Write 500 words on a piece of work by one contemporary artist – photographer who uses the archive as source material.
Mishka Henner – “No Man’s Land”
Mishka Henner is a Belgian artist living in Manchester. He has used Google Earth, Google Street View and You Tube to provide source material for his work and he is known for using “Print on Demand” to try to bypass traditional publishing methods. He was awarded the Kleine Hans award in July 2011 at Arles for his print on demand works, “Photography Is”, “Collected Portraits”, “Fifty One US Military Outposts”, “Dutch Landscapes” and “No Man’s Land”.
I first saw his work “No Man’s Land” when I visited the photographer’s gallery to view the entries for the Deutsche Borse Prize in 2013. http://www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk/mishka-henner-3). Although it did not win the prize, of all the shortlisted entries, it is the work which has remained in my memory.
At the time I was unaware that it was acceptable to use works by other authors as part of an entry into any competition, let alone a significant worldwide event.
According to The Daily Telegraph 13 April 2013 ” No Man’s Land is a survey of prostitution”. His images are from Google Street View in Spain and Italy and document the presence of sex workers.
His picture “Carretera de Rubi. Terrassa. Spain 2012” has been used on the front page of the course material for this project. It is a picture which attracts the viewer’s interest immediately and has a huge political element.
Carreterade Rubi. Terrassa. Spain 2012
Henner has been described as a “Modern Day Duchamp” and he states that “Duchamp was about changing the way we think of art, and in consequence how we look at the world”.
This project started because Henner’s partner Liz Lock was working on a project investigating street prostitution alongside sociologists in Manchester. Henner came up with the idea of searching Google Street View for material for his project and sure enough he found plenty. He then discovered that there are internet forums set up for men using street view as a means of finding girls. The project therefore became (in Henner’s words) one of “looking and being witness to the whole world with which we cannot empathise”.
Henner has not altered the images in any way, we see what we see, and this demonstrates the manufactured nature of these world views.
Henner particularly likes the landscape views which come out of these pictures (in a traditional landscape sense). However, he accepts that the images of the women are intensely voyeuristic and therefore have more impact.
In his words “People tend to focus on the women, but the figures are tiny. At one time these places must have been lush greenery and rolling hills. Now they are littered with trash with these poor women standing by the road to make a living. The project became about the fall of Arcadia (Doctor Who)”.
The following are two examples of his work. There are many others which demonstrates how much material is available.
The following clip shows the wealth of material not related to “girl on street” and starts to develop tension between beautiful landscape and the ugliness of the road system.
Henner revisits these digital locations regularly and the scenes have changed (street view is updated every 2 to 3 years). He is continuing his work as streetview moves into other countries and he describes the work as having an archival role. Most of these images will disappear without ever being looked at
Similar to works by Joachim Schmid, Henner’s project raises an important question about authorship and ownership. Google have produced and displayed these images for the benefit of Google’s economic growth. Henner’s use of these images is more in line with a curator whose skill lies in identifying, locating, exhibiting and theoretically contextualising images.
Note: His work is not unique. While researching Mishka Henner, I discovered another photographer, Txema Salvans who has actually photographed Spanish prostitutes who work from a busy roadside: www.featureshoot.com/2014/06/waiting game/
Henner has followed his instincts in pursuing a subject which is close to him because his partner has already been deeply involved in the subject.
He is someone who has pushed practice to use photography to create an archive which records at a point in time across Europe.
He has used the archive to record the social and economic position of a group of people in a particular environment .
He is making a huge political statement.
The format of his presentation was a series of large scale prints and a video in an exhibition. This contributed significantly to his success.
There is a deep satisfaction in researching a subject which has sprung from an exhibition visit and finding out after the event a mass of information not available at the exhibition. To write up the detail helps to consolidate one’s thoughts and is one of the few ways of retaining the detailed information.
My own analysis of the subject has only really scratched the surface but the result I have obtained is a close study of Henner’s approach which makes me think of projects I have done which need a longer period of time to complete. An example of this is my work photographing outside looking in (through the window at night) which took up a large part of my work on “People and Place”.