Aaron Swartz (1986–2013)

Screenshot of Image Atlas search for term “Aaron Swartz.”

IN 2012, I created Image Atlas in collaboration with programmer Aaron Swartz. Aaron was the founder of Demand Progress—which launched the campaign against Internet censorship bills (SOPA/PIPA)—as well as developer of and a contributing editor to The Baffler until his untimely death in January 2013.

Image Atlas investigates cultural differences and similarities by indexing top image results for given search terms across local engines throughout the world. Visitors can refine or expand their comparisons from the fifty-seven countries currently available, and sort by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or alphabetical order. Image Atlas interrogates the possibility of a universal visual language and questions the supposed innocence and neutrality of the algorithms upon which search engines rely.

In the process of completing Image Atlas, Aaron and I took turns searching terms. Inevitably, we also searched our own names. At the time, Aaron’s image only appeared in a few results, almost exclusively in the United States. His image now populates every result globally. His story has reached millions as his struggle with the government regarding freedom of information continues to proliferate.

A memorial page has been added to Image Atlas in his honor, at

Taryn Simon is an artist living in New York.