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Real Moments, Caught in Time

Words:

Edd Norval

Photos:

Forth and Back: Dreams of New York
November 21, 2019

When people look back on the turn of the Millenium, the most cataclysmic shift in life has been brought on through technological advance. Everything subsequent to it is a direct result of it - whether people have embraced or rejected the change. Most pervasively is the use of technology to monitor, turning us into algorithms, reducing every aspect of life to convenience.

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Cyber security has been turned up over the last year or two, becoming a mainstream talking-point, regular people becoming more savvy to the lexicon of computing. It's the start of a fight back agains humans as data. But still, society, particularly in the most developed countries, feels Orwellian, as if we are constantly looked at not only for marketing and convenience purposes, but as a sort of measure to ensure the general population toe an imaginary line. It's discipline and fear without ever stating its intention.


One such example, widely thought of in savvier circles as a particularly imposing, yet necessary part of our daily lives is Google Earth (and Maps). There's no denying how handy it is, but it's also a way to map us and our patterns, to capture our behaviours and the ebbs and flow of modern life. It is both freedom and constriction.


Google's mapping features first came to people's attention when cars were driving all around their city or town with large mounted cameras on their roofs. Colloquial whispers saw it as an oncoming apocalypse - the beginning of the end of everything private and sacred. There was an outcry that with time has dwindled into subtle acceptance. What can we do anyway? What power do we really have?

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Largely regarded as something non-human, Google Earth has been reappropriated by Forth and Back design studio to display the raw and visceral images of everyday life in inner city New York, giving the cold computing cameras a new power - that of an empathetic street photographer capturing the most intimate and unexpected moments of people's lives.


It's a deeply narrative-led approach to technology's place in society. Dreams of New York started life with the studio's founders Nikolos Killian and Tanner Woodbury looking at New York through the sort of randomised lens of Google Earth. Their findings were far less informative and much more personal than expected.


It wasn't just facades of shopfronts and bars that they found, but moments of onlookers - as curious about these machines as people in the furthest reaches of the world - gazing at the odd-looking cars, or perhaps ignoring them completely, dreamlike, hazy and oblivious to their online immortalization.

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Remembering how it began with seeing a carefree ragtag group of kids skateboarding online, Woodbury recalls the feeling of discovery, as if this was an entirely new tool whereby the world could be examined. New York, as with London and Paris and every other major city, often faces charges of being a bustling metropolis devoid of personal moments. When they are found, they are cherished and it is in this book that the creative duo decided to collect such moments they felt had similarly nostalgic or evocative traits, just like that group of young kids skating.


Being 'frozen in time' underpins the concept of the project. These ephemeral occurrences happen every moment of every day, but are rarely captured and through this rarity lies their power. Their searingly honest and raw humanity make them relatable, yet also still unknown. This is a book for people who look around and ask themselves - who are these people? what kind of life do they lead?


Curiosity is often behind the greatest of artistic expressions and, giving Google's quasi-voyeuristic images a new home - now in the realm of art - these moments are no longer overlooked. These are stories untold, in a time when excess information permeates our existence, where almost any question can be answered with a click. Instead, these photographs allow us to weave our own tales, just like we absentmindedly do in our day-to-day lives. By flicking through this book, we remove ourselves from technology and take our own breathless stroll through the city that never sleeps.

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