Recently I had the pleasure of see the New Photography 2011 exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art here in NYC. The most interesting and exciting of the six photographers work shown was that of Doug Rickard, who uses “found” images from Google Maps to paint a picture of urban and suburban decay; one that is only enhanced by the arbitrary and accidental nature of the images.

Here is one (you can see all of them here):

Mr. Rickard titles all his pieces with the coordinates and a city or town name. Since the images are reproduced from publicly available images, the work is not about his skill as a photographer but rather as an archivist. To be dramatic, he has shown the dark side of what creating a library of images of every possible place can reveal. Also, the images are technically Google’s property, raising interesting issues of ownership, “fair use,” and art.

We somehow already know these images exist, yet to see them is still shocking.

While with most types of surveillance images (for lack of a better term) we expect and even desire the worst of human nature to be recorded — in fact we rely on it — to provide evidence of crimes and protection from terrorism.

But Google Maps is supposed to be fun: we look here to check out a house we want to buy, a place we want to visit on vacation, or a cherished location from our childhood. When it reveals something ugly about ourselves or our society, something must be wrong with the machine. We all know these people and places exist, and we all do our best to look somewhere else. Rickard reminds us they are still here, sometimes very close by.

Of course, “found” art began in the 1920’s with Duchamp and the Surrealists, and hasn’t changed that much since he exhibited a urinal as art — except that the shock value is long gone. Congratulations to Rickard for finding it again.

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