Brooklyn-based artist Clement Valla scours Google Earth looking for anomalies. They aren’t visible right away, but when the viewpoint is in just the right position, the program shows warped linear figures such as roads and bridges as if they’re melting over the landscape. But they are not glitches or errors in the algorithm, but are the absolute logical result of the system. This is why Valla is so fascinated with them.
3D images like those in Google Earth are generated through a process called texture mapping, where the flat satellite image of the earth is applied over the 3D terrain, like a label over a can or a bottle of soda. Most of the time this goes unnoticed, even natural, but sometimes the two spaces are so different, that things look strange, vertiginous, or plain wrong.
The effect seen in the images collected by Clement Valla occurs when the algorithms that piece together Google Earth encounter aerial photography with too much depth, or too extreme an angle, or too many shadows. Attempting to wrap the 2D image over these tricky surfaces result in these surreal images.
“It just happens to be sort of an edge condition,” he says. “That’s what I like about these. The computer’s doing exactly what it should be doing.”
When Valla revisits anomalies he had already discovered, he often finds them gone and updated with new aerial photographs that are ‘flatter’ – from being taken at less of an angle or having the shadows below bridges muted. Because Google Earth is constantly updating its algorithms and three-dimensional data, each specific moment could only be captured as a still image.