Cidade Maravilhosa

Benjamin Pfau

2020 - Ongoing

Rio de Janeiro is often referred to as Cidade Maravilhosa - the marvelous city. A name that seems fitting, as the city's mythical beauty has captured the imagination of people all over the world.

And it is a place I have never visited in person. The marvelous city that is displayed here is a product of the internet. This project is an attempt to use digital technologies to produce a photographic essay that feels genuine and authentic, just as if I had visited Rio myself. All photographs in this series, however, are artifacts extracted from on-demand cloud computing services that were available to me during the second COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Germany in the winter of 2020/2021. These services include Google Maps, Google Street View, various video streaming providers and social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as StyleGAN2, an algorithm that allows data-driven unconditional generative image modeling. The majority of portraits in this series are either produced or modified through cloud-based generative face modeling.

By applying a veneer that we are accustomed to through the traditional practice of documentary photography, the images are taken out of their original context and represented as a personal essay. The series might serve as a starting point to investigate the truthfulness and general mechanisms of the photographic essay at the current moment and for what is to come. More than ever there is a growing understanding that documentary photography as we know it has neocolonial tendencies. By using images from the digital public space that are provided and/or owned by large US-based businesses, I want to find out what kind of dynamics are actually at play. The resulting document is a product of its environment and should be treated as such.

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