The art of randomized landscaping

Sarah Janssen is a cross-media designer, and is currently enrolled in the Frank Mohr MFA Interactive Media and Environments. Janssen recently launched an interesting project called Googlescape. She advertises it as a web-based gallery of photographs generated via Google Streetview.

The Googlescape project website reloads automatically, showing a new randomly selected ‘landscape’ somewhere in the Netherlands every minute. The photographs are displayed in the middle of the screen, against a black background. It is as if you are looking at these photographs as works of art. This experience is heightened because Janssen left out most of  Google Streetview’s interactive interface, and because she used other display conventions familiar to the art world besides the centered presentation, for instance by giving the photos a title, an ‘author’ (Google), and a date.

Googlescape made me ponder on the differences between interactive Google streetview users, who usually look at particular places with a particular goal in mind, and Janssen’s passive spectators, who watch the randomly generated views on Holland pass before their eyes. The composition of the photographs is also intriguing. The Google camera was placed on top of a car. When these images travel to Janssen’s website in the guise of landscapes, they feel artificial, in the sense that they do not refer back to a human body or an eye behind the camera. This sense of artificiality is enhanced due to the stitching of different images taken at regular intervals. The human, ‘subjective’, element of individual scene selection we know from conventional landscape photography was not part of the production process.

Interestingly, some of the images do come across as very pleasing to the eye, and it would not surprise me if they could serve as sources of inspiration for landscape photographers.