Google's Trusted Photographers See The World Through A Different Lens

One parts panoramic technicians, two parts digital photography wizards, we take a look behind the veil of Google's Trusted Photographers.

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14 July 2014, 2:31pm

With over 21 million gigabytes that get updated twice a month, the sheer scope of the data on Google Streetview is practically begging to be manipulated for creative experimentation. With the advent of Trusted Photographers, Google's Business View mapping initiative and promotional outreach service has become exactly the sort of hybrid, code-meets-the-natural-world-style endeavor currently providing citizens of the interwebs deeper access into the nooks and crannies of, well, the whole wide world. A hybrid subsect of foot soldiers tasked with an effort that goes beyond capturing buildings, streets, and alleyways, Trusted Photographers are artists creating new kinds of maps not only accurately, but with their own personal, boundary-breaking flair.

From corn mazes to "hacked" Ikea cloning, we took a glimpse behind the veil of the Trusted Photographers, and created a guide to the most interesting shutterbugs and artists at work pushing the boundaries of the future maps of our planet.

Kyle Giesbrecht

A skillful Trusted Photographer operating out of Canada, Kyle Giesbrecht expertly uses his panorama-capturing skills to tell the stories of his hometown, Edmonton, in a nuanced fashion. When a corn maze, for example, popped up nearby, he got extensive coverage of every pathway, yielding a comprehensive, solvable corn maze while simultaneously bringing the classic harvest tradition to the Internet for good. The project was a bit of a risk, but one well-worth taking:

“For my corn maze tour, I had to push the boundaries of Street View's limits, as it is a very unique location," Giesbrecht told The Creators Project. "[The Business View] program awarded me 2013 North America's Most Creative Tour for it, so in a way that tells me that they want these unique, and creative places captured.”

While being a Trusted Photographer requires a great deal of technological know-how, Giesbrecht doesn’t consider himself merely a technician. Projects like this maze allow him to creatively express himself through a typically-pragmatic tool: “To capture a 360 panorama inevitably requires computer processing and work to blend multiple exposures into a seamless sphere,” he says. “This opens up many different artistic possibilities.”

For his pet project, the “Then And Now” Map Blast From The Past, Giesbrecht finds old photos of Edmonton as it existed in past decades, then links them to their current location on Google Street View. The effect is not unlike the iconic album covers integrated into Street View that broke the internet not too long ago. The effect is touching, and in every image you can see how much Giesbrecht loves his city.

On a less poignant note, Giesbrecht has also been rallying a group of Trusted Photographers to collect photospheres of bathrooms from all over the world. There are dozens of bathrooms there, each as unique and beautiful as a snowflake. There’s definitely something to be learned about humanity from the rigorous study of Google Toilet View.

Alexis Jemus

Trusted Photographer Alexis Jemus has also logged dozens of panoramas and photo spheres throughout Canada, and while all of his work is up to par with the program's standards, sometimes he puts a little more of himself into his work than usual. In the case of his Montreal IKEA series, 42 times more: the vision the maps users see when they explore this particular furniture super store features 42 likenesses of Jemus, glitched into existence by the Trusted Photographer’s clever use of Street View's panoramic camera.

This glitch has rapidly become a trademark of his work— Jemus has also turned two hockey players into an entire team at the Absolunet web agency in Quebec, and cloned himself at the CHUL, a Quebec hospital known, in part, for its real-life experiments in cloning. These humorous snapshots are a refreshing reminder that "hacking" can and should be entertaining. 

Jemus also cooperated with the Internet’s favorite astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield, to create an out of this world photosphere when he occupied the International Space Station. Capturing a 360 degree image of the view from up above, Hadfield and Jemus captured the first-ever photosphere taken in space with a full-frame camera. The result isn’t perfect— Jemus hopes somebody tries it again with a different lens— but the glimpse of Hadfield’s iconic mustache in the bottom of the sphere more than makes up for it. He's the first Trusted Photographer to take Google Earth beyond the Earth itself— Jemus told us that some have begun calling him “The Mad Ingestor," meaning "the guy who pushes too hard on the system.” We're hoping he keeps at it.

Charles Mansfield-Osborne

Across the pond from Jemus and Giesbrecht, Charles Mansfield-Osborne is one of the leading directors at C Inside Media. Taking advantage of his medium with expert precision, this photographer upholds sides of the world that are unsupported by reality itself.

Londoners, for example, know and love the TARDIS replica standing outside of the Earl’s Court train station. The team at C Inside Media, however, took that love and infused it into their work, using digital mapping know-how. The result is a classic homage to the Doctor Who-niverse that, provided you’re exploring from your computer, allows "secret" transportation into several other locations, including a giant Dalek made of hay, and the HMS Ocelot, a submarine in Chatham, UK.

When races, gunfights, adventures can all take place in digital reconstructions of the real world, the TARDIS will be remembered as a major step in the augmented direction.

For those less into sci-fi, Mansfield-Osborne’s company has also tapped into the unique qualities of the medium to create a guided tour of the HMS Cavalier, a World War II-era destroyer that has been converted into a working naval museum and memorial. With the aid of web designer Gareth Wright, C Inside Director Neil Cooper incorporated a guided audio tour of the museum into the map itself.

As your digital footsteps cover the ship, you’ll learn interesting facts about the navy ships and the war, along with interviews and eyewitness accounts of life on the boat. We can imagine tons of lessons taking this form of digital tour, and contextualizing knowledge in ways impossible even five years ago, but all we want is a real breath of salty sea air.

Mansfield-Osborne is also great at applying standard panoramic techniques to non-standard places. When sliding down an interactive water slide made completely of pixels, it’s hard not to reevaluate just where the boundaries of the "digital touring" industry lie. 

Paul Toogood

If you can find hangars of GBR Helicopters in Queensland, Australia, then you can find an innovative Easter egg laid by Trusted Photographer Paul Toogood. Similarly to C Inside Media’s meta-fictional TARDIS, Toogood has blended Street View with reality by giving a digital robo-helicopter the gift of flight. Advance your avatar across the tarmac toward the helicopter to get airlifted to Middle Cay, a remote island atop the great barrier reef. Land ho!

Sally Weleczki-Cmiel

Minnesota-based Sally Weleczki-Cmiel understands that when it gets down to it, being a Trusted Photographer isn’t just about the places documented and the technology used— it’s about the people who stand to gain from it. For SEO/SEM social media agency Nina Hale, Inc., Weleczki-Cmiel delivered a concept that embodied the friendly, fun culture the agency lives with: animal masks (after all, nothing says "Internet" quite like this). Capturing the essence of a meme and viral marketing-focused company isn’t easy, but Weleczki-Cmiel nailed it.

Thomas Hayden

Operating out of Portland, Oregon, Hayden is, perhaps the most innovative Trusted Photographer when speaking strictly in terms of hardware. Working with U2 and Gigapixel FanCam, Hayden created a photosphere so big it captured an entire stadium full of U2 fans in indelible detail. The photosphere was fully integrated with social media, so people who were actually in the stadium could tag themselves in the photo and share their own perspectives on the show.

Hayden has also been experimenting with 360-degree video. Rather than the simple photosphere many Trusted Photographers rely upon, he rigged his gear to take full, beautiful videos of his exploits with a fully-rounded spectrum of vision. He uses this video from his friends at yellowBird to best exemplify the how crazy this type of video work can get:

Our minds are full of images of feature-length films shot this way. What if we could watch the next season of Sherlock in 360-degrees, and try to find the clues as he does? This could literally add another dimension to the art of cinematography.

It's rare enough to see technicians as artistically proficient as the Trusted Photographers, but in the cases of the select few who transcend the mapping platform and re-envision their works as art, the results are enhanced, more informative, and even often whimsical. Taking on the herculean effort of photographing the expanses of the Earth is, in and of itself, a Romantic quest. Trusted Photographers communicate directly to the Street Viewer in a way that pure documentation alone does not suffice. With their flourishes and finesse, these panoramic snap-shooters exemplify the innately human desire to leave something larger than the self behind. In a time where Mount Rushmore and the Eiffel Tower are old hat, panoramic cameras are the wagons on their way to the gold rushes of the digital frontier. 

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