Images © Michael Wolf.
For the past year, Michael Wolf has been working on images based on Google Street View, and, he tells BJP in an exclusive interview, he entered four of these projects in the World Press Photo contest. Today, he received a honorable mention in the Contemporary Issues category for A Series of Unfortunate Events.
"I think it's absolutely astounding," he says. "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."
Wolf started his career as a photojournalist, he tells BJP, and progressed to a point where he started developing his craft in other areas - "I found that doing my own projects was more important than working purely for magazines," he says. "But nevertherless, a lot of my work was routed in the photojournalism genre. That's why, even though I haven't been working as a photojournalist, I still won a World Press Photo prize [in 2010]."
He adds: "At some point I thought it would be interesting to look at the virtual ways of dealing with photography. One of them was Google Street View. I found it a fascinating medium. I remembered last year when I won First Prize in the World Press Photo, I held a talk, and at the end I said 'I'm working on a new project, it's based on Google Street View and next year I will enter these photos in four categories.' So this year, I entered images bases on google street view in the Portrait Series, Nature, Contemporary Issues and Daily Life."
The work, he tells BJP, is his own. "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."
Entering the World Press Photo contest with these images was a provocation, he admits, and although he expected to be recognised in some way, he commends the jury for taking such a bold step. "It's time, you have to accept this," he says. "Our world is full of images. It's part of the future of our imagery. We have to deal with this - curate them or incorporate them into our work. I think it's a very courageous decision by the World Press, because of course, their decisions create a lot of attention for certain topics."
Wolf adds: "The leap of faith one has to make always depends on the jury. The jury is the God. It varies from year to year. Some year, they tend to be very conservative in their approach. Some years, they are very progressive. I feel this year, it's a jury that's very, very progressive. It just shows that people are willing to give this piece of work a mention.
Of course, he says, he expects that his Honorable Mention will create "an incredible amount of controversy because there are a lot of people that are going to say: 'What the hell?'" But it's wonderful, he tells BJP. "I think it's incredible because the most important thing is to push the limits; get a discussion going."
He continues: "I think a large part of our future will be the curating of all these images. Can you imagine the number of images stored in our world today? It's unlimited. In 100 years, there will be professions such as 'hard-drive miners', whose mission will be finding hard-drives in electronic junkyards and developing software to sort these images. And then there will be art projects and sociological projects created using images mined from electronic storages. The whole idea of curating this incredible mass of images that has been created has tremendous potential, and I've just scratch the surface with my Google Street View project."
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