Thinking about form: Mishka Henner’s feedlots and Edmund Clark’s Guantanamo Bay

Mishka Henner’s feedlots are wonderful: why? Because they do exactly what I want to do with my work. The feedlots make a statement about the state of the food industry in parts of the USA: its impact on the landscape and about privacy/secrecy and the power of big corporations to sway government when it is unclear whether or not it is in the interests of the general population.

But Henner creates these statements using wonderfully exquisite form – see here: (link) thus the images work as beautifully interesting pictures for some and visual discourses for others – and both for many.

Edmund Clark’s Guantanamo Bay. Just as Henner uses gestalt and strong form in his images Clark applies a somewhat similar approach to very different subject matter when he explored aspects of the landscape inmates and staff experience at Guantanamo Bay (link). The choice is closer the scale of my project 2 although whereas my setting is domestic Clark’s is very alien and institutional.

Not all the photos in the series are as formal and artistic as Henner’s. Many are realist in that they act as windows rather than graphic items and there is no obvious use of light, colour, depth of field or other photographic device other than framing to achieve the effect. So the power of the image is derived from the subject matter which although mundane is particular. But if we consider the graphic qualities of the subject matter rather than their nature we can see that Clark frames his images to create strong forms even if they are unstable. Thus they work in a similar way to Henner’s and probably reach more people for it.

The contrast in approaches makes my intension clear: If I shot in purely realistic indexical mode would people really be able to see what I show them? Would I be able to hold their visual interest? My subject matter is rather mundane with some subject matter known to all and other stuff that will only be known to a few people with knowledge of disability and impairment. So will the subject matter garner and hold viewers interest? I hope the formalist approach will help here.


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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