Tag: Travel

Street View’s Strange Solitude

Exploring the world through Google Maps, the Agorophobic Traveler carves out haunting impressions from a parallel universe.

A couple of years ago, cycling through a sleepy Dutch city, my friends and I came across one of Google’s signature Street View cars. It was an unusual sight: A white sedan, adorned with a small Google logo on the side, and that roof-mounted camera peering down like an insect eye. We waved.
When the images became available on Google Maps many months later, there was no visible trace of our waving selves; just an empty intersection in that sleepy Dutch city.

Strangely Devoid of Life

In fact, most images you see on Google Street View seem strangely devoid of life. This is particularly obvious in the work of Jacqui Kenny, an artist who goes by the name of The Agoraphobic Traveler.
Held back by anxieties and a fear of crowded spaces—the dictionary definition of agoraphobia—, Kenny has chosen to see the world in an unusual fashion: By exploring the image database of Google Street View. She writes: “I found remote towns and dusty landscapes, vibrant architectural gems, and anonymous people, all frozen in time. I was intrigued by the strange and expansive parallel universe of Street View, and took screen shots to capture and preserve its hidden, magical realms.”
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
On her site and Instagram account, she shares her “Street View Portraits”, and I can’t help but agree with the impression they depict a world unlike our own. They are very ordinary things; but in such an unusual way and so devoid of life that they seem somehow removed from the reality we experience every day.
That is because they are, in a way, removed: In its attempt to photograph most of the planet, Google has effectively turned our surroundings into an enormous photographic tapestry. Their massive picture, free for anyone to roam around in, is entirely devoid of “decisive moments” or carefully chosen frames. Browsing the imagery, the Agoraphobic Traveler breaks the picture back down, she selects what catches her eye.

A Sight Worth Recording

Does that make her a curator? A new type of photographer? In his book ‘Understanding a Photograph’, John Berger wrote that any photograph contains a simple encoded message: “I have decided that seeing this is worth recording.” The Agoraphobic Traveler may not be behind the camera, but I would argue that she nevertheless engages in photography: Her pictures tells us that a particular sight is worth recording—even if it has previously been recorded by Google.
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny
Google Copyright/Created by Jacqui Kenny

The Strangest Kind of Travel Photography

What makes the shots so memorable is how they present the world. As Google shoots during daytime, all pictures are naturally filled with light, and since the insect-eye cameras have a unique vantage point, all photos are wide-angle shots taken from the same height. The genius in these pictures therefore doesn’t stem from technical skill, but from what photographer Sergio Larraín has described as the game of “organizing the rectangle”.
The Agoraphobic Traveler has selected empty streets and white walls, free-standing buildings and wide plains. Perhaps there’s a correlation between her fear of crowded spaces and the tendency to select such open spaces. Google obscures the faces of anyone they capture, so none of the people we see can be identified, giving the images an uncanny sense of isolation.
When I contrast these shots with the way I see the world, I feel like they depict a dystopia. A strange land where an unforgiving sun always beats down and people perpetually turn away. If I hadn’t encountered that car myself, I would have trouble believing that the pictures are taken in our world. But this way, I can’t stop looking.
Interested in seeing more Street View Portraits? Check out the site of The Agoraphobic Traveler for an extended gallery and the opportunity to buy prints of her work—with all proceeds going towards charity.

Party of One

Perhaps Paris is best enjoyed without company.

4, 6, 8 … 10 avenue des Champs-Elysées. A century old greenhouse hidden away on one of Paris’s loudest, most hurried streets. White wood paneling, sunlight streaming in, in summertime the terrace looks onto the Grand Palais.
From the kitchen’s innocently open windows, aromas of herbs and slowly cooking wine waft out, stopping a wandering passant. A gentleman d’un certain âge, a definite flâneur, in a navy blue coat, well cut, collar up. About him lingers a hint of Eau Sauvage, and the quiet refinement of one who has well read, traveled, seen, and done. On his left hand, a gold wedding band and a fine brown leather watch. He consults the latter, and one more time inhales. Then, seduced, he walks in.
Through the neatly trimmed garden, up the white marble steps. By the door, a wine list, and desserts on a golden cart. The visual temptation amplifies the olfactory; intricate and delicate, crafted like art.
The maître d’hôtel, however, apologetically says:
Désolé, Monsieur. Nous sommes complets. ((I apologize, Monsieur. We are full.))
Not a table available, not even for one.
But as he watches the gentleman leave, the host has a thought.
Attendez Monsieur! Upon reflection, I believe we do have one.
At the Pavillon Lenôtre, there is a table, with white linen, white roses, fine china and silverware. And a single, perfectly positioned, proud Louis XV chair. Silver salt shakers de chez Christofle, crystal glasses from Baccarat. And the most beautiful view in all of Paris, from across the baie vitrée.
The table cannot be requested, and is always reserved. It is the perfect setting for a party of one.
Its guests are assigned at the maître’s discretion; historically eclectic and few. Old, young, ladies, gentlemen, wealthy, and poor. Frenchmen, foreigners, literate, or not. With nothing in common, save for a quiet way of walking in and inquiring about lunch, tea, dessert – for one.
The gentleman is deemed worthy. He is escorted to his seat. Coat taken, napkin unfolded. The wine is poured in silence, the first plate quietly placed. The guest is left alone, with silence, Paris, and a feast.
En entrée:
Ravioles de langoustines et bouillon de crustacés, ((To begin, scampi ravioli in a light shellfish broth)) accompanied by sips of crisp, young Bandol blanc.
A warm piece of baguette shamelessly sops the light shellfish broth. One lingering sip of white wine.
Remise en bouche: a fresh lemon sorbet.
A few, unhurried minutes later, le plat principal:
Filet de bœuf façon Rossini aux cèpes et gratin dauphinois, ((Beef fillet Rossini with porcini mushrooms and potato gratin)) with a fine wine sauce poured at the table, and a glass of merlot de Pomerol.
The flavors are intense and wholesome. The last bite is deliberately slow.
A fleeting sadness, but consolation soon comes:
The sun setting over Paris, a slice of vieux Comté, more Pomerol.
From the golden cart, a moelleux is served à la chartreuse. The spoon cuts through the soft and crunchy entremets. The warm chocolate oozes out and blends into the liqueur.
Each bite is savored leisurely, in silence and with care. Lenôtre is one of those rare places where dessert and solitude are still considered art.
Short and black, the coffee arrives promptly. The bill never does; another honor bestowed only to the finest table in the house.
To dine alone in Paris is to dine alone with Paris. With the stories it inspired, and those that inspired it. Eiffel’s eccentric tower, Haussmann’s avenues, Hugo’s chimneys, Pagnol’s boulangeries. Sisley’s barges along the Seine, Monet’s mist over Notre Dame. The rivaling cafés des Deux Magots and Flore, the Bec-de-Gaz bar. Picasso’s studio, Renoir’s hôtel particulier. The covered galleries, the rooftop gardens, the secret alleyways.
Street musicians and artists, hidden lovers around corners, chain smokers in the sun. In this city, there is no such thing as a party of one.
The gentleman finishes his coffee. A perfect ending to a perfect meal. The food was exquisite, the view was sublime. He folds his napkin and places it on the tablecloth, beside a few bills. He pulls up the collar of his navy blue coat, ready to leave. But waits for the last ray to set, out of respect.