What is photography? If you think it’s about the images produced by a photographer, sensitive to his subject, arranging the canvas in a clever geometry and waiting for the perfect moment, I urge you to visit the Angell Gallery’s back room asap. There, a series of nine magnificent photos “by Jon Rafman” await; all of them taken randomly by Google Street View (GSV). And these are terrific photos in every respect. The moose, for example (below), finds himself in uncertain and dangerous terrain, and runs headlong towards the corner to meet his destiny – a perfect metaphor for the clash of man and nature. What photographer wouldn’t “kill” for this shot?
And yet, these images are considered Rafman’s work, though they’re “taken by” a scheduled, roving camera and “owned by” a corporation. Or are they? Are they public property? And are they Rafman’s photos? Whatever the copyright questions, their presence at the gallery are the result of Rafman’s work: Years of it in fact, combing GSV for the best images for his thesis, which he summarizes as follows: “I saw GSV in some way as the ultimate conclusion of the medium of photography: the world being constantly photographed from every perspective all the time. As if photography had become an indifferent, neutral god observing the world.”
Neutral indeed, but not without a sense of humour, as the images above and below suggest. Or – is that Rafman’s humour and god’s randomness? Because Rafman’s role here, despite the randomness involved, and in opposition to his thesis, is just an analogue of the photographer’s traditional role of discovery, selection and presentation. In the real world all these random events also unfold; Jon Rafman has simply found a way to be everywhere at once.
The thesis that this show actually proves is that there is beauty, drama and humour in every place and in every moment. It’s just waiting for us to notice.
BTW, skip past the front rooms where Andrew B. Myers’ puerile photography awaits to discourage further exploration. You won’t be sorry.