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The American Experience, as told by YouTube

Artist Doug Rickard's new book amasses stills from the dregs of YouTube

Between 2008 and 2011, Doug Rickard traversed the United States using Google Street View. The images he collected from the web tool became “A New American Picture,” a 2012 series of photographs depicting the destitute streetscapes of some of America’s most afflicted neighborhoods, as captured by the wide-angle lenses mounted on Street View cars.

Rickard’s latest project explores what he calls the inverse of Street View’s “fixed America”: YouTube videos. The resultant collection of YouTube screen-grabs, sourced from “the hands of the people” since 2011, will be released in book form as Doug Rickard: N. A. Catalog (Verlag Kettler/D.A.P.) on October 31.

Research began with keyword searches—including such evocative terms as “illegal street racing,” “meth,” and “twerking”—on YouTube, which Rickard describes as a “petri dish” of unsavory behavior. The artist then scrutinized thousands of hours’ worth of homemade videos, frame by frame, and amassed more than 10,000 stills.

An image from Doug Rickard’s N.A. Catalog. ©DOUG RICKARD/COURTESY YOSSI MILO GALLERY, NEW YORK AND D.A.P.

An image from Doug Rickard’s N.A. Catalog.

©DOUG RICKARD/COURTESY YOSSI MILO GALLERY, NEW YORK AND D.A.P.

The final series, trimmed to approximately 100 images for the book, tames the information overload of YouTube by emphasizing a “certain poetry, visually,” Rickard says. There are pictures of gold-grilled teeth, light-dusted silhouettes, a girl-on-girl fight—as well as questionable characters, screeching tires, and derelict houses.

Rather than “make judgments or commentary on these real-life scenarios,” Rickard says, N.A. Catalog merely reflects the American experience. According to him, the impulse to entertain an anonymous public often leads the person who records a video to engage in “predatory behavior at the expense of someone else.” That “someone” could be a drunkard stumbling on the sidewalk, a crackhead dancing for dollars, or an unsuspecting victim of a roaming camera. “The vital lynchpin,” Rickard adds, “is the decision of the edit.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 34 under the title “The Dregs of YouTube.”

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