James Bridle of the New Aesthetic and Dronestagram Bridles opened a show at the Corcoran this evening, and I attended. It was the first time James and I have met in person, after several years of blogging at each other.

The show itself is small and drone-centric, containing a grid of Dronestagram images and Google Map dronespottings, but also video, a 10-volume printed excerpt of a UAV-related webcrawling database project in development, and Bridle's classic drone identification kit [below].


The most stunning and disturbing image in the show is a realization Bridle made of the "Light of God," a nightvision goggle-eye view of a targetting laser descending from the heavens. It's based on a drone pilot's commentary in an Omer Fast video, and it's gorgeous, eerie, and chilling as hell.

During his talk in the adjacent auditorium, Bridle began by mentioning how he is compelled to make physical the things he studies. His most powerful piece, the life-sized outline of a drone drawn on the ground, is an excellent example of this.

In answer to one of the last questions, about materialist formalist dialectic, Bridle noted how he often found himself making an object of something from the network, in order to photograph it and reinsert it into the network. The Corcoran show feels like this: a physical instantiation of digital content.

The idea for the show, or particularly, for Bridle to be the go-to guy for such a show, more than just The New Aesthetic Guy, but certainly that, came from the Corcoran's IT department, said the curator who introduced the evening. I will choose to take this as evidence of the Corcoran's cross-disciplinary innovation and flat organization, not as a sign of a vacuum at the top of the institution. Anyway, the whole affair seems closely linked to the school side of the Corcoran, i.e., the still-functional side. The crowd was crowded, and felt student-heavy.

Anyway, James Bridle. Bridle noted that we in Washington are lucky to have a real Predator drone in our midst, right there at Air & Space Museum. It is exceedingly rare, he said, and he would know, to be able to be in the presence of an actual drone. They're either largely invisible, or they're bearing down on your village. And there's one hanging on the Mall.


And now there is the shadow of one, the outline of one, really on the sculpture pad of the Corcoran. That's how it's described, as being sited on the sculpture pad. Obviously, it doesn't begin to fit on the sculpture pad. It's painted on the pad, the rocks, the curb and sidewalk, with white paint of some no doubt temporary kind.

It is much bigger than you might imagine, which is exactly the point. That, and imagining it being overhead and casting a shadow on the ground, the thing a Pakistani wedding party might see right before the missile hits.

Bridle noted as to how not many people will get to see this privileged view from above. I would note that White House staff in the Eisenhower Old Executive Office Building will get to see it every day, and that right there is quite something.

But he's right, and it underscores his point, that the drone outline reads quite differently from the ground. It's not Nazca Lines different, but that's the sense of it.

I asked James later how he'd decided which way to point the drone. There was really only one good way to fit it, he said, and also, he knew he didn't want to aim it at the White House. Which is understandable. When he installed his first drone drawing in Istanbul, Bridle similarly made sure not to aim the drone at Mecca. In consciously not aiming at the White House, Bridle's drone ends up feeling like it's coming directly from the White House. Which probably intensifies its critical position a bit. It worked for me, at least.

In between these moments was a cogent, timely, and depressing talk about technology as a tool of control and a reflection of the political and social systems that foster and use it. If it was recorded or streamed, I will try to find a link.

Meanwhile, as I walked around the drone on my way home, I did think of one piece missing. Not to tell James how to do his job or anything. But it occurs to me that the sound of drones is distinctive and terrifying. Perhaps a sound element to recreate the perpetual presence of drones in the vicinity of the Corcoran, would provide a visceral experience. Who knows, it might even wake the neighbors.

Indeed: Corcoran College of Art & Design: Quiet Disposition by James Bridle, through July 7, 2013 []

June 11, 2013

Man With A Pano Camera


Yesterday @MattBucher noticed this uncommon night-time imagery on Google Street View of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. It's the promenade on top of the China Ferry Terminal, on the west side of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon.


As I do, I immediately began looking for Street View's evidence of itself: the distortions where panoramas are stitched together, and the traces of the photographers who make it. It's information Google is apparently just as interested in eliminating. The promenade includes three mirrored buildings, but every pano is perfectly sited to exclude the Google cameraman. Whether selfies are considered distracting, extraneous, or just undesirable, Google is trying not to photobomb itself.


At least not anymore. Remember back in 2011 when the Google Art Project launched, and we got a little glimpse of the camera operator pushing his cart carefully through the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles? That feature has been eliminated.


And when Google Trike was first tested four years ago on the Santa Monica Pier, its handlers not only appeared on camera repeatedly [including one pano, since removed, where they posed as civilians and flashed the peace sign], it also attracted attention.


As recently as last summer, this was still the case. Here are some screencaps from a Google Trike expedition in Central Park, which someone linked to just last week. [here's an Engadget story.] I couldn't see any evidence of an attendant, like the guy I dubbed Walking Man, who appeared in almost every pano of the Google Trike's first European outing, scanning the Binnenhof, the Dutch Parliament, in the Summer of 2009. But there were the occasional shots of the back of the Trike driver's head.


I love this sequence, partly because it's an actual moment in time, a person--the driver--moving through space. It's a narrative, and a narrative of its own making. And that upsets the usual assumptions of Street View, in which the user internalizes the camera's eye as his own.


Plus, I just like the cubistic pano distortion aesthetic. I've grown accustomed to GSV's blurred face.


And as you can see here, the Google Trike and the camera are a recognizable feature now. A tourist attraction, even. That gets covered in the local news.


These people have probably been waiting months to see if/when their pictures show up on Street View.


Yes, well, that's how Google used to do things. Those days may be numbered, and these images may soon be out of date, totally 2012. These Hong Kong panos were taken in April 2013, just weeks ago, and now they're live. Not only has the processing time been shortened, but the stitching quality has improved significantly. There is a new Street View aesthetic, and it is the ghost. We have become the blur. Google Spirit View.


Check out this guy and his wheelie, almost gone. Also, it should be mentioned, these are interior panos, Google Art Project Everywhere. The Hall of Mirrors of the 21st century is a panoptic Kowloon ferry terminal/outlet mall with an LED grid reflected in the polished stone floor.


So compare the classic GSV civilian, face blurred, with the guy behind him--see him there, in his ASICS? His red jacket is just a haze through which the camera now neatly interprets the check-in counter further back.


Spin around 180-degrees in this 1st floor pano, and the guy in red shows up more clearly reflected in the mirrored column. And in the mirror we also see someone who wasn't there: the guy in the center, with the grey t-shirt and backpack. With a faint tripod visible in front of him. This is the Google Cameraman. His camera is the small black box above his head. Static but portable. [I love these attenuated, Giacometti-esque figures, btw. So first instant of perception.]


And here's another one, from a less crowded shot on the 2nd floor. First admire the nice blur motion on the guy to the right. Then note the guy who doesn't show up in the pano, except in reflection.


His superthin tripod does seem to have attracted the attention of the mom on the left, but no one else. They're looking at each other as he shoots. His blue T-shirt says elgooG.

Is there a Street View equivalent of Moore's Law? Because Google's scanning setup is getting smaller, lighter, and more invisible, and their data turnaround time is dropping. It is now easy to see the convergence of Google Street View and Google Glass, where all the Google-powered devices we wear, carry, and use relay information back to the Server in real time. We will be Google Drones surveilling ourselves and each other within a few years, and most people won't even notice it.

January 16, 2013

Levi's Street View

Whether the uncanny valley is the right metaphor, or seeing a dog walking, something still feels weird about seeing store interiors on Google Street View. I'm sure that'll change, and one day we'll all be holoshopping without ever leaving our pods, our purchases delivered by robot Google vans, and people will struggle to remember the last time they even looked at the Street View part of Street View, much less actually went anywhere.


But that day is not yet. And the workings of Store View are still odd and/or unknown, and thus interesting. For example, here is the Levi's store on West 34th St, tweeted by @ManBartlett.

Maybe the making of is interesting only in contrast to the entire concept of a surfable depopulated chain store filled with mountains of indistinguishable jeans. Or is it just me? Can you barely contain your excitement for the day when you can virtually fall into all 5,000 Gaps?


Anyway, let's look around. They have image date now [Feb. 2012]. Is that new? Obviously, with high merchandise turnover, you'd want to keep that relatively fresh. Store View will become just one more monthly/seasonal expense for a retailer. I see they don't blur the faces of either the models or the mannequins. It'd be kind of cooler if they did. Even ironically?

Or better if the Street View blur turned up in someone's IRL in-store/ad campaign. Oh, damn, there's your pitch right there, creative director: some street style photoblogger is "captured" at work by the GSV car. A Street [View] style blog. BAM. Embed those shoots all over town. A viral bonanza.

Look at me, revolutionizing advertising when I'm supposed to be reviewing pano stitching algorithms. These panos sure are distortion-free. A major advance? The benefit of shooting undisturbed in ideal conditions? Hey, what's that at the bottom of the picture up there? A tripod leg.


And here's the whole, stitched thing. That is very nice. Here it is again, this time with a shadow.


This is not a camera on wheels. It's on the tripod, single vantage point for every pano, operator out of the way. That's why there are no distortions. And the only evidence of the process is the legs.


Which, again, are rather nice. Kind of kaleidoscopic, with a blend of in-focus tips and blurry legs. Soon enough, these Matrix deja vu cat-level distortions will disappear, and the differences between real and virtual will be mistaken for mist, or heat waves rising from the sidewalk.


Zooming right into Grotjahn country here. This is sweet. Looks like this pano sphere has maybe 48 slices, each 7.5 degrees? In satelloonmaking, they're called gores. What do they call them in panoramic photos?


June 19, 2012

Lozenge Camo Stoffbilder


Will the wonders of WWI-era camo never cease? The Wary Meyerses have an awesome post about early German & Austrian Lozenge Camo, which was used primarily for airplanes. An asymmetrical polygon pattern was printed onto aeronautic linen, which comprised the body skin of early bi-planes. Colors were keyed to the viewing perspective: lighter lozenges were used on underside of the plane, to blend with the sky, while darker colors were meant to blend with the ground when viewed from above. There was also a night-time colorway.

First let's get the adorable synchronicity between German fighter plane camo and Dutch Google Map camo out of the way right now. Noted and appreciated.

Now let's ask the obvious question: fabric? Where can I get some? Because obviously, it should be made into Blinky Palermo-style Stoffbilder, Fabric Paintings [as seen below at the Kunstverein Düsseldorf in 2008]:


And the not-as-immediately-obvious answer: Vintage Aero Fabrics of Bardstown, Kentucky, where Ross Walton produces historically accurate--and FAA-certificated--lozenge camo fabric for the vintage plane restoration community using authentic Belgian linen and original production techniques.


Flight of the Lozenges [warymeyers]

This week Alan Taylor posted some more amazing historical photos from the NYC Municipal Archive's recently digitized collection.


Among them, an impressive 1940s panoramic view of West St, which is stitched together from several photos taken from different vantage points. It's very carefully done, but the distortions and cropping in the [less important?] foreground give it that awesome Street View flavor we've come to know and love.


The Atlantic is also hosting a full-size, 5,424-pixel version of the pano, which, I'm jealous, because they somehow managed to register a user account with the NYMA to get larger images.

And this matters to me because this photo I stumbled across is both great and small.


There's not much metadata about it, but it's clearly a rephotograph of a contact print of an earlier [1932? 1937?] aerial view of lower Manhattan, tacked onto a crate or something. It reminds me of those rephotographs Carleton Watkins did of his earlier images that Tyler discussed a couple of months ago. It makes me want to see what else the archivists were rephotographing, but alas, that tag wouldn't be invented for 40 more years.

Reuters' Jorge Duenes' cropped aerial shot of a 300-acre marijuana plantation "discovered" in Mexico last July that The Atlantic's InFocus photoblog ran today was dramatic and awesome enough to make me want to see the full thing.

Here it is:

Stunning, right? Ellsworth Kelly himself couldn't have done better. But the full caption bears analyzing a little more closely:

An aerial view shows parts of the biggest marijuana plantation ever found in Mexico, in San Quintin, about 350 km (220 mi) away from Tijuana, on July 13, 2011. Mexican soldiers discovered the plantation in a remote desert, a top army officer said on Thursday. Soldiers patrolling the area found 300 acres (120 hectares) of pot plants being tended by dozens of men.
Because I have a hard time seeing how parts of it can be simultaneously true. For the plantation to be in the "remote desert" and in "San Quintin," for example. Or for it to be in "San Quintin" and "discovered."

350km from Tijuana does sound remote. But San Quintin turns out to be on the northern part of the Baja Peninsula, the part where the highway runs between the mountains and the sea. On Google Maps, it's clear the landscape is characterized by agriculture--and airstrips. To still be in San Quintin, the terrain in Duenes' photos almost certainly has to be just off the main highway, and one of the largest crops of any kind in town. Saying it was discovered, then, implies that its existence was not known beforehand, which, holding other factors constant, seems impossible.

Still, the important thing is, it does look awesome.


MoMA's not the only museum on Google Art Project to show works by artists living--or recently dead. The Art Institute of Chicago's stunning Sculpture Court is right there, too, with nothing less than Ellsworth Kelly's Chicago Panels, six monumental, shaped aluminum paintings from 1989-99. And they look fantastic.


Their geometric precision makes Kellys almost ideally suited for marking Google's pano distortions. I love this double Kelly. How would that even exist as an object? Maybe we should get Bob Irwin on the horn.


Even when they're not unevenly stitched, a Kelly in a Google Museum View pano is still distorted. Just tilting around inside a single pano sphere, you can watch the painting's dimensions pulsate and shift.


On Google, the kind of perceptual, perspectival changes a shaped Kelly goes through as you move around/along/towards/away from it now happen while you're standing still [sic], or whatever the term is for not warping to the next spot. This is what our art looks like on Google.


And this is what our culture looks like on maximalist copyright. Any questions?

Just in these tchotchke-filled vitrines alone, the Art Institute may actually have more blurred out objects and paintings on Museum View than MoMA. Here's what we cannot see: products, design, ashtrays and pots.


For these vitrines, I have to wonder if they just decided that clearing all these doodads from 20+ designers and their estates/mfrs was too much administrative work.


The spotty blurring in the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit, though, indicates that something else was clearly afoot. It looks like the museum has repro rights for some works, perhaps those in their own collection, but not for others. Or maybe the Estate didn't give permission for some subset? Loaned works?


Including this probable landscape, which, hey, goodlookin', I'll be back to paint you up later. [update: it's Abiquiu Sand Hills and Mesa, 1945. Interestingly, it's from a 2002 gift--many of the AIC's O'Keeffe's came from the artist herself or Stieglitz--and it's one of two listed online as being "© Georgia O'Keeffe Museum." With no image, even a thumbnail, on the Museum's website. I think we have our explanation.]


Here is a 94-year-old Paul Manship sculpture [and pedestal], now, thanks to Google and the Manship Estate, remade very much for our time.


Now you know I love the blur, but even so, this shot actually kind of bummed me out. O'Keeffe hung on until 1986, but every other artist in Gallery 271, the Early 20th Century American gallery, has been dead for more than 40 years. I guess we should be glad Kelly was still alive to give his permission, because it looks like the estates put that kind of thing on lockdown. Or on the meter. [Not you, grandfils de Lachaise!]


Here's an awesome but depressing view from Postwar, Gallery 262. I can't figure out the far left, but there's Jacob Lawrence, Ilya Bolokowsky, and Beauford Delaney on the wall there.


The unblurred Lawrence is nicely reflected in the plexi on the--seriously--blurred out Herman Miller table by Isamu Noguchi.

Previously: Blurring of Google Art Project comes as no surprise
Google Art Project v1.0: Les Blurmoiselles d'Avignon [Feb 2011]
Blurmany and the Pixelated Sublime [Nov 2010]

It looks like Les Blurmoiselles d'Avignon have some company.

The Google Art Project has released a new batch of 134 museum participants, bringing the total to 150, though only 51 institutions are offering Street View Museum View. And a couple of those, like Tate Modern and the Crystal Palace at the Reina Sofia, have basically no art, just space. [Tate Modern Museum View rather brilliantly drops you into the Turbine Hall, facing a blank temporary wall. ]

But if any museums besides MoMA gave to deal with living artists, or works still under copyright, I haven't been able to find them. And so MoMA wins this round for adding a rotating show--Kathy Halbrecht's contemporary installation in the 2nd floor Kirk Varnedoe Galleries [I am calling them this forever now, btw]--of contemporary art, thereby demonstrating that living artists are easier to get clearances from than estates.


Most of them, anyway. Fortunately, there are some exceptions, and they look awesome cloaked in Google's Blurmany-style algorithms. Oh the first really is the best, too. Sanja Ivekovic apparently didn't sign on to have her atrium installation, Rosa of Luxembourg become Rosa of Luxembourg of Google Art Projects.

Lady Rosa of Luxembourg (foreground), with the Gëlle Fra (background). Photograph by Christian Mosar. Courtesy Casino Luxembourg--Forum d'art contemporain , via

The monumental column is nice, of course, but the colors on that giant photo are utterly fantastic. That's the first one I'll paint.


Also, is the Bell & Howell helicopter over the staircase blurred out, too? Is that a fluke? Anyway, stepping back into the Varnedoe Galleries...


Still waiting to hear back on this one. I can't remember what it was, though from this angle, it looks like the bastard lovechild of Louise Bourgeois and Gerhard Richter raised by Thomas Houseago. Of course, after a speculative mashup like that, whoever it turns out to be will almost inevitably disappoint. Sorry, artist. That's a Reinhard Mucha in the back, though.


And when you head back there, both the Georg Herolds are also blurred. For a moment. Because you take another click/step, and they're not. The blur disappears. It's an unexpected reveal as Google's sheets of virtual ribbed polycarbonate clatter to the ground.


Or is it like that stuff on the facade of the Issey Miyake Pleats Please store in SoHo? You're walking along, blur blur blur, and then you align with the material, and for an instant, you can see in. At least, in this case, for one pano. I suspect this is an oversight, so go try it quickly.

And no offense to Herold, because his underpants dome is quite fetching, but I'd totally get one of those LA acrylic guys to cast me one of these first:


It's like an ethereal Anne Truitt. Also, don't you kind of wish that Kippenberger wasn't turned to the corner, so Museum View could blur its face? Also, it's interesting that the video monitor on the floor always has the same image in every pano. Was it on pause? Did they 'shop it in? Does it unsettle you, too, to have the simulation of moving through space without the simulation of moving through time? That is so Street View.


The Keith Haring mural and the Koons look great. [Which, Pace Prints just opened a show of another Haring mural, a unique silk screened scroll of his Blueprint Portfolio.]


Ahh, but we're here for the blur. Ooh, a very nice double blur from George Condo [right, really?] and Jenny Holzer [left, really? REALLY? Did she maybe insist on the obscuring blur to promote her redacted documents-as-minimalist-paintings show at Skarstedt?]


But take another click forward, and the veil drops again, momentarily, whatever that means on GSV's frozen timeframe.


This is awesome, what the algorithm stitching this pano together did to this Holzer bronze plaque. Perfect, really, and such a conveniently discrete, little object. I think I could have that 3D printed before I have it cast.

Such Google Maps-generated anomalies are ususally site-specific by definition. And recreating them is entirely dependent on the alignment of anomaly, real space, and aesthetics. Like the piece I installed in Brian Dupont's Extra Gallery last fall which translated the [fortunately] misaligned Street View seam running through their window into real space.

As Google Maps gets more hi-res, these noticeable differences between the real world and its corporate map simulacrum will diminish, if not disappear altogether. So it seems important to map them, or at least to note them, and to be able to read them while we can.

MoMA Museum View [googleartproject]
Previously: les Blurmoiselles d'Avignon
Blurmany and the pixellated sublime


Jon Rafman's got his 9 Eyes, but maybe what we really need is a 5 Stages of Google Street View, something to account for the process by which people awaken to the aesthetic, social, conceptual, and ultimately, political implications of Google's worldmapping project.

Urban architecture photographer Andrea Bosio has passed Stage 1: Looking up your own house on GSV, and has managed to turn Stage 2: Visiting famous places--in his case, name brand architecture--into a photo essay for Domus:

I have always used Google's Satellite and Street View system to view cities and principally to identify the urban drift areas featured in some of my photographic projects. In these cases, I use software as if it were a map made of pictures to find my way through the reality at times of direct experience. This is also the approach I adopted for the photographic project presented here although, on this occasion, the subject of my shots was the representation of the city supplied by Google Street View on my computer screen. I treated this new pixelated reality as a territory up for exploration and managed to compile a true photographic record of it by selecting different points of observation in this virtual space. I photographed the city without ever actually being there.
Which, shooting screens, hmm. Also: "We are able to experience the reality in an objective and non-interpretative portrayal." Which, hmm.

At least Bosio demonstrates the potential of GSV for creating postcard views.

I've never been there, by Andrea Bosio []


And here I am barely able to keep up with The New Aesthetic.

Meanwhile, TNA honcho James Bridle is cranking out other awesome projects left and right, and works like this one, Shadow, which, yes, please, very much.

Shadow, 2012, via STML's flickr]
STML, James Bridle's portfolio site []
The New Aesthetic []

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Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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