Google Street View now encompasses the whole of the UK… does this make it the ultimate photographic project?

My first introduction to Google’s Street View was when London went beyond the usual map model and I was able to ‘walk’ down my road and look down the path of my own house. That was almost exactly a year ago and was impressive, baffling and maybe even scary too. From there Google has spanned considerably further, covering the streets of cities throughout the world. There’s no longer an excuse not to look up your next holiday’s accommodation just to make sure the hotel’s not next door to a rubbish dump or other such undesirable.

One year on, as of today, Google Street View goes one step further and now encompasses the majority of the UK’s streets. Right from being able to ‘walk’ around the small islands off the coast of Scotland, down the major motorways, small back-street country roads or anywhere else you may fancy.

However, the presence of Street View has been received on a variety of levels, both positive and negative. Despite clever algorithms that recognise faces and car number plates in order to blur them beyond recognition, many claim the site is a breach of privacy. Others have found their addictive nature has taken hold and led to incessant browsing of the world’s streets for little more than curiosity. That latter group’s time has led to numerous screen grabs posted throughout the vastness of the internet depicting apparent passed out drunks, marriage proposals, shootings and even house fires. Occasionally funny, sometimes frightening, but with a common fascinating factor.

While many of these resulting scenes were never the intended result, the content is that which fascinates many photographers and audiences the world over. Like being at the movies or viewing a documentary gallery show, only with the sense that this is entirely ‘more real’. Does this then make Street View the ultimate photographic project? The in-depth background knowledge or considered framing of the subject may lack, unlike many other well-known documentary photographs, but some of these Street View scenes would otherwise never have been seen, photographed or publicly visible. This almost god-like view doesn’t equivocate to anything else anyone has ever seen; the sheer scale, impact and practical use are beyond what a single frame can produce, yet both are very different things.  

At the heart of it, Street View is essentially a huge catalogue of photographs assembled to create something potentially even more powerful. There are more images total than I’ll ever take in my life, probably more than any one person will ever take in their lifetime too. It’s an incomprehensibly massive catalogue, intelligently stitched together and provides a glimpse into the landscape of our time, and the subjects that inhabit that space. It may yet take me a little longer to decide what I truly think about Street View, but for now I can’t help but be mightily impressed by its photographic nature.