Finding Art in Google Maps: Jenny Odell’s Satellite World

Jenny Odell
Jenny Odell
77 Waste and Salt Ponds

From the series, Satellite Collections

For the average person, Google Maps is a website used to locate an address on a map, find directions from one place to another and see what areas around the world look like from a bird’s eye perspective. But for artist Jenny Odell, Google Maps is a tool to see, cut up and re-imagine her world in a new, photographic way.

Odell grew up in the Bay Area, and not unlike many in the area, was born to parents in the tech industry. After studying English in undergrad, Odell went on to receive her M.F.A. in photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. Interested in the complexities of technology—its progress and efficiency models, alongside the hiccups and mistakes inherent in web applications like Google Maps—Odell found inspiration in the two seemingly divergent paths.

Her project Satellite Collections, created from 2009-2011, uses the satellite view on Google Maps to find objects as diverse as airplanes, basketball courts and even water slides from places all over the world, which Odell then compiles into pictures—a selection of which is on view at Breeze Block Gallery in Portland, Ore. The photographer is often unaware of ‘where’ she is on the map, but then again, it’s not really important to her. “By working with the map labels turned off, I’m free to move about and explore freely,” says Odell. “This work is about a greater idea of space. I’m interested in the strangeness of a particular site or location.” After making her selections, she makes screen grabs of the items and then brings the files into PhotoShop to cut them out of their surroundings. Final square-shaped images of 144 empty parking lots, or every basketball court in Manhattan, tell a story of our world from a perspective unusual for the human eye.

Odell’s most recent project, Signs of Life, which she began this year, expands on her previous projects and explores life from Google’s satellite view. This time around, the focus is our collective preoccupation with stuff both tangible and not: movies, cell phones, alcohol, marriage counseling and weight loss are just a few of the topics to fall within Odell’s examination.

Jenny Odell is a San Francisco based artist. A solo exhibition of her work will be on view from Aug. 2 to 30 at Breeze Block Gallery in Portland, Ore. See more of Odell’s work here.

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