Our Christmas tasks were primarily focused on provoking a deeper understanding of some of the areas we will be covering in the new term and preparing us for the new assignments. Having been directed to read certain articles I wanted to place my thoughts here on my blog.
Pete Brook a freelance writer living in America was looking at the growing trend amongst artists to make use of the Google Street View images for their personal projects. The question being posed was how acceptable this was as a piece of art and can the creator really call his work unique and original.
When Mishka Henner was clicking through the GSV virtual world he came across a series of images he felt deserving of greater exposure. A series of photos taken by the google vehicle showed a number of prostitutes standing by the deserted roadsides on the outskirts of an Italian city, Mishka took these images and presented them as a separate work but was this art?
Mishka argument was
I came across communities using Street View to trade information on where to find sex workers. I thought that was the subject to work with. Much of my work is really about photography and this subject tapped into so many aspects of it; The fact the women’s faces are blurred by the software, that they look at the car with the same curiosity that we have when looking at them, and finally, that the liminal spaces they occupy are in the countryside or on the edge of our cities – it all has such great symbolism for our time. And that’s aside from the fact these women have occupied a central place in the history of documentary photography.
Mishka is not short of critics though with his work being called uninteresting and pointless and it being suggested that he should perhaps pick up a camera and go and document these people for himself, something that Paolo Patrizi actually did.
Paolo’s work shows the realities of the life and existence of these sex trade workers. Living in their own squalor and filth on dirty, stained and exposed mattresses his images see much deeper than Mishkas but does it make them any more valid?
The reappropriation of one persons images by another is not new. The famous artist Richard Prince has been in trouble on more than one occasion for just this reason. He was successfully sued by photographer Patrick Cariou for using 41 of his images from a project called ‘Yes Rasta’. Although this was a legal argument over copyright the outcome was dependant on the defence proving that he had transformed the images to such an extent that the meaning had been altered and as such the work became his own.
If I applied this defence to Mishka Henner’s project then I feel it stands up to scrutiny. The purpose of GSV is a tool, for navigation and to provide someone information should they be planning on visiting the area, it is not meant as an alternate perspective on the social issues of our time. Without changing the images Mishka changed the viewers mindset and creates something for a different audience, suddenly we have moved from a bland street view to something more sinister and this generates more interest. In addition, I also felt that google’s policy to digitally blur the faces of anyone that happens to be captured in their images inadvertently adds to the impact that Mishka was trying to convey. The hidden faces serves only to dehumanise and objectify these women as tools for sexual gratification and although Google’s intent was to protect their anonymity Mishka saw beyond that and for me he has changed the purpose and character enough to call it his own work.