Jacqui Kenny is a unique kind of travel photographer: She’s never used a professional camera, and she doesn’t actually travel. While her photos can transport you to a camel race in the United Arab Emirates, or a pool in the streets of Peru, they are all taken by screen-grabbing stills from Google Street View.
“It’s a nice treat to be able to look down these little streets in Peru on Street View,” Kenny says, “whereas in real life, I’d probably be trying to think of the quickest way home.”
Kenny is agoraphobic, meaning she gets anxiety and even panic attacks in unfamiliar environments or situations she perceives as uncontrollable. The condition makes it hard for her to travel physically, which prompted her to find an alternative way to explore the world.
For the past two years, Kenny has “toured” the globe from her home in the UK via Google Street View, taking more than 27,000 screenshots along the way. At its most intense, her process involved spending 18 hours a day mining images because, she says, “99.999% things on Google Street View are terrible.”
Time-consuming as it is, Kenny sees a unique beauty in what she calls Street View photography. “I love the angle of the camera, this slight oddness, the 360-ness and even the blurred faces,” she says. “Everything that gives it a bit of an otherworldly feel.”
She also loves the balance of artistic control. “I have this amazing control where I can fly around the world and land anywhere,” she says. “But I really don’t have much control either because these pictures are already taken. I can’t ask somebody to move to the left. I can’t talk to somebody and engage and hopefully to get the best out of them.” To combat that inflexibility, Kenny looks for scenes with strong visual elements, such as good lighting, a blue sky, vibrant colors, or beautiful architecture.
More than 200 of Kenny’s screen-grabbed images appear on her Instagram account, the Agoraphobic Traveller, which has more than 56,000 followers. A positive response to the project on Instagram actually led to Kenny’s first exhibit in New York City, where visitors can look at her photos using a pair of VR goggles. The show, which runs through Oct. 15, also forced Kenny to travel for real.
“Who would’ve thought sitting at home, screen-grabbing Google Street View images, would lead to this amazing community, or traveling to New York for my first solo exhibition,” she says. “I would’ve not believed it two years ago.”