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 importantly, it raises questions about ownership and proper conduct regarding the use of images.

The history of photography and colonialism are deeply intertwined and it seems as if we are not able to learn from our mistakes. With every breakthrough in technology, we only enhance the unbalanced power structures in place. Hence, 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. These images are the most accessible to all of us and they shape the way we see the world. While I might not have taken these images with my own camera, they do reveal my thoughts, biases and prejudices.

The resulting document is a product of its environment and should be treated as such.

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