Michael Wolf – Peeping

Michael Wolf was not happy about a move to Paris that he had to make with his wife who had a job offer there in 2008. He felt that a city that had been photographed as much as Paris and was full of clichés had nothing to offer him as a photographer.

He started exploring the city using google street view, one thing led to the next and he started photographing the scenes he saw on the monitor. It turned out to be a totally different way of looking at the city.

He’s been asked many times “when does a google street view picture become a Michael Wolf picture” and he says “as soon as I determine how I crop the image.”

Find out more about Michael Wolf and his process in this fascinating profile by Foam:

More can be found on Foam For You.

Foam For You is an online resource which features professional photographers providing inspiration and advice for amateurs looking to improve their own work. At the core of Foam For You’s content is a series of extended films about the work of three internationally renowned artists: Michael Wolf (USA), Jessica Backhaus (GER) and Melanie Bonajo (NL). They have given Foam exclusive access to their working practice in three fifteen minute documentaries. They explain the thinking behind their work and, in particular, how it relates to themes taken from different issues of Foam Magazine, in which their work appeared.

There Are 33 Comments On This Article.

  1. I spent nearly a year in Paris working on a project of making images that were not typical or cliché. They exist, but you have go through a lot of shoe leather to find them. Sitting on your butt and photographing your monitor maybe cute and different, but the results certainly do not merit a post on this blog. I think highlighting this work is slap in the face to all those street shooters who have shed blood and sweat to make images, in any city, that were different than those already taken.

  2. To me, this seems like Richard Prince kind of thing. The idea/concept of what he’s doing is more interesting than the end work. And I have to agree with some of what Tom said. Photographing your monitor instead of interacting with the real world bugs me a little.

  3. great film. i really enjoyed learning about his work.
    and to TOM M. i don’t think mr. wolf considers himself a “street shooter”.

    • Art is about process. There is not enough of a process going on here to call this art. Not to say that the final images aren’t interesting but this is really an exercise in cropping.

      • Didn’t realize Kyle you were the one who defined what art was. Thank goodness you cleared that up. The fact that some people hate this and some love it makes it successful art.

        • I’m glad to have enlightened you Bill.

          —>My opinion<— is that art is about an artist's personal exploration with an evolving process. An artist can put their soul into their work, yet it might not invoke any reaction at all from the public. Does that mean its not art? No.

          The fact that some people hate this and some love it makes it successful art. While getting a rise from people is something that some artist strive for, the reaction itself doesn't make something art. I personally don't subscribe to the notion that a rotting cow corpse in a gallery is art.

            • Perhaps someone should coin a new phrase. Something to distinguish contemporary art from, lets call it “Doing stuff with new technology that hasn’t been done before because it didn’t exist before so therefore it couldn’t have been done before”.

              I’m no writer. I’m sure someone could boil that down to a catchy phrase.

  4. This is a fantastic video. I love his work.

    However, I thought it was funny/ironic when he says. “the great thing about photography, especially nowadays is that, it doesn’t cost anything.” (12:34) He says this at the exact moment he’s shown staring through the lens of his Mamiya medium format camera with a Phase One P45+ back that costs ~ $23,000. So, yeah, photography doesn’t cost anything.

    • +1 – I had the exact same thought.

      I don’t really want to comment on the work or process or concept, but I find that someone moving to Paris and being all pissed off about it and spending the first two weeks just looking at the city with Google Maps rather than actually going outside – well this seems rather sad.

      • Good point. I totally don’t buy that it’s hard to take photos in Paris that aren’t tourist clichés. I think you can find interesting, beneath-the-radar street settings in any big city, no matter how photographed it is.

        Maybe his project is worthwhile, but my first reaction was, man this sure seems lazy. Also, personally, I’d love to be able to walk around Paris looking for interesting street pictures.

  5. Not keen.
    I’ve never been a fan of photographing/making art (rather than documenting) through photographing other art pieces i.e. sculpture or graffiti – to me feels too much like using someone else’s creativity.
    This just feels like a continuation of that.
    Besides – why does he photograph it? Others have done similar projects just using a screengrab/print screen.

  6. Donnor Party

    It is interesting, just like Sudoku is interesting, as an exercise. I’ve spent long periods in Paris. There is more than the cliches on the street, once you get away from the Tower and the Arc. In the internet age maybe Google maps is a good way to scan neighborhoods, but when I was a punk kid in Paris on assignment I read books set in Paris, found interesting settings, and alked there. I took the Metro because in a city like Paris (and New York, and Chicago, and London) life happens underground. The real city reveals itself in the commuters, louts, buskers, perverts and hustlers underground.

  7. Interesting project but not novel – see Jon Rafman’s “9 Eyes” or Doug Rickard’s “A New American Picture”.

  8. Art or not, whatever you wanna call it. This is not photography. Taking pictures of pictures is not photography. Its curation at best, looks like he is a photo editor. What would be the difference from this and him taking other people’s video work and pulling stills and cropping them? He might as well zoom out and get his monitor and desk in the shot too.

  9. What a lazy photographer. He takes photos of somebody else’s work, and calls it his own? This goes against everything that makes a photographer a photographer. Go out in the real world and find this stuff yourself. The real photographer is creative and knows what to look for, and then finds it. He looks at something after it’s been done, and says he likes or doesn’t like. Weak.

  10. le cinémasagiste

    Why do people consider him lazy or that what he does is considered to be easy? Just because his ass doesn’t move, doesn’t mean his creativity is at a standstill. Writers, painters, designers…they all, for the most part, sit on their ass when making their art.

    Google street view takes a 360° image (not a photo IMO) every 30′ (10M). To date, they have 5 million unique miles documented. That’s 26,400,000,000 feet of 360° data to discover. Not something most lazy ass people want to tackle to find those few hidden gems of image data. Nor something that any human being could attempt to see in real-life in numerous lifetimes.

    my 2¢

    • le cinémasagiste

      also, I’d like to clarify that I do not believe street view is not somebody else’s “art” or “photography”. A guy with or without any technical or artistic background is given a map and a grid to drive, as he drives multiple cameras (a camera is not a photographer, nor is a photographer always someone with a camera) take photos. This is a robotic process that has an end purpose of data sharing. There is no soul, creativity or even any thought given to the images on street view.

      The folks that compare cropping an original Michael Wolf photo and calling it their own, to what he is doing are just plain out of their minds.