Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Amelia Rina’s review of the photography books A New American Picture by Doug Rickard (Aperture, 2012) and A New American Dream by Coll.eo (Concrete Press, 2014). This article was originally published on September 15, 2015.
Today, with the ever-expanding visibility of public space facilitated by online image databases such as Google Street View and Google Images, it is now possible to “be” almost anywhere, all from the comfort of your home, favorite café, or anywhere with a decent internet connection. As a readily accessible research tool, the images recorded by Google’s cameras and archived in their search engines allow users to become world travelers for nothing more than the cost of a Wi-Fi password. This new privilege inspires wanderlust-inducing listicles such as, “16 Amazing Places to Visit Via Google Street View,” which links readers to everywhere from the Adélie Penguin Rookery in Antarctica to Times Square in New York City. However, with our unprecedented connectivity comes a simple, all-too-common oversight of the plugged-in public: Not everyone enjoys the same access, and not every place has the same visibility. What are the implications of people, places, and things we can view online, and what meaning can we find in the gaps?
When Doug Rickard went on a virtual photographic road trip using Google Street View, his aim was to expose what he considered to be the forgotten or ignored parts of the United States—places that highlight the inequality and poverty he was shocked to discover while studying U.S. history in college. Through his project A New American Picture (2008–2012), Rickard endeavored to “shine a spotlight on specific parts of our country that need to be seen.” Starting in Detroit, which for him epitomizes the collapsed American dream, Rickard traveled across the country with the click of his mouse, visiting impoverished areas and photographing the scenes on his computer screen. “I was surprised at the level to which what I was seeing was so different from how America likes to see itself,” he explains in an interview. The resulting images demonstrate Rickard’s masterful eye for composition and image making, as well as his naïve exploitation and sensationalizing of poverty and its effects.