About photobooks – old and new.
Doug Rickard’s new book “A New American Picture” was launched on Tuesday, October 16 at Aperture Foundation. The event included a talk with the artist, which was an opportunity to better understand his photographic project and his decision to explore new paths in street photography, using Google Street View.
In “A New American Picture”, Doug Rickard displays a series of harsh images of desolate urban areas in the United States. In these places, store fronts are closed, buildings and houses are decrepit, and people seem more like occasional passer-bys. There is a strong feeling of desertion and loneliness in his pictures, reminiscent of some of Edward Hopper’s paintings. In these pictures however, Rickard exposes the deeper issue of spatial isolation and social exclusion in big American cities such as Detroit, New Orleans, or Indianapolis. As he says, these places represent “the broken-down American dream”.
What is quite surprising and peculiar in his work is the fact that he never left his desk for this project. Whereas previous generations of street photographers documented a part of the reality that they encountered in their extensive travels, Rickard instead took advantage of the vast archive of images readily available on the internet through Google Street View. After manipulating and recomposing the photos taken from this vast database of street images, he is able to present a consistent and valuable work about social exclusion in the US.
His work also raises interesting questions about the role of the artist in an era characterized by an abundance of information and imagery. Today anyone can take pictures, post them online and share them, documenting directly or indirectly their surroundings. Given this abundance of images readily available online, an artist may not need to execute new photos, but instead may focus on the idea and narrative that will give meaning to existing images. Doug Rickard explores well this new approach to photography.
Rickard also brings to light the ambiguity of Google Street View as a source of visual information. The database of its images collected in the streets by cameras installed on electric automobiles, enables viewers to discover remote urban areas, which are sometimes difficult to access. But at the same time, Google Street View can be compared to a powerful urban space surveillance system. People can be seen without knowing when and by whom, and this has become an acceptable spectacle for internet users. The work of Doug Rickard ultimately questions the relationship between spatial isolation, information and social control.