Images are meant to render the world accessible and imaginable to man Villem Flusser wrote in his well-known book “Towards a Philosophy of Photography” back in 1983 where he analysed the transition from prehistoric, traditional images to posthistorical, technical ones. No longer formed by authors, but by anyone who operates a camera, an 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 one thus learnt to trust these images and the situations captured as extensions of one’s eye.
But, how were technical images to change our perceiving and imagining of the world when they would become maps, screens and interfaces at the same time? How was our view of the globe to be modified when a geographic information program would take over the role of the apparatus operator? Global Safari by artists Wellington Cancado 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 to 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[i]. What do the satellites, aircrafts and cars of Google really haunt and capture? There is no author, no specific photographer deciding for the images forming the world within Google Earth; there is instead an automatic trustworthy process of capturing images as well as a matrix of user generated images related and attached to it.Â In this frame, where Google programs seem like the outmost sovereignty of Flusser’s automata for their imagery, Global Safari seeks 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 in a city life through Google are being re-captured by the artists. Their moments are being re- froze on purpose 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 on the changes on 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 omen of Google Earth. The camera in Eames’ film also moves steadily far back and then forth, zooming in and out, with the aim to show the relative size of things. From the human scale of a man lying at a park, to the image of the globe, “Powers of Ten” like Global Safari was a film about our desire and capacity to imagine the world. Cancado and Marquez referring directly to Eames’ film wish to show as they say how the possibilities for this imaginary world journey changed in the era of googols. While the technologies of Google have made a journey to 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 implies a need of 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 today we are in need for.
“Freedom equals playing against the apparatus”.