The Nine Eyes of Google Street View

Jon Rafman


In 2007, Google sent out an army of hybrid electric automobiles, each one bearing nine cameras on a single pole, in an endless quest to photograph every street in the “free” world. Google Street Views and Google Earth present a universe observed by the detached gaze of an indifferent being. For all Google cares, the world could be absent of moral dimension. This tension between indiscriminate automated camera and the human desire for meaning is characteristic of contemporary existence. Many of us already feel we are observed simultaneously by everyone and by no one, that everything is recorded, but no particular significance is accorded to anything.

The product of painstaking research, Rafman’s ongoing series The Nine Eyes of Google Street View compiles a fascinating array of incidental moments captured by Google’s cameras. When Rafman reframes an image sourced from the Google site, he reintroduces the human gaze into the picture and reasserts the importance of the individual. Often featuring people (their faces blurred for legal reasons) the artist catalogue's everyday dramas that would otherwise probably never be seen beyond their specific location. Rafman aligns himself with the historical role of the artist to capture the moral dimension in ambiguous contexts.