Nature Valley, 2013-present
Google's quest to collect and organize every bit of data on the planet--to stash ever more information in its data banks--made it inevitable that their company cameras would go off-road into the so called natural world. As part of this effort, Google built its portable Trekker camera, a bulbous, multi-eyed system, worn like a backpack and deployed to sites like the Grand Canyon and the Galapagos Islands. Nature Valley, multi-national purveyor of granola bars, has started a parallel project to photograph the trails and other "assets" in National Parks using Immersive Media's Dodeca platform.
My "landscapes" are plucked from Nature Valley's web-based interface. Like their sources, these images are subject to the irregularities of the lens and the forest. Both Google and Nature Valley have chosen high-profile, national sites; the same majestic places that attracted Ansel Adams and his f/64 contemporaries. Yet unlike the mastery and precision sought by these modernist photographers, the trekker camera imagery is a high-volume enterprise, marked by speed, competing digital technologies, and corporate data-mining interests. The multi-lensed cameras march on, with an eye towards public relations and mass communication, rather than quaint photographic concerns like exposure, framing, light or taste.
I'm drawn to these New Topographics, these software-altered, no-place, places. I like their jpeg-tiled skies, blurred seams and colorful artifacts. Yet sometimes while navigating these spaces, I'm overcome with the uneasy feeling that with every new corporate imaging mission, something unnameable is lost; that the "natural" world (and our ability to see and experience it outside of this monolithic imaging interface) is rapidly vanishing. What will happen after these proprietary cameras record every rock, tree, and blade of grass? Who then will inherit the earth?
Many artists--Jon Rafman, Doug Rickard, and Manuel Vazquez--have used Google Street View imagery to expand the notion of street photography, as well as revisit the ethical questions posed by documentary practice. The Nature Valley pictures extend these inquiries from the streets and into the ethics of recording the natural world for profit.