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'Street Ghosts' posts Street View specters in real life

Media artist Paolo Cirio puts life-size pictures of people found on Google's Street View back where they were first taken.

A Google Street View shot taken at 12 Cheshire Street in London (right), alongside Paolo Cirio's re-creation of it.
Paolo Cirio/Google

Imagine turning a street corner and coming face-to-face with... yourself?

It could happen, if you've ever been captured by the Google Street View cameras. For his Street Ghosts project, artist Paolo Cirio prints human-scale pictures of people found on Street View and posts them where the shots were originally taken, thus placing the digital imagery firmly in the physical world.

"In this project, I exposed the specters of Google's eternal realm of private, misappropriated data: the bodies of people captured by Google's Street View cameras, whose ghostly, virtual presence I marked in Street Art fashion at the precise spot in the real world where they were photographed," says the Italian artist, a fellow at New York's Eyebeam Art+Technology Center who is particularly interested in exploring the flow of mediated information.

Cirio prints his low-resolution colored Street Ghosts posters on thin paper, cuts along the outline, and affixes them to the walls of public buildings. So far, he has posted images in New York, London, and Berlin, though the ghostly images may show up in other cities as well.

Cirio isn't the first artist to find fodder in the wealth of Street View images, but he may be one of the most political.

Since its launch in the U.S. in 2007, Street View has frequently come under fire over privacy concerns, among them, that facial blurring doesn't always successfully mask unwitting subjects' identity. To highlight the privacy issues raised by the service, the artist deliberately does not ask Google's permission to use the photos.

"This ready-made artwork simply takes the information amassed by Google as material to be used for art, despite its copyrighted status and private source," he says on "As the publicly accessible pictures are of individuals taken without their permission, I reversed the act."

A Google Street View image taken at 80 East Houston Street in New York (right) and Paolo Cirio's interpretation. Paolo Cirio/Google