Mishka Henner

Mishka Henner‘s practice has been described as ‘post-photography’ meaning he is an artist working with photographic images rather than directly using a camera to produce his work. He describes his approach like this:

“The clue is in the phrase ‘taking photographs’. Even with the traditional meaning of the term, there’s an almost implicit assumption that the images are already out there ready to be taken by the photographer. So I don’t make much of a distinction.” (Shore, 2014: 8)

In a later interview, Henner expands on this and gives insight into his practice:

“I do take photographs – that is, I take other people’s photographs. I take photographs from the network. But they’r not really photographs. They’re mostly data, they’re digital bits. When I think of photographs I think of chemical on light-sensitive paper, you know. And of course that’s not what I’m working with.

If you followed me for two weeks you would not in a million years think of what I do as photography. It’s something else. It’s an amalgamation of intelligence gathering, data aggregation, images making and packaging.” (Shore, 2015)

An article by Sean O’Hagan notes that Henner began his career working as a documentary photographer before becoming both disillusioned with the genre and embracing conceptual art with a “convert’s zeal”. Henner explains:

“The process of making documentary is far richer than the images can be…it has little to do with truth…I got a little dissolusioned with chasing some elusive notion of truth and wanted to enjoy making images again.

Though I wouldn’t call myself a conceptual artist, the movement smashed through so many pretensions and facades that it appealed to me in a big way, especially in the work of appropriation artists. It was still documentary to me, but not as we knew it…Now, I’m happiest when I’m making something that doesn’t look or feel like documentary photography but still manages to address a social context.” (O’Hagan, 2012)

Much of Henner’s work could be categorised as political, or at the very least designed to challenge assumptions and the status quo, however, he does not describe himself as an activist. In an interview he offers some thoughts about his intentions:

“If I was an activist, I don’t think I would be putting art on a gallery wall. I would be doing something else…I think there’s a way to open up the doors of perception and reveal things. When art does that, it does it brilliantly…But I think that, in a way, you believe in art because of ambiguity as well.” (Greenberger, 2015)

Reviewing Henner’s 2015 exhibtion ‘Semi-Automatic’ at the Bruce Silverstein gallery, Loring Knoblauch makes this analysis of how the work fits with both the future and past of image appropriation:

“His work represents a potent example of the next generation of photographic reuse, where connectivity of the net, the vastness of its resources, and the digital malleability of its imagery have opened up entirely new modes and methods for art making. Hidden in the dark corners of this expansive open depository are plenty of overlooked quirks, eccentricities, and evils, waiting to be unearthed and recontextualized by artists like Henner. The fundamental idea of old school appropriation as incisive representation is still there, but it’s now being executed with much more velocity, flexibility and breadth.” (Knoblauch, 2015)

Bliss (2010):

For this series, Henner took screenshots of newscasters as they reported on subjects such as recession and disaster, at moments when their eyes were closed. Exhibiting the work, the images are backlit to make them look like screens. Henner gives this succinct summary of his motivations to make the series:

“They were talking and saying nothing…And I thought, ‘Fuck it. I’ll send them to sleep. Give them a break.” (Greenberger, 2015)

Dutch Landscapes (2011):

Appropriated from Google Earth, this series shows the response by authorities in Holland to the potential security risk posed by satellite images of top secret sites being readily available to the public. While other countries have approached this problem through methods such as cloning, blurring or pixellation, the Dutch chose a stylistic intervention of imposing large, bold, multi-coloured polygon shapes shapes over the sites-something that both draws attention to the censorship and is a statement in its own right. In his artist statement for the series, Henner makes the connection between the aesthetic interventions and the way the Dutch landscape is shaped by a vast land reclamation project of dykes, pumps and drainage which has been engineered over hundreds of years and is required due to a third of the Netherlands being below see level:

“Seen from the distant gaze of Earth’s orbiting satellites, the result is a landscape unlike any other; one in which polygons recently imposed on the landscape protect the country from an imagined human menace bear more than a passing resemblance to a physical landscape designed to combat a very real and constant natural threat.”

David Chandler makes the link between the digital interventions and Dutch landscape painting:

“[The] work comes with a beautiful, gift-wrapped irony, that Holland is one of the crucibles of the landscape form, one of the genres preoccupied with depicting contemporary life that flowered in the seventeenth century. And so these strange digital emanations can be seen as part of the ongoing tradition, one whose realisms were from the outset steeped in a language of metaphor and symbolism, of one thing hidden inside the other. Also as this tradition unfolded over centuries, the Dutch landscape itself has been reconstructed: land below sea level has been reclaimed then protected and cultivated by complex systems of dunes, dykes, pumps, and drainage networks. So the land seen from above, is already one fractured and faceted by human intervention, a land becoming an abstraction of itself. In this context … the stylised polygons of this particular brand of camouflage appear as areas in which the landscape’s latent character has merely erupted into a new painterly intensity.” (Chandler, 2011)

Although the images of these sites are readily available for anyone to view, the data is so vast that finding them is not easy. Henner used information from internet forums to find the areas but discovered that being able to bring them together as a coherent body of work was problematic – his strategy was to bring simplicity and coherence to something that was otherwise difficult to comprehend and complex.

St. Haagsche Shoolvereeniging, Den Haag
Nato Storage Annex, Coevorden, Drenthe
Frederikkazerne, Den Haag

Astronomical (2011):

Astronomical (the movie)

This series is a mathematically accurate study of the solar system in 12 volume, 500 page book form (5,000 of them mainly blank) each page representing 1 million kilometres of the 6 billion kilometres between the Sun and Pluto. In an article on Henner’s practice, Philip Gefter quotes MoMA director Quentin Bajac’s assessment:

” ‘[Astronomical] is about the overwhelming presence of images, but also the many different forms the photo image can take,’ explaining that “Astronomical” fits right in as ‘a book made of found images, where you can follow the iteration from the screen of the laptop back to paper.’ He added that Mr. Henner’s poetry and humor make obvious the limits of the photograph as a document: ‘You do not actually see anything, and yet he proposes another, more meditative experience.” (Gefter, 2015)

The Sun, pages 1-2, volume 1
Saturn, page 433, volume 3

No Man’s Land (2011-13):

No Man’s Land (A Road Movie)

Using Google Street View, this series shows women stood at remote roadsides in Spain and Italy, apparently waiting to offer sex to passers-by. Similarly to ‘Dutch Landscapes’, Henner used internet forums where locations of sex workers are shared to find the women in the series, something that Knoblauch (2015) observes adds an extra layer of grimness to a series that already has themes of surveillance, desperation and exploitation. When first published as a print on demand book, the series polarised audiences with some accusing Henner of being immoral and unethical and others defending the artist and his right of expression. In 2011 Henner was sued by a women’s charity, for profiting from exploitation, endangering the women’s safety, reinforcing gender stereotypes and breaking copyright law.

Marco Bohr makes this assessment of ‘No Man’s Land’:

“In contrast to the luscious surroundings of the Mediterranean, the scantily clad women standing at the edge of the road allude to the harsh an repressive conditions of the sex trade. The prostitutes’ marginal socio-economic status is cleverly signified by their position in the landscape: on the edge of the road, on the edge of the city and on the edge of society. Perhaps because of the voyeuristic nature of the project, No Man’s Land took the internet by storm since it first came out as a self-published book in early 2011. This is one of the characteristics of a new breed of online savvy artists: for them the internet functions both as a source and as outlet for their art.

Looking at No Man’s Land, Henner’s collection of images thus confronts the viewer with a surprising question. What is more shocking? The crudity of the sex trade on the allegorical margins of our societies, or, the unstoppable invasion of the camera in every aspect of our lives spurred by financial interests. This question is further provoked by the vantage point of the Google camera, looking down on the subjects as they either avoid, not notice, ignore, or act for the camera. These differing reactions, as subtle as they may be, are a powerful reminder that our problematic relationship with photography is – informed by our historical understanding of the photographic apparatus – constantly in flux.” (Bohr, 2012)

In a filmed interview by the Photographer’s Gallery for the 2013 Deutsche Börse photography prize, for which ‘No Man’s Land’ was shortlisted, Henner sums up his approach:

“I think traditionally if you were to approach the subject, the approach of the photographer would be probably to try and humanise the figures in some way or to try and evoke some sort of personal story. But actually I think the detachment of the Street View cars here is perfect for the subject, and I think that what this series can do is talk about the quantity…the volume of an issue.” (Photographer’s Gallery, 2013)

Via di Brava, Rome, Lazio, Italy
Carretera de Rubi, Terrassa, Spain
Carretera de Fortuna, Murcia, Spain

Less Américains (2012):

I previously studied ‘Less Américains’ for my earlier course Understanding Visual Culture. See post here.

Unable to find an American publisher, Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ was first published in Paris in 1958 as ‘Les Américains’. The work has since becoming a revered masterpiece, and although Henner believes this status is justified, he is suspicious of the way the work has become dogmatically mythologised. In order to force a reinterpretation of the book, Henner chose a strategy of erasure – he selected parts of each image and removed them in Photoshop, leaving blank outlines behind. The result is a series that has some images that are instantly recognisable, while others become abstracted. Henner elaborates:

“The Americans was and remains a masterpiece but, by its very nature, it provokes and demands today’s reader to reinterpret it rather than remain a passive spectator. I think that’s true of all great works – they open a door of perception and possibility rather than close it.” (Shore, 2014: 14)

Feedlots (2012-13):

Like ‘Dutch Landscapes’, this series uses aerial satellite imagery to show giant cattle farms in the U.S. Henner pieces together screenshots to make large scale, giant images that have a monumental beauty – neatly tiled patterns of lines and dots (cattle holds and cows) are obstructed by a giant mass, like an “Expressionist rupture” which is actually an acre sized lake of cattle waste. (Gefter, 2015) In the U.S. so called ‘ag-gag’ laws prevent farm operations from being photographed, ironically, the satellite images fall outside of the law – something that Henner’s series series seeks to draw attention to.

Randall County Feedyard, Amarillo, Texas
Tascosa Feedyard, Bushland, Texas
Coronado Feeders, Dalhart, Texas

Links:

Bibliography:

Albers, K. P. (2015) Public life and the private screen: Mishka Henner’s No Man’s Land. Circulation|Exchange. Available at: http://circulationexchange.org/articles/nomansland.html (accessed 25th April 2020)

Bohr, M. (2012) Mishka Henner and the boundaries of photography. Photomonitor. Available at: https://www.photomonitor.co.uk/mishka-henner-and-the-boundaries-of-photography/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

Brook, P. (2012) A conversation with Mishka Hanner. Prison Photography. Available at: https://prisonphotography.org/2012/04/23/a-conversation-with-mishka-henner/ (accessed 25th April 2020)

Calmfors, H. (2011) Mishka Henner: Semi-Automatic at Bruce Silverstein Gallery. Available at: https://museemagazine.com/culture/culture/art-out/mishka-henner-semi-automatic-at-bruce-silverstein-gallery (accessed 8th March 2020)

Gefter, P. (2015) Mishka Henner uses Google Earth as muse. The New York Times, 28th August 2015. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/arts/design/mishka-henner-uses-google-earth-as-muse-for-his-aerial-art.html?_r=0 (accessed 19th August 2015)

Greenberger, A. (2015) The man who laughed at surveillance technology: Mishka Henner on his jarring images about images. ARTnews, 21st October 2015. Available at:

https://www.artnews.com/art-news/artists/the-man-who-laughed-at-surveillance-technology-mishka-henner-on-his-jarring-images-about-images-5016/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

James, S. (2013) Mishka Henner. Frieze. Available at: https://frieze.com/article/mishka-henner (accessed 19th April 2020)

Jewsbury, D. (2011) No Man’s Land review. Source, Autumn 2011. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0mxn7BUlcSUV2hxU09lNTJzRkE/view (accessed 19th April 2020)

Knoblauch, L. (2015) Mishka Henner: Semi-Automatic @Bruce Silverstein. Collector Daily. Available at: https://collectordaily.com/mishka-henner-semi-automatic-bruce-silverstein/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

O’ Hagan, S. (2012) Mishka Henner’s erased images: art or insult? The Guardian, 23rd May 2012. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/may/23/mishka-henner-less-americains (accessed 8th March 2020)

Oakes, S. (2012) In search of new materials: making art with the internet. LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/mishka-henner-in-search-of-new-materials-making-art-with-the-internet (accessed 8th March 2020)

Photographer’s Gallery (2013) Mishka Henner: Deutsche Börse Prize 2013. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qomlXhycwpM (accessed 19th April 2020)

Shore, R. (2014) Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera. London: Laurence King.

Shore, R. (2015) Art as geospatial intelligence gathering. Elephant. Available at: https://elephant.art/mishka-henner-art-as-geospatial-intelligence-gathering/ (accessed 19th April 2020)

Bibliography:

Albers, K. P. (2015) Public life and the private screen: Mishka Henner’s No Man’s Land. Circulation|Exchange. Available at: http://circulationexchange.org/articles/nomansland.html (accessed 25th April 2020)

Bohr, M. (2012) Mishka Henner and the boundaries of photography. Photomonitor. Available at: https://www.photomonitor.co.uk/mishka-henner-and-the-boundaries-of-photography/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

Brook, P. (2012) A conversation with Mishka Hanner. Prison Photography. Available at: https://prisonphotography.org/2012/04/23/a-conversation-with-mishka-henner/ (accessed 25th April 2020)

Calmfors, H. (2011) Mishka Henner: Semi-Automatic at Bruce Silverstein Gallery. Available at: https://museemagazine.com/culture/culture/art-out/mishka-henner-semi-automatic-at-bruce-silverstein-gallery (accessed 8th March 2020)

Gefter, P. (2015) Mishka Henner uses Google Earth as muse. The New York Times, 28th August 2015. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/30/arts/design/mishka-henner-uses-google-earth-as-muse-for-his-aerial-art.html?_r=0 (accessed 19th August 2015)

Greenberger, A. (2015) The man who laughed at surveillance technology: Mishka Henner on his jarring images about images. ARTnews, 21st October 2015. Available at:

https://www.artnews.com/art-news/artists/the-man-who-laughed-at-surveillance-technology-mishka-henner-on-his-jarring-images-about-images-5016/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

James, S. (2013) Mishka Henner. Frieze. Available at: https://frieze.com/article/mishka-henner (accessed 19th April 2020)

Jewsbury, D. (2011) No Man’s Land review. Source, Autumn 2011. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0mxn7BUlcSUV2hxU09lNTJzRkE/view (accessed 19th April 2020)

Knoblauch, L. (2015) Mishka Henner: Semi-Automatic @Bruce Silverstein. Collector Daily. Available at: https://collectordaily.com/mishka-henner-semi-automatic-bruce-silverstein/ (accessed 8th March 2020)

O’ Hagan, S. (2012) Mishka Henner’s erased images: art or insult? The Guardian, 23rd May 2012. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/may/23/mishka-henner-less-americains (accessed 8th March 2020)

Oakes, S. (2012) In search of new materials: making art with the internet. LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/mishka-henner-in-search-of-new-materials-making-art-with-the-internet (accessed 8th March 2020)

Photographer’s Gallery (2013) Mishka Henner: Deutsche Börse Prize 2013. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qomlXhycwpM (accessed 19th April 2020)

Shore, R. (2014) Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera. London: Laurence King.

Shore, R. (2015) Art as geospatial intelligence gathering. Elephant. Available at: https://elephant.art/mishka-henner-art-as-geospatial-intelligence-gathering/ (accessed 19th April 2020)

Vivian, H. (2015) Mishka Henner and Jill Orr: performing to the all-seeing eye. Artlink. Available at: https://www.artlink.com.au/articles/4364/mishka-henner-and-jill-orr-performing-to-the-all-s/ (accessed 19th April 2020)

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