagg

    The images are beautiful and copyright aside he’s a bit of a chickenshit loser to not get out of his computer room and be in the locations to really create these images. Why not use the google images as a reference to go to the places and take real photographs, not just screenshots. Perhaps its because he’s a softy richboy that would be scared in poor locations.

    As to Moma picking them up, well they have their heads in the clouds as to what represents real street photography.

  • Matthew Wagg

    its like the analogy of thousands of monkeys banging on thousands of typewriters will eventually produce a work of literary art. This Rickard guy is just a monkey banging on a keyboard.

  • The Fuzz

    5 million miles of street view… 880 million captures which are 360° interactive images with an infinite amount of cropping options and zoom. Far from the 40 page binder of your family’s 3×5’s.

  • The Fuzz

    same for Warhol’s soup cans? credit the designer from Campbell’s and strip Warhol of Artist title?

  • Seth Dickerman

    These are only found images in that they had no existence at all as images until Mr. Rickard found them. Even the guy who was in the car with the camera on top never really saw them, he was just driving the car. These images were just numbers, ones and zeros, never to be seen, until Doug began his search. They are composed as one composes with a camera, as the streetview itself is composed of multiple frames which have been automatically stitched together. I don’t see this as appropriation at all. These images are entirely original.

  • Burnin Biomass

    Except Warhol actually painted the cans (originally, then silk screened it), so I think he would retain an artist name as he brought something to it (and since the can has identifying information on it, we know the source).

    I think a closer parallel would be “Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp.

  • Burnin Biomass

    To straighten out my own thought, I still think of him as an artist, just not specifically as a photographer on those images.

  • Burnin Biomass

    Don’t know if you realize it, but someone already did that to the Mona Lisa (you might know, I just wasn’t sure). The work is called L.H.O.O.Q., my Duchamp.

  • Robby Cornish


  • madmax

    I think Google is the monkey in that analogy, no Rickard. He at least is able to distinguish artistic from vulgar pictures…

  • Larry Amer

    I have mixed feelings about this…..I don’t really consider it photography….And it frustrated me that they compared it to notable photographers like Walker Evans and Dorthea Lange, but I do think it is an interesting idea for appropriating the images that google maps creates. I just think there should be some other way of doing it than snapping a shot of his monitor and calling it his image. I think he should refrence it as appropriated or “found art”, Not photography. I think this art is riding on the lines of dadaism. Reminds me of something Marcel Duchamp would cook up and call art. Not to say I didn’t like him….cause i did….or even like Jeff Koonz putting a vacuum on display and calling it art… is a touchy subject in art and comes back to that age old question….what is art……for me… is an idea that has been executed with some kind of intent…….Another Photographer that comes to mind is Sherrie Levine….she pretty much just photographed famous photos and appropriated them and presented them as her own. I think she called it re-Photographing………..decided to look up a list of artists that used appropriation….there were a lot…I don’t think this is all of them though.

  • Raymond Larose

    I didn’t – thanks for pointing me there!

  • DamianMonsivais

    Seems to be that he is playing of the idea that everything has been photographed, there is a high saturation of images flooding your eyes.

    He needs not to do it himself but he is re appropriating these images found on the internet ( a world now created by us) claiming just that. Everything has been photographed. nothing is original and it all becomes 0s and 1s.

  • Richard

    Excellent comment Thomas.

  • jev

    People who think this is acceptable should have their images “appropriated” and credit given to someone else.

    I’m not sure that Google needs to have a copyright line, unless they specifically state that the images are in the public domain, they own the rights, copy and moral.

  • Raj

    Maybe the fact that Google is shooting images without authorization and does not own any rights to it ( I think ) makes it possible for others to steal there work , n carry on )