Image above: Mishka Henner, Unknown Site, Noordwijk aan Zee, South Holland, 2011. © Mishka Henner/ Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, NYC
Mishka Henner’s Semi-Automatic is an excellent example of how the use of photography is being redefined in our digital age. The works on display combine pictures from mass media, public databases and Internet culture to create dystopian images that comment on political topics such as the oil- and sex industry.
Image above: During the opening night at Bruce Silverstein Gallery. ©Paul McLaren.
For one of the installations Henner loops images downloaded from Google Street View on one of the gallery’s TV-screens. At first sight these photographs looks like any random images you would see using the database, but the photographs Henner has picked out all have a common factor: on the side of the road sex workers have been unintentionally and unknowingly caught by the Google Street View Camera. Their faces have been automatically blurred by the database, which makes the impact of what the photos actually document even stronger. These automated photographs are reminiscent of E. J. Belloqc’s images of prostitutes in New Orleans in the early 20th century. Where Belloqc scratched out the faces of the prostitutes in the photographs, Google Street View has now done automatically and created a modern version of Belloqc’s work, thus documenting an industry that has not changed much in the past 100 years.
Image above: Mishka Henner, Coronado Feeders, Dalhart, Texas, 2013. © Mishka Henner/ Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, NYC
Henner reaches back in time with other works as well: for example the 18 aerial landscape photos that show a striking similarity to abstract expressionist paintings from the 1940s. Another example is the way that The Netherlands chose to censure certain areas on Google Earth by using Photoshop’s crystalizing effect and therefore unintentionally redefining documentary landscape photography reminiscent of how Dutch artists redefined landscape painting in the 1600s. The landscape motif recurs in the exhibition and one of the strongest ways that Henner uses it is by showing how man alters the landscape for financial gain. Examples of this are patchwork compositions of aerial images showing oil pumps in Denver or the feedlots in Texas that are used to intensify animal farming by speeding up the life process of cows.
Images above: During the opening night at Bruce Silverstein Gallery. ©Paul McLaren.
By repurposing existing photographs to create new meaning Semi-Automatic function as a comment on the world we live in and the effect we have on it. By reaching back in time and drawing power from art history the exhibition also explores the use of photography and brings up a fascinating question: What does photography mean today?
By Helena Calmfors