Jacqui Kenny is a London-based artist living with agoraphobia, an intense fear of being unable to escape certain places or situations. Because the anxiety associated with her disorder limits her ability to travel, she found a new way to see the world after her digital production company closed its doors last year. Using Google Street View, Kenny began working on a personal project called Agoraphobic Traveller, which challenges conventional definitions of photography and travel. Kenny managed to capture beautiful moments in far-flung places around the globe without leaving her house or picking up a camera. Here’s more about this unique project in the artist’s own words.
What first gave you the idea for this project?
I’ve always had a great appreciation and love for photography but I’m not a professional photographer myself. One day I found myself searching through Google Street View and before I knew it, I was taking screenshots of compelling subjects and places. After exploring the world for a while, I started to realize that the Google Street View camera was helping me discover and develop a certain aesthetic and point of view, as well as giving me the ability to curate the world as I see it. It has taken me a while to find my style, but 25,000 screenshots later, it feels like I’m getting there. I’m also very interested in technological advances and new ways of looking at things, so it seems like the perfect combination.
For those who don’t know, can you tell us what agoraphobia is?
Most people think that agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces, but it’s actually an intense fear about being in public places where you feel escape might be difficult. For me, it’s a fear of having a panic attack that others might witness and not being able to get home quickly.
Can you describe what life is like with agoraphobia? When did it first start? How severe is it?
Agoraphobia is really challenging to live with and it can limit your life in many ways. A bad day for me is not being able to walk to the back aisles of my local supermarket, which is only twenty meters (65 feet) away from my house. I do travel every now and then, but it’s incredibly difficult and it takes all my inner strength to do so. Every time I travel somewhere far from home it feels like I’ve climbed Mt. Everest, so it’s a huge achievement.
Has this project helped at all?
It has helped in many ways. Firstly, I’m able to express myself creatively and that helps me focus and keep the negative thoughts away. Secondly, it’s connected me with so many other people that have agoraphobia, so I don’t feel so alone with it. It can be very isolating, so it brings me the most joy when I get to chat with others who share similar struggles. It’s amazing to be able to connect through photography as well. I’m also determined to exhibit at some point, and would love to do this in some of the places I regularly visit on Google Street View. This would be a significant challenge but something exciting to aim for.
Does this project make you want to travel more?
It does make me what to travel more. It makes me want to face my fears.
A lot of the places you’ve chosen to “travel” to aren’t your typical travel destinations. What drew you to these locations?
I’m really drawn to remote and interesting places, especially desert and mining towns. They seem to give me all the visual elements that I’m looking for in an image: Lots of negative space, dusty air which helps give the image an otherworldly feel, bold colors, and interesting architecture and people. For me the images tend to convey a feeling of isolation combined with a bit of hope, color, and surprise.
I often find it quite surreal that I’m sharing and discussing places off the beaten track, yet I’m agoraphobic and have never been to any of them.
Can you describe the process of making an image using Google Street View? How long does it take? What are you looking for?
Once I’ve decided on a country or area I’m interested in, I’ll search until I find the right type of environment. The light is extremely important to me, so I’m always on the lookout for beautiful light. Once I find that, I generally just keep searching until I find a special moment. I never give up because I know the image I want is in there somewhere, it’s just a matter of time. It can take me anywhere between several days to a week to find a shot I’m happy with. So far I have taken roughly 25,000 screenshots and only about 170 have made the cut.
Soon I’m going to ask my Instagram followers if they can suggest places for me to visit. I already get suggestions but it would be great if they started guiding my search. It’s a big world out there.
What’s the next for this project?
I’m already working on the next phase of the project. I’m working on a website that will allow people to visit my images within Google Street View but the most exciting development for me will be making my images available in Daydream, Google’s VR. I was able to experience one of my images in VR mode and it was amazing. So I would really love to have this option available to everyone. I am also planning to teach a neural network to understand my style of photography. Over time it can start identifying features that it knows I like and make judgement calls for me. I'm excited to see if I can teach a machine to search for interesting Google Street View images for me.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
I often think about the drivers. I would love to show them some of the great moments that they have captured. Maybe one day that will happen.