Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Vertical Realities

Lisa Parks pointed out in her talk that Google Earth participated in "patchwork censorship", whereby, at the behest of governments and organizations, satellite images of Google Earth are replaced by older images in order to conceal certain developments such a black sites and secret facilities. Besides the obvious fear that regular viewers using Google Earth are not informed of this fact and thus assume the images they view are real, it also points out an important point brought up by Michel de Certeau's "Walking in the City" - sometimes, looking down from above, one cannot make sense of what is happening "on the ground". What one assumes to be reality, as viewed from our computer screens, may look very different when seen from below.

Trevor Paglen knows this well; in his talk, he mentions photographing secret CIA facilities, made invisible on any map by the US government in the interest of "national security". It is only by walking the streets that Paglen is able to find out what is actually present; as Lisa Parks shows us, Google Earth can misrepresent actual geographies for political reasons. Mapping has traditionally been a process involving much back and forth between the macro and the micro - explorers traverse new territories, then combine their piecemeal knowledge to form a larger map. However, with the advent of satellite imagery, it is no longer necessary to actually visit the location in order to map it. Paglen and Parks both call for a return to more traditional methods of cartography as a means of verifying what is produced by satellite imaging. However, the problem lies not with the technology itself, but the censorship it undergoes. Reality is obscured by the changes that Google Earth makes to its images in order to protect certain locations, and because of this, the only method of finding whether the macro-scale image we are given is real is to traverse into the micro, and then project the micro back onto the macro, in what Lisa Parks describes as something like a reverse shot.

Additionally, I am intrigued by her argument for vertical, rather than horizontal histories, but not entirely sure if I understand what exactly a vertical history entails.


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