Monday, 23 April 2012
Mishka Henner and Erasing
This month's BJP is a special one with interviews with Roger Ballen and Boris Mikhailov. It also has a feature by myself on Mishka Henner's Les Americains.
Much of Henner's work uses Google imaging and other digitally referenced material. This kind of thing, together with multiple exposure work is what Wired's Bruce Sterling calls New Aesthetics. Others are not so sure and think it is something else entirely.
As Pete Brook points out, Jason Savalon and others have been doing multiple imaging for a long time. Pete also gives an overview of a series of Google Streetview projects (including Mishka Henner's No Man's Land) here and here, with comments on authorship here.
And here is Pete Brook's conversation with Mishka Henner on the validity or otherwise of Google Street View Projects. Rather than being hostile to GSV, I enjoyed them at first, then began to get annoyed by them - they are, as both Mishka and Pete admit, anaemic, and as such they have a definite sell-by-date - and I think we've passed it. That doesn't mean they're not valid, though. They're as valid as you like, but anaemic.
Less Americains is something quite different to GSV, however, and is part of a body of works that focus more on what erasure does to a picture - something that Henner points out in the linking of his work to that of Rauschenberg's erasure of a de Kooning picture .
I find all the erasure works quite fascinating in the way they highlight things that have gone and draw one's eye to what remains - in a variety of ways that relate to blank space, white space, negative space as well as things like facial recognition.
Here are some examples:
The Erased Lynchings of Ken Gonzales-Day remove the victims of the lynchings and move our gaze to the specators.
This is what Gonzales-Day says in his statement;
The Erased Lynching series (2002-2011) sought to reveal that racially motivated lynching and vigilantism was a more widespread practice in the American West than was believed, and that in California, the majority of Lynchings were perpetrated against Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans; and that more Latinos were lynched in California than were persons of any other race or ethnicity.
The images derive from appropriated lynching postcards and archival materials in which the lynch victim and the ropes have all been been removed; a conceptual gesture intended to direct the viewers attention, not upon the lifeless body of lynch victim, but upon the mechanisms of lynching themselves: the crowd, the spectacle, the photographer, and even consider the impact of flash photography upon this dismal past. The perpetrators, if present, remain fully visible, jeering, laughing, or pulling at the air in a deadly pantomime. As such, this series strives to make the invisible -visible.
More on Erased Lynchings here.
Josh Azzarrella removes the central figures from iconic photos (and there is a lynching picture here), moving the gaze to the now empty space.
Pavel Maria Smejkal removes all the main protagonists from his Fatescapes turning iconic pictures into landscapes where what was once background becomes the central point of fascination of the picture.
And finally there are Gregor Graf's Hidden Town pictures. Here Graf removes all the people, cars and graphic content from cityscapes - making everywhere look like Pyongyang and Prince Charles' Poundsbury.
I think Henner builds on this work ( all of which is fascinating) in Less Americains. And in that sense, it is more about visual salience and what we recognise in an image - and how we recognise it. That is not something new, but it is something thoughtful and considered that helps us to understand how we read photographs.
And with the glut of images, the multiple media and momentary attention spans that have very suddenly engulfed us, I think that is essential to helping us see how we understand photographs and their contents. It's not so much New Aesthetics, more Slow Photography.