Global Safari (Powered by Google), the formation of the world’s image

Global Safari

“Images are meant to render the world accessible and imaginable to man” Villem Flusser wrote in his well-known 1983 book “Towards a Philosophy of Photography” which analyzed the transition from prehistoric, traditional images to posthistorical, technical ones. No longer formed by “authors”, but by anyone who operates a camera or other apparatus, technical images have been opening windows to our contemporary world. Images meant to be maps for the world became screens according to Flusser and people learned to trust these images and the situations captured as extensions of their own sense data. But, how were technical images able to change our perception and imagination of the world when they simultaneously became maps, screens and interfaces ? How was our view of the globe modified when a geographic information program took over the role of the apparatus operator? Global Safari by artists Wellington Cançado and Renata Marquez is an exploration and a deep dive into one of the most popular contemporary apparatuses, Google Earth. A navigation film shot within the program itself takes us on a journey in 10 different cities around the world in 12 minutes. Starting from Chicago, ending in Tokyo, moving vertically and horizontally, zooming in and out in city locations as Google Earth allows, the film is at the same time a visual narration and a documentation of a performative mapping. It is a safari of images, where the artists discover the possibilities and the limits given for seeing places and moments in the internet reality of our times. “What is the meaning of making a photographic safari without a camera in the streets chasing the capture of the decisive moment?” the artists ask while remembering the magic and unique moments saved in time by photographers like Henri Cartier Bresson. What do Google’s satellites, aircrafts and cars really capture? There is no author, no specific photographer deciding which images form the world within Google Earth; there is instead an automatic and trustworthy process of capturing images as well as a matrix of related user-generated images. In this frame, where Google programs seem like the outmost sovereignty of Flusser’s automata for their imagery, Global Safari looks for situations and moments that entail intimacy within them. Passengers at the streets, people playing tennis photographed by chance and appearing as the closest zoom into a city life through Google are being re-captured by the artists. Their moments are being purposely refrozen and the presence of the eye taking the picture returns, questioning a new authorship on a found photo through a program. Global Safari is a project exploring the changes to the formation of the world’s image, its influence by the continuous advance of technology as well as on the demolition of the value of scale. The project reminds us of “Powers of Ten” (1968/1977), a film by Charles and Ray Eames which – if watched today – seems like an prophesy of Google Earth. The camera in Eames’ film also moves steadily back and forth, zooming in and out, with the aim of revealing the relative size of things. From the human scale of a man lying in a park, to the image of the globe, “Powers of Ten”, like Global Safari, is a film about our desire and capacity to imagine the world. Cançado and Marquez’s direct referral to Eames’ film intends to show how the possibilities for this imaginary world journey changed in the era of googols. While the technologies of Google have made a journey around the world possible for anybody with a computer and an internet connection, at the same time Google Earth territories follow a new form of scale and pose new questions around what the artists call Myopia Index. The scale of cloudiness varies in the different territories captured; resolution changes from centers to peripheries. How is this defined? Which geopolitical mechanisms finally influence our view on the world today? Why is the world accessible but filtered? In the networked era, the roles of photographers, cartographers and explorers interweave but can they/we influence what we see? Maybe we are still in the need of the critical awakening and approach that Flusser was discussing. Global Safari’s artists take such a stance, one that requires a critical attitude towards digital culture itself, that questions the liberation we are faced with when navigating within virtual geospatial environments. A call for restructuring, rethinking while being involved is what we need today. “Freedom equals playing against the apparatus”.

Daphne Dragona