Thursday, 17 February 2011

Unfortunate Events

I don't usually follow the World Press Photo Awards. Not sure why - somehow it doesn't fall on my radar. But now that I've started tweeting (follow me!) it's hard to avoid; I am, of course, following photography-minded people, and the great thing about Twitter is that you do seem to be the first to know.

So I couldn't avoid the hoo-ha on Twitter when the World Press Photo Awards was announced. And I had a look at all the entries. There really is some great photography in there, and to me, it's a reminder of what photography is fundamentally for; educating us on what is happening in strange and unfamiliar places. I am so much in the world of art photography that I sometimes forget the importance of the medium to inform us on what is happening around the world; which is exactly what the World Press Photo awards recognises and honours.

Obviously there are some very difficult, distressing images amoung the entries (my friend Russell has written a very interesting blog post on the winning entry by Jodi Bieber - you can read it here). But the series that caught my (art - trained) eye was the work by Michael Wolf. Not documenting one particular event in the World, indeed not using his own camera to document anything, instead it is sort of a document of the whole world, and serves as a reflection on our Big Brother-esque society. Wolf's project, A series of unfortunate events, is a collection of stills from Google Streetview. He has painstakingly searched this new technology to find scenes which are amusing, or strange... in a word, unfortuante. In one, we see an old woman lying on the kerb, while a man mends a bike behind her, seemingly oblivious to her plight. In others there is a woman caught having a pee behind a car, a car on fire, a bike crash, a man being arrested. All these things just happened to happen when the Google streetview camera passed - and consequently documented forever.

I am pleased to see Wolf's images honoured by World Press Photo - I'm sure it's very different to other entries they have ever had. And yet it is relevant; it's a document of society, not only of people going about their daily lives but also of the new (and sometimes controversial) technology of Streetview. It almost represents the all seeing eye, looking down on us from above and recording what we do. It is also reminiscent to me of the staged photography of Jeff Wall. A signal, perhaps, of how talented a photographer Wall is, as he succeeds to re-create scenes which could easily have happened by chance.

©Jeff Wall - Mimic

Wolf is not the only photographer who has had the patience and tenacity to search for unfortunate events... Jon Rafman has also done this. His website is well worth a look, as is an essay he wrote about the technology, which can be found here. (thanks to Contact Blog for bringing that to my attention!)

Michael Wolf's project will be exhibited at the Format Festival, which looks very exciting this year. There is one show I cannot wait to see... more about that in another post!


  1. But surely Wolf's pictures are copyright Google?

  2. Interesting that Michael Wolf gets to claim some sort of 'ownership' of those google street view images....anyone know how he managed that?

  3. hmmm..... exactly. Liz, you should read Ree's blog:


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