Michael Wolf‘s photo series ‘A Series Of Unfortunate Events’ created huge debate last year when he was awarded an honourable mention in the annual World Press Photo competition as the images were taken from a computer screen.
To create the series Wolf trolled Google Street View looking for accidents caught on camera. When he found one he liked he set up his camera, framed the image and took a photograph of the scene. It’s voyeuristic in the extreme, voyeurism for the internet age and a frightening reminder of the World we actually live in. A World in which privacy is dead.
However, when he won the award photo journalists from around the World went nuts. Was this legitimate? Were these his images or Google’s? Could this work be considered ‘daily life’ when it was captured, by chance on a computer screen, by someone trawling through 1000′s of images in order to find the best, most amusing, most interesting?
This subject gets right to the core of one of the most important questions of our time. Privacy and the evasive nature of the internet.
Here’s what Wolf had to say:
I think it’s absolutely astounding, I won First Prize twice in the competition in 2005 and last year, but this honorable mention is worth hundred times more to me because it’s such a conceptual leap for the World Press jury to award a prize to someone that photographs virtually. It’s mind-blowing.
I use a tripod and mount the camera, photographing a virtual reality that I see on the screen. It’s a real file that I have, I’m not taking a screenshot. I move the camera forward and backward in order to make an exact crop, and that’s what makes it my picture. It doesn’t belong to Google, because I’m interpreting Google; I’m appropriating Google. If you look at the history of art, there’s a long history of appropriation.
One of the members of the Jury said this in Wolfs defence:
Photojournalism today is definitely what photojournalism was 50 years ago: A situation interpreted into a meaningful image…But something virtual has entered our visual world that we could not even have imagined 10 years ago. Hence, our world has changed in a revolutionary way. You can write about it and you can look at it on your computer, but how to document it with the means of photography? This is, in my opinion documentary photography and this work is smart and creative. What Michael Wolf did is use photography to chronicle a significant event.
The work was recognized in the category ‘Contemporary Issues’ and not in the category ‘Daily Life’. The Contemporary Issue is that Google scans our world and we cannot hide from it. We are not part of an anonymous mass anymore, we are identifiable.
What do you think? Where do you stand? Whose images are these?