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Bleak and surreal: Photographer turns satellite images into open-source art

By dpreview staff on Aug 28, 2013 at 07:20 GMT

From the air, the landscape of Texas' vast feedlots and oil fields is by turns bleak and surreal. Photographer Mishka Henner aimed to capture the contrasts and intense colors of these landscapes in a collection of work titled 'Feedlots.' By stitching together hundreds of satellite images, he created large, detailed prints documenting the dynamism of these locations - earth tones clashing with the violent greens and reds of feedlot waste.

Image by Mishka Henner.
Image by Mishka Henner.
Image by Mishka Henner.

'Feedlots' is entirely composed using satellite images which are freely available for public use. As such, Henner's work is part of a wider trend of 'curated' works created from public sources like Google Earth, Street View and 'found' images. Some such projects are curiosity-driven endeavors that explore the boundaries of these sources. Others, like Henner's work, are inspired in part by the accidental beauty of projects like the crowd-sourced Stratocam.

Even other photographers' works are fair game, as in Wired's tongue-in-cheek photo essay created from the massive Tokyo panorama we posted a few weeks ago. Work like this exists in an interesting space - one in which the concept of 'authorship' is fascinatingly elastic. What do you make of it? Let us know in the comments. 

Comments

Total comments: 56
Paul Rademacher
By Paul Rademacher (7 months ago)

Very cool!

Stratocam, mentioned in the post, is my website. It's a slideshow of the best satellite imagery on Google Maps, as discovered and voted on by users to the site. Since I launched the site last year, it's collected over 50K snapshots, and users has cast nearly a million votes.

http://www.stratocam.com

0 upvotes
plasnu
By plasnu (8 months ago)

Smart.
This is something that Tillmans should have done.

0 upvotes
Reilly Diefenbach
By Reilly Diefenbach (8 months ago)

Free range organic beef if you know what's good for you.

2 upvotes
Rick Knepper
By Rick Knepper (8 months ago)

Just use Google Earth and search for Coronado Feeders, Dalhart TX to see how much of an enhancement this art puts on the actual image.

1 upvote
mrdancer
By mrdancer (8 months ago)

The "red" lake is probably just an algae bloom that was shot with infrared (where anything green shows up as red).

Most satellites shoot infrared as well as natural color. The infrared is sharper and can shoot through cloud cover, etc. and be used to post-process the natural color image for a better overall image (using a process called pan-sharpening).

It would be interesting to have a DSLR, M43, or even a P&S that could do the same post-proscessing/pan-sharpening. You could use IR to assist in low-light shots, or use simultaneously-shot black & white imagery to sharpen the color photos.

0 upvotes
Jeff Peterman
By Jeff Peterman (8 months ago)

Why isn't there an easy to click on link that takes us to the original site? (Or if there is, where is it?)

As for the lake being a "lake of blood" - if so, what about the green lake? I'm pretty certain that the water color is simply from minerals in the water, not "animal products".

0 upvotes
Scott Everett
By Scott Everett (8 months ago)

Hi Jeff, we post the source link at the bottom of the each news story where applicable. In this case, look above for "Via: Edible Geography, Source: Mishka Henner".

1 upvote
BartyLobethal
By BartyLobethal (8 months ago)

The green colour is cyanobacteria feeding on the nitrate-rich waste expelled by the cattle. The bacteria suck all the oxygen from the water, leaving it toxic and dead. "Minerals" have nothing to do with it.

2 upvotes
Pixnat2
By Pixnat2 (8 months ago)

Disturbing. That should raise a debat about those feedlots.
Take a look in Google Earth, and you'll see more disturbing things in Texas.

2 upvotes
Rick Knepper
By Rick Knepper (8 months ago)

Such as?

0 upvotes
DanielFjall
By DanielFjall (8 months ago)

Ofcourse we'll talk about what's wrong with the article rather then it's interesting content. Is nit-picking everyting a bad habit from photography? I really appreciate the effort finding these beautiful images. Well done!

5 upvotes
ShelNf
By ShelNf (8 months ago)

You realize what these photos are , don't you? Lakes of animal blood and waste. They're not meant to be beautiful.

0 upvotes
inframan
By inframan (8 months ago)

~ShelNF - "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Remember that one? Or are we now going to dictate what people find beautiful based on what is political correct? Have you never seen a beautiful burger?

1 upvote
DanielFjall
By DanielFjall (8 months ago)

Beautiful in Many ways! Not only aestheticly.

0 upvotes
ShelNf
By ShelNf (8 months ago)

I don't think its "politically correct" to assume people will find a giant river of animal blood distasteful. I think the pictures are meant to be evocative and provoke reflection, not "oh that's pretty!". But to each their own.

Comment edited 53 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
RRD
By RRD (8 months ago)

It's absolutely not blood, it's likely either red algae or the colors have been photo-shopped in (replaced for green). Blood would not be found at a "feed lot" where the animals are fed, but at a meat processing plant where the animals are butchered. Blood typically is dumped in the open where it can be seen from space, it would be flushed down the drain or actually captured and reprocessed for other purposes.

0 upvotes
RRD
By RRD (8 months ago)

One minor edit... I meant to say, "blood is not dumped"

0 upvotes
b craw
By b craw (8 months ago)

The beauty, a product of distance, is very much part of the content here. That abstract characteristic creates a point of tension between the aesthetic and conceptual experience. This attraction-repulsion dynamic is a fairly common artist motif, and speaks to human familiarity with such psychological tensions.

0 upvotes
jkoch2
By jkoch2 (8 months ago)

A humble question: why do satellite photos appear so sharp, if what I see from a jetliner window always appears hazy at best? Even at high noon on a clear day, and even (less likely!) my window is not all smeary or scratched up, my photos' resolution is poor. Satellites are outside the atmosphere, but must peer through the same air, humidity, clouds, dust, and feedlot dander as an air traveler, no?

1 upvote
Karroly
By Karroly (8 months ago)

First, I think the satellite can choose to take photographs when the atmosphere is very clean. In the plane, you have no choice. Look, one can take sharp photographs of the moon from the ground when the atmosphere is clean.
Second, the plane windows, even when clean, are thick and not flat. They may act as a mediocre lens that could add distortion, softness and disturb the AF system of your camera.

1 upvote
imsabbel
By imsabbel (8 months ago)

Several reasons: First, you never look straight down when looking out of an airplane window, so you get both more haze as well as inconsistent one (stuff further away is more blue than stuff near you). Also, Aircraft windows are horrible and cause tons of image degration (they are thick plastic under pressure, i.e. neither uniform in thickness nor flat).

A satellite looks straight down, so everything has the same amount of haze, which can be filtered out.

But really, if you take pictures, especially with a good camera with wide aperture, those windows are the most likely culprit. They just destroy image quality. I tried taking some photos with a 85/1.4, and it looked like a finger painting...

0 upvotes
ShelNf
By ShelNf (8 months ago)

The feedlot photo is highly disturbing.

0 upvotes
fotochase
By fotochase (8 months ago)

He can call himself an artist, I guess, but he shouldn't call himself a photographer. He's a "compiler" or an "arranger" of borrowed materials. Being a photographer in my opinion means that you exercise some control over the photographic equipment and the composition of the image.

2 upvotes
jkoch2
By jkoch2 (8 months ago)

The quality or distinction of a piece of work are what define an "artist." The tools are merely incidental. Most works derive from sources that no one conjures on their own. In the case of cameras, the key artists are probably the engineers who desiigned the cameras and production processes, not the shooters. But even they rely on work of others. It is pretty silly to say that use of space photography cannot qualify as "art," unless a person flew into space and took the pictures himself. Maybe Bezos could afford an orbit tour, but not many others.

4 upvotes
Ferling
By Ferling (8 months ago)

But he is exercising a some form of composition. Don't we all re-compose some of our shots in post? What about the act of adding HDR, saturation, etc? Making the shot more of what it actually appears in real life?

We can't dismiss the post production process part of being a photographer. Even simple dodge and burn to contrive a look before the days of digital, or creating an arrangement on a copy table and creating another negative from that composition. etc.

I'm always editing other people photos in due course of my work. While I don't take credit for the shot, I do take credit for the edit, the creative part that's mine.

If you go to my website and take a look at my portfolio page, you will seem some examples of extreme alteration. Granted, all the images on that page originated from me. However, I have hundreds of such works done for others (but are either locked out by rights or NDA).

Just appreciate it for what it is, and come away with having learned something.

Comment edited 12 seconds after posting
1 upvote
lecoupdejarnac
By lecoupdejarnac (8 months ago)

I tend to agree with this post: not a photographer (at least based on the 'work' page of the site).

Definitely an artist though, and I rather like the work. He selects some really intriguing compositions.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (8 months ago)

"Image by..."

Those images were lifted from satellite photos!

"Manipulated, Altered, Masticated and Spit Images by..." is a better by line.

.

2 upvotes
Ermac
By Ermac (8 months ago)

It's called appropriation, a trend in art for... oh... say... ever

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
jforkner
By jforkner (8 months ago)

Assuming he gets the images from Google Earth, I wonder how he gets around their "Restrictions on Use."

0 upvotes
RRD
By RRD (8 months ago)

Moreover, how do you define ownership of these images and many others in his gallery? I understand that editing and composing is work, but didn't Google technically take the pictures and therefore owns the rights to the material?

0 upvotes
cgarrard
By cgarrard (8 months ago)

If I didn't shoot it, I'm not using it, period. No way I'd use someone elses work to call my own art- no matter how you spin it. These are new images, there's an infringement on the craft that being a curator has been in the past- it seems to be a modern curse to trample on anything good of the past.

No thanks.

4 upvotes
Ermac
By Ermac (8 months ago)

Is a satellite considered 'someone' these days?

0 upvotes
James Qi
By James Qi (8 months ago)

I completely agree, which is why I'm saving up for a satellite.

4 upvotes
jkoch2
By jkoch2 (8 months ago)

Then why dare take photos with a camera someone else made, which you could not build yourself. To be authentic, it would come from raw materials you extracted from the ground and forged or distilled with tools you crafted yourself. Next you can build your own rocket and loft your own satellite into space. A mere farmer did this in a movie (or was it a cartoon?), so why can't you? And, if that's not possible, then it's not worth doing. Right?

5 upvotes
Ermac
By Ermac (8 months ago)

http://www.arnierosner.com/

New business venture (probably already available),you can rent time on a telescope for astrophotography via the interwebs, why not the reverse?

Comment edited 19 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Chris2210
By Chris2210 (8 months ago)

There's a strange beauty to these images. Looking at them I was wondering if the dark specks of ant-like details were cattle and indeed they are. Watch the trailer linked to Vimeo from this artist's site - it's something of an eye opener.

I sincerely hope there aren't any sort of near-equivalents to these facilities in the UK. It's a dystopian image of factory farming that's real in the here-and-now. The news report with its cheery commentary is all the more sinister for its breeziness.

I like a nice rare steak with the best of them, but my appetite is not exactly whetted by this. Deeply disturbing.

I think this is art and very significant art at that.

6 upvotes
montoniphotography
By montoniphotography (8 months ago)

It concerns me that there are mediocre photographers on the radar simply because of their marketing

0 upvotes
b craw
By b craw (8 months ago)

This does pose a question as to the boundary of "curation" and production/composition. That (in the third image?) it is a manipulation or collage of the source satellite imagery places it closer, in the most obvious sense, to a constructive/creative product. The aesthetics here, abstractly compelling as they are, are in ironic contrast to the ugly reality of these sites. But, I'm guessing in a few hours, there will be a s***storm of comments continuing the already forwarded notion of this not being photographic art because the artist did not create the exposures themselves. First thing in the morning (PST), I'm going to put on my rain suit.

0 upvotes
WT Jones
By WT Jones (8 months ago)

Nothing interesting here in my opinion. You have seen one arial photo, you have seen them all really.

2 upvotes
micahmedia
By micahmedia (8 months ago)

Yeah, Times New Roman is more where it's at.

8 upvotes
Dames01
By Dames01 (8 months ago)

Interesting scenes irrespective of the aesthetic qualities.
As regards the comment on a aerial photographs, I can only recommend that you have a look at Yann Arthus-Bertrand's book Earth from above...

0 upvotes
Dames01
By Dames01 (8 months ago)

I prefer Sonoran Sans Serif :-)

0 upvotes
WT Jones
By WT Jones (8 months ago)

Dames01 Point taken, Let me rephrase that, Once you have seen one government type ariel map survey...........

Edit: I looked at the book you refer to on Amazon & ordered it, Thanks for the tip!.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
ShelNf
By ShelNf (8 months ago)

I don't remember seeing a giant lake of blood, myself.

0 upvotes
jkoch2
By jkoch2 (8 months ago)

Be careful. Pray your aircraft pilot doesn't confuse your street or house for a runway.

"Lower the landing gear. This place looks like the others. Cross your fingers. Pinch your nose, too, if it turns out to be a fee lot."

0 upvotes
vmicho
By vmicho (8 months ago)

Hmmm. 3rd image: is it a burger factory from Food Inc? :D

1 upvote
ConanFuji
By ConanFuji (8 months ago)

I don't understand how this is photography on the so called photographer's part.

More like graphic tweaker.

Comment edited 18 seconds after posting
4 upvotes
Hugo808
By Hugo808 (8 months ago)

"Photographie" = Painting with light. These more than pass muster as photographs being - as they are - works of art made of light images captured with cameras.

2 upvotes
rondom
By rondom (8 months ago)

If you had the chance to go to the space with a camera, you would get the very same flattened view to choose from. So in other words: the reality from that vantage point is already two dimensional, just like a photograph. So satellite photography is not about transfering a three dimential world to two dimensions. it is always working with a two dimentional world.
i think your criticism is more valid for the guy who reframes google street view. That's indeed retaking a photograph...

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 3 minutes after posting
1 upvote
cgarrard
By cgarrard (8 months ago)

@rondom

Not the same, one would be your own work and one would be someone elses. The view has nothing to do with it. These days its so popular to infringe on others work as ones "right" to do so- using spin and propaganda to justify stealing.

There has to be clear cut boundaries, something the modern generations have trouble adhering too.

No thanks.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
Conan
By Conan (8 months ago)

@cgarrard

As applies to commercial images sure. But that's simply a very old fashioned way of thinking about art images.

2 upvotes
jkoch2
By jkoch2 (8 months ago)

In advertising or cinema, the quality of the presentation is mainly a function of work that hinges very little on whoever held or ran the camera. It can take days or weeks to compose and edit what it took only seconds to shoot or record.

1 upvote
RRD
By RRD (8 months ago)

jkoch2 - Your argument is an extremely weak one. I’m sure we all can come up with some philosophical arguments for and against what is “art” and what really is an “artist”; but in the world I live in lawyers have done a pretty good job of defining who owns what and who can take credit for what. I would be shocked is Google (if they are indeed the individuals owning the pixels/data) would allow their images to be used without at least giving credit to where the images were appropriated from. For legal reference see the link: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110112/10170012637/ap-shepard-fairey-settle-lawsuit-over-obama-image-fairey-agrees-to-give-up-fair-use-rights-to-ap-photos.shtml

Comment edited 43 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (8 months ago)

"...is entirely composed, using satellite images, which are freely available for public use."

Fantastic!

If I like a picture, I'll just lift the original from Google or NASA.

.

Comment edited 52 seconds after posting
6 upvotes
JWest
By JWest (8 months ago)

Feel free.

3 upvotes
rondom
By rondom (8 months ago)

provided that you can find it!
you have a rather large database to choose from...
of course you can also find something more appealing during the process!

0 upvotes
Total comments: 56