Cyano-View Copenhagen

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What is this?

Random views from Google Street View around Copenhagen, processed through a digital filter intended to roughly evoke the style of an architectural "artist's rendition" sketch, as it might've been reproduced via cyanotype (the process once used for reproducing blueprints). Reload the page, or click "[reload]" at the top-right, to get another view.

Specifics: I grab 360-degree panoramas from random locations in Copenhagen, somewhat biased towards the city center. Then, crop to a random 84-degree-wide field of view within the panorama (approximately the view given by a 20mm wide-angle lens), and filter. Flaws aplenty in the source material get retained: substantial barrel distortion on some views, discontinuities from where Google pasted together different source images (lower-res and sometimes misaligned strips along the top or bottom are especially common), and miscellaneous oddities like Google watermarks in the sky.

Why?

I've spent more time than I'd like to admit mesmerized by MapCrunch, a site that lets you jump to random Google-street-view locations. Completely random views anywhere in the world, or limited to a particular area.

It's a particularly interesting experience to play the part of such a robot flâneur (to take a nice turn of phrase from another such site) in the city where you live. There's an odd mixture of familiarity/unfamiliarity, presence/non-presence. Walking around digitally, the weather is often different; the city may be in broad daylight while it's really nighttime here; and I get randomly teleported to locations that I've never happened across. And for Copenhagen, Google's Copenhagen is perennially a sunny July day, atypical enough to be a bit surreal.

Though that experience is surreal, in different ways it isn't actually surreal enough. Google's street view looks just too normal, not nearly as strange as actually walking around on streets feels.

Walking around Copenhagen, there's a constant stream of strange and familiar things and shapes, the awareness perhaps enhanced because I'm a foreigner who's lived here only a year. Angles on classical-style doorway pediments; street lights hung from wires over street centers; bustling and empty parts of the city (often only a few blocks apart); parallel and diverging lines; shadows; rows of bicycles; bricks; "til salg"; metro-station glass pyramids; sleek glass office buildings; old townhouses on a canal; steeples; bridges; graffiti-covered warehouses; cobblestone patterns; trees; imposing stone mansions.

One gets some of that when flâneuring one's way through Google Street View's Copenhagen, but it often lacks the visceral strangeness or wonder. Of all the many kinds of photography, it gives you one kind: the straight-ahead, documentary, vacation snapshot, that shows you "just how things look".

It's tempting to say that this shows why real street photographers are still needed, instead of them having been rendered obsolete by the Google Street View Car; and maybe that's true. But this massive set of street views in the cloud is still intriguing, and I want to squeeze more out of it.

I've been experimenting with randomly "walking" around Copenhagen while "wearing" filter glasses, to get a different view on things. Super-saturated Copenhagen, black-and-white Copenhagen, contrast-enhanced Copenhagen, eroded Copenhagen, etc. Different varities of these "distorting" lenses seem to evoke different aspects and moods, sometimes just distorting the subject, other times getting at "real" things that the straightforward photo didn't. Or so it seems to me.

The Cyano-View lens shown here is one that consistently gives an interesting take on Copenhagen, I think, so I've put it online.

mjn, November 2011