In 2018 I launched a Kickstarter project called You Have to See This Place, “an experiment involving places and photos.” Here’s a short version of my pitch to potential backers:
• You’ll pick a spot on the surface of the planet, like a street address or latitude/longitude.
• Using computers and math, I’ll find the photo I’ve taken closest to that spot, and send you a print.
• There are 100 prints available. Once they’re all shipped, I’ll post all 100 photos online. Together we’ll create an exhibit of photos that you all selected sight unseen.
I’m pleased to announce that I’m opening that exhibit today — just two years behind schedule. You can see the photos here.
A quick example of how this worked: A project backer named Jeffrey in the Netherlands picked a location in a park in Osaka, Japan. I plugged the coordinates of that spot into a SQL query that spit out a list of photos I had taken near Osaka. The nearest ones turned out to be in Kyoto, about 25 miles northeast of Osaka.
The first one in the list that met the criteria (see below) was the one I printed and sent to Jeffrey.
This project was, among other things, an exercise in anti-curation. I wanted to outsource the process of photo selection to the project’s backers — and, ultimately, to some great-circle math. The 20,000 location-tagged photos in the project database already represented my own particular take on the places I’d been. Why not just give up control over which of them should be shared with the world?
In practice, giving up control wasn’t so easy. I carved out some exceptions to the “closest photo” rule up front: I wouldn’t choose “photos taken in private spaces, photos of people I know, photos that are not of places (food etc.), and photos that are blurry or otherwise messed up.” It was “photos that are not of places” that ended up causing me the most angst, probably because it gave me a lot of wiggle room. Often I ended up skipping over some photos in favor of others that conveyed the feeling of a neighborhood or city or country. And feelings are, you know, pretty subjective.
The selection process was also skewed by my desire to make people happy. If a photo came up that didn’t feel worthy of, at the very least, a spot on a fridge, it felt like a waste to get it printed and shipped to a faraway stranger. I wasn’t all that consistent about these approaches over the two years it took me to send out all the prints, so some selections were more rules-driven than others. But… curation happened. Sorry.
Some random thoughts I had while working on this project:
• The coordinate system and GPS have a certain flattening effect. A grid of numbers with many decimal places blankets the planet. Every last pile of rocks has an address. Your phone locks your photos to this grid, even if you don’t want it to.
• When you look at enough latitude/longitude pairs, you start to get a feel for where they are. I might have to take up transoceanic navigation.
• This was a great way to revisit photos I had forgotten about. But it really made me miss visiting new places. I really hope to be able to do that again soon. (Wear a mask.)
Many thanks to all the backers who made this project possible! I had a lot of fun with it.