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Twisted Landscapes of Google Earth’s Universal Texture

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Photo Credits: Courtesy Clement Valla

Postcards from Google Earth is a series of screenshots artist Clement Valla took from Google Earth. These uncanny landscapes document technical anomalies in the software, which uses a technology called texture mapping. Like patterned wrapping paper covering a plain white box, a texture map is a flat image applied to a 3D model, thereby adding detail, color and surface texture. In the case of Google Earth, flat images taken by satellite are pasted on a 3D model of the globe. This massive collage of satellite images from various sources is stitched together (favoring daylight images with no clouds) to create the illusion of continuity.

The Brooklyn-based Valla writes:

"These jarring moments expose how Google Earth works, focusing our attention on the software. They reveal a new model of representation: not through indexical photographs but through automated data collection from a myriad of different sources constantly updated and endlessly combined to create a seamless illusion; Google Earth is a database disguised as a photographic representation. These uncanny images focus our attention on that process itself, and the network of algorithms, computers, storage systems, automated cameras, maps, pilots, engineers, photographers, surveyors and map-makers that generate them."

The images suggest a metaphor for the schism between what is and what we know—experience as lived and seen, and perhaps the imperfections of human memory. Valla says that he takes these screengrabs partly in an effort to archive the images before they are lost. Since Google Earth is always updating data and algorithms, these glitches appear and disappear. However a Google engineer recently contacted Valla with a solution for the dropped roads and bridges, so it seems the days of the surreal images he collects may be numbered. You can see the work in person in an exhibit titled "Global Space" at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art in December 2012. To see more images from the series, visit his website

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Photo Credits: Courtesy Clement Valla
Photo Credits: Courtesy Clement Valla
Photo Credits: Courtesy Clement Valla
Photo Credits: Courtesy Clement Valla
Photo Credits: Courtesy Clement Valla
Photo Credits: Courtesy Clement Valla
Photo Credits: Courtesy Clement Valla
Photo Credits: Courtesy Clement Valla
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