Fragments

How is the image of cities constructed ?

Following what I wrote on friday here are 4 images of Paris, London, Berlin and Tokyo taken from Google Images. They are a series of the first images that Google’s algorithm provides (after I deleted my browser history and put my VPN on) when I type the names of these cities.

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[last on apart] all images of London shows the Thames river. 12 are taken at the end of the day, the sun is nearly down. Big Ben, London Eye, London Bridge and the shard (as an icon of tower in london in itself) look to be the necessary icons to construct the image of the city.

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Out of 20 images of Tokyo, 13 display a night version of the city with only 2 referring to a relation with water – although Tokyo is one of biggest port in the world and largely in contact with its bay. Advertising looks almost as iconic of the japanese city than its fake Eiffel tower. 6 of the views are taken from a human POV.

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Paris seems to be very much related to the Eiffel tower. 19 out of 20 images displays the metal tower, 4 showing even only the tower itself without any context.

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Berlin’s Spree is quite present in the construction of the image of the city (12/20) as the television tower on Alexanderplatz (13/20). Very few (1) street views. The Brandebourg doors appears 3 times and Foster’s Reichstag dome once.

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Rome seems to have a more fragmented images where different iconic building seems to be defining the city’s image : Coliseum (5), St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican (4) and its colonnade (2), Trevi Fountain (1). Two don’t even belong to the city Leaning Tower of Pisa (1) and Pompeii surroundings (1). The very dramatic ‘sun going down’ light condition seems to fit quite well to Rome image as it appears in 9 out of 20 images. The city is much more described through a ‘street view’ POV (9).

The particular conditions of the image seems to be also applied to buildings as well.

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The same face of the Coliseum, from almost the same street POV is shown 15 times of 21. They are almost all street POV (17) and 1 is the ‘London Coliseum’, home the English National Theatre.

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The image of Eiffel tower is mainly constructed via a frontal point of view (17) , with large camera angles probably correcting the perspective as it mostly appears as a quite ‘right’ artefact (6). They are mostly taken from the champs-de-Mars (14).

There is obviously an interesting control (or trend) over the construction of the representation of the city (google images acting as a tool for displaying information). It is surely partly influenced by the way Google algorithms work. The image of the city is constructed through a series of POV (street view, aerial view, panoramic,…) and a series of built or unbuilt fragments (buildings, icons, geographic elements, topographic elements and ‘lighting’ condition). It looks like these elements are the bare-minimum to construct the image of a particular place. It looks there is the potential of going deeper into this idea of the ‘economy of the bare-minimum’ and the incredible (almost unreal) tension in between these elements and the ‘real’ experience of the city (where for example I have barely seen the Thames more than 5 times since I have been living in london).

As I said in last post, I believe the image is both constructed through the frames and the mechanism. The frame is somehow what I discussed before with the POV. The fragments are elements that are more part of the mechanism itself. But they are ‘just’ physical elements that needs economic and legal reason for existing.

I dont exactly know why I did research on ‘Fake Estates’ a project in which Gordon Matta-clark bought a series of insignificant urban lot for 25$ during an auction sale in the 1970s. These pieces of land are leftovers from planning regulations and which size is so small that they are not of interest for real-estate agencies. They are unusably small slivers of land sliced from the city grid through anomalies in surveying, zoning, and public-works expansion. Matta-Clark documented each of the 15 lots he bought quite precisely. I am not sure what Matta-Clark wanted to eventually achieve but it was the first project that came to my mind when thinking about the legal mechanism on which the city is built. It tells about how ridiculous it might be but also that the city can be understand through its regulatory mechanism. It can be described (represented) through this medium as well – and it surely take part in the way the image of the city is constructed. Following, a few images on ‘Fake Estates’.

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More to come tomorrow

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