Photographing Screens

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Lee Friedlander, Florida, 1963


Wayne Bremser considers Google Maps Street View art, drawing an interesting comparison to 60s Americana photography capturing TV screens:

One important process-related issue with GSV images that end up as photographs on a gallery wall is this: they are not screen grabs, but photographs of a screen. Whether the camera was employed to enable more megapixels for large printing, or as part of the conceptual artistic process, images created by the GSV device and compressed for the web are transformed somehow, perhaps with the air between monitor and camera. This is especially true with Rickard’s work. Spending time at the gallery, I noticed myself switching from paying attention to jpeg artifacts and evidence of the source, to finding the right distance and appreciating the colors and Rickard’s compositions.

Photographs of screens with GSV scenes actually belong to a long tradition. How many families in America have taken photographs of the television? Of the moon landing, or the home team winning the World Series?

The transformation is similar to what Rickard and the others are exploiting: a fuzzy TV signal on a crappy TV that makes its way into a Pittsburgh home, but becomes something different when captured by a decent Nikon lens. The resulting photograph doesn’t just capture the content of the TV screen, but the person’s desire to capture what was on the screen. Today GSV is just as fleeting as the World Series was in the pre-VCR or DVR era. There’s no way to know when Google will update a location and remove a scene.

Robert Frank has a few television screens in The Americans, including one wonderful photo inside a television studio. Along with the insane pile of cables, at the same time the photograph shows both how ...

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