Saturday, September 24, 2011

Michael Wolf: A Series Of Unfortunate Events As Presented By Google Street View


What defines street photography from other forms of visual documentary? At its purest, street photography is just that: objectively photographing what happens on the streets. That definition might be stretched to include works that have been digitally manipulated, but what about images that have been photographed by someone, or more accurately, something else? Michael Wolf asks that question through his unique street photography as presented through the eyes of Google Street View cameras in a project entitled "A Series Of Unfortunate Events".


Michael Wolf is a photojournalist who has already gained fame for two different but equally powerful projects: he won the first prize in the World Press Photo's Contemporary Issues Category in 2004 for his photographs of China as the Factory of the World; and another first prize from the same organization in the Daily Life Category in 2009 for his Tokyo Compression story on the crowded city of the same name. His latest claim to fame is his project Street View: A Series of Unfortunate Events which collects images with the ill-fated theme, all from Google Street View.

For anyone not yet familiar with Google Street View, the service gives online viewers an almost eye-level view of the streets and roads of most of the cities of the world. Since its inception almost five years ago, Street View has allowed users to virtually roam the streets of other countries from the comfort of their homes. In his Unfortunate Events series, Wolf uses these Street View captures but selects only those images that are less than photogenic, to put it lightly.


The idea of scouring Street View for unusual happenings isn't new; a quick search will yield dozens of websites and hundreds of images to that query, but Wolf took it to a whole other level. The photographer submitted a handful of these personally selected images to the prestigious World Press Photo Awards this year. To the surprise of some viewers and critics, and even to Wolf himself, his entry earned an Honorable Mention in the Contemporary Issues category.

To those who didn't quite agree that Wolf's entry was in line with the WPP's standards for photography, Wolf defended his work, explaining that with the influx of digital images today, it's about time that someone "curate them or incorporate them into our work."


Between the accusations of appropriating (or some would say stealing) from Google and lowering the standards of photojournalism, Wolf has managed to put into the spotlight what would otherwise have been relegated to the funny pages of the internet. It is indeed street photography, in some sense at least, but one for the 21st century. After all, what better medium to continue the legacy of street photography than through a service aptly called Street View?

In addition, good photojournalism is supposed to provoke relevant discussion on the subject matter. In this case, issues on privacy, art, and even photojournalism itself are again being questioned. Still, many argue that the World Press Photo Award was a bit much for a collection of images taken with a camera mounted on a tripod and aimed at the computer screen, as Wolf did to capture these stills.


Whether or not you agree with the photographer's rationalization, the Google Street View images themselves are quite amusing. Michael Wolf's website is here. Some more images from his Series of Unfortunate Events are also on his website. Be sure to check out Wolf's other award-winning projects here and here.

24 comments:

D4 said...

I can say I really would prefer if he took them himself with better quality, but I still consider it some form of art. I -do- like it.

Kid Shuffle said...

holy shit, some of those are just crazy. i mean, did they really catch someone popping a squat on the road? yikes.

Fang said...

This is exactly why I love Street View. That, and I can see where I'll be biking beforehand. But mostly the odd scenes you find.

DWei said...

These are terrible but I can't help laughing at some of them.

ed said...

wonder if any of these guys are doing it on purpose

Shutterbug said...

Those events are unfortunate! I hope those people are ok!

GADAFINY said...

good pic

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I think most of these are staged, but still entertaining all the same.

The Angry Lurker said...

Interesting but not that good.

Damon said...

nice post :)

Jaccstev said...

Shocking set of photos!

Jason said...

Must say hope these people are ok! Some of them look nasty!

Rawr said...

interesting post!

Bart said...

lmfao yeah rite!?! is this real life? or just... lol thats jokes. excellent post

MRanthrope said...

the one time it pays to be a forever alone basement dweller....finding cool shit like this!

StigmataHandjob said...

Not award worthy for sure, but the debate is pretty interesting.

Astaroth said...

i've actually seen the google streetview car.
i couldn't think of anything fun to do.

Necroticism said...

I just saw a van of Google Street View, it was the best experience of my life. Well, actually not, but I should have done some of these :D

dora said...

some of these are brilliant!

Major.Mack said...

gotta admit. im sure you could find some entertaining stuff with those

Chick Flick Journal said...

wow the picture you post are really awesome!

r.alsharif said...

Ohmygosh those were kinda scary. I don't think the pictures were that good quality wise though!

Dale said...

Wow, this is kinda surreal and I didn't like looking at some of them. BUT I agree with Wolf that this should be considered photography and I think if people were more aware and maybe scared of the big brother mentality of google street view maybe there would be more accountability and less muggings and public urination. ;) eww
Nice post
-Dale

OnlyJesusSaves.com said...

What is the picture of two kids holding an older boy? Were they helping him?

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