Google Street View is in its own way just as ghostly and elusive. Doug Rickard’s series A New American Picture has stirred a lot of critical conversation since he started it a few years ago. Rickard viewed an unconscionable number of Google images on his computer, narrowed them down to 10,000 possibles, then reduced those to 79. It’s the latest, counter-intuitive wrinkle in street photography: immediacy of event isn’t important, and the photographer’s intensely subjective point of view is beside the point. What immediacy Google View images possess isn’t intimate at all; it’s intrusive, indifferent, more scoping than peering. The locales in the MOPA selection are urban wastelands in the Bronx and Detroit. Teenage males amble aimlessly across streets lined with shuttered and graffiti-ed storefronts. Rickard’s project is to select, not create, the newest form of photographic impassivity and intrusiveness. It’s a fixed view, because of Google View’s eye-in-the-(low)-sky vantage. Most street photography reminds us that we never know when we’re being watched. Rickard’s series reminds us that we can always count on being watched by who knows who. There’s no privacy, but then who would pretend these street desolations are privacies?
Todd Hido is a more artful and disturbing intruder. He has made an unsettling art of photographic eavesdropping, and his cool subjectivity gives no release or escape. In the series Excerpts from Silver Meadows, Hido eavesdrops, with a drifty, intensely subjective intimacy, on places familiar from his childhood on the outskirts of Kent, Ohio, in the 1960s. Shots of a motel strung with oozy green and red lights, a farmhouse in the snow, and a creek, alternate with huggy close-ups of a torchy young woman in period cashmere and pearls, a telephone off its hook, and a street sign (“Shirley Rae”). We need the facile truism about certain art being unforgettable; it’s a way of saying something gets under our skin and never really works itself out. It dissolves into the bloodstream and in some indeterminable way readjusts how we look at the world. That’s what Hido’s work does to me. Staking Claim offers the smallest sampling of Hido’s insinuating vision, but you’ll get the idea.
1450 El Prado, Balboa Park
1649 El Prado, Balboa Park
Women, War, and Industry is on view at the San Diego Museum of Art until February 18, 2014.
Staking Claim: A California Invitational is on view at the Museum of Photographic Arts until January 26, 2014. 1649 El Prado, Balboa Park, 619-238-7559, mopa.org