‘In the Frame’

Doug Rickard: A New American Picture, Aperture, 2012


   ‘In the Frame’

Doug Rickard’s Google Street View project A New American Picture was first exhibited as part of Anonymes: unnamed American in photography and film, the show I co-curated with Diane Dufour at Le Bal, Paris, in 2010. To mark that occasion Doug produced a book with White Press (the 250 copies sold out almost immediately). This is his larger version, which includes an introductory essay he asked me to write, titled ‘In the Frame’.



In the age of satellite positioning systems it is worth remembering how much of the important culture of the last century was premised either upon the chance encounter, the frisson of getting lost or the desire to disappear into the world. Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte, André Breton’s Nadja, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Situationism, street photography. But sometime around the advent of the mobile phone there was a profound change in our relation to spaces and places, and it was irreversible. Whatever else it is, A New American Picture may be the first important work about not being lost, about no longer being able to be lost. Even the lowliest backstreet is a grid reference. Every monetary transaction is a discernible location. Vanishing is all but impossible.

And yet, while these scenes derive from a mapped spatial order, their temporal dimension is another matter entirely. Photography finds itself, reinvents itself in an unprecedented timeframe. Firstly, if this is ‘street photography’, it has ceded the genre’s vital shutter and the choice of instant it affords. From a pre-frozen world, Rickard’s selections can be only geographic and compositional. (It is worth noting that he shoots his computer screen with the street photographer’s preferred 35mm camera format, but uses a tripod and a slow shutter speed.) Secondly, Street View permits a seamless pass over a terrain assembled to give the impression of permanent daytime. We can see on these pages the differences between overhead sun at noon and late afternoon gloom but in Google World the sun never sets. You will never see the bright lights of a city after dark. You will never see the velvet black of a desert or forest at midnight. The total visibility can be blinding, like the delirium of sleeplessness.


Lastly, these images are historical documents, marked moments as unlikely as they are irrefutable. Street View is always updating itself with second, third, fourth passes of its cameras. Each time the technology has improved, rendering greater detail and smoother transitions. Each time the light, the buildings, the people have changed, sometimes a little, sometimes drastically. The earlier images are overwritten and lost from view. We have come to regard the internet as some kind of ultimate archive, a memory bank in which everything is stored forever. But it has been alarmingly remiss about archiving itself. We have almost no record of the history of the internet, and most of its representations of the recent past have been lost. This auto-erasure is likely to continue. Many of the images printed here are available only here.