Mindbending landscapes: Postcards from Google Earth

Postcards from Google Earth
Postcards from Google Earth

We’ve written about Google Street View-based projects before. Rather than look for serendipitous street photography, Clement Valla‘s project Postcards from Google Earth looks for errors in the algorithm and finds images where roads, bridges, and buildings bend and melt around the landscape in a surreal way. While the website doesn’t have much information, an article at Rhizome explains the process and thoughts behind the project.

Edoardo Pasero’s Doll Flesh

Edoardo Pasero wrote to us recently and shared his new project Doll Flesh. I was immediately taken by the depth and sincerity of the reportage, and the unique woman at the heart of the story. We’re excited to share this work with you alongside a few questions we had for Pasero.

Vittoria is a transsexual of German origins born forty-eight years ago in Brazil and now living in Milan, Italy. More than 20 years ago she went through about 300 injections of liquid silicone to shape her body into that of a woman; tragically, she suddenly discovered she was intolerant.

After so many years now of intoxication and cortisone treatments her body is consumed. She still works as a prostitute along a highway near Milan, but she never gets undressed with her clients because she doesn’t want them to be aware of her condition.
In her spare time she custom builds Barbie dolls. Her talent is really appreciated in the world of the “custom Barbie making”.

    Note: there are no captions except for the last image, which is a translation of this page of Vittoria’s diary.

How did you meet Vittoria? What inspired you to photograph her story?

Pasero: I knew her thanks to ALA, a nonprofit organization based in Milan. They work on subjects like drugs, prostitution, transsexualism and so on. I have a personal obsession with everything concerned with the body and it was immediately clear to me that I had to work with her. She has a really extreme case of silicone intoxication and when I heard her story I was astonished. I was completely fascinated by her hobby working with dolls; to me it is like she did the first, primal doll experiment on herself, and now she is replicating it doing new dolls. Once, she told me she wanted to be like the unicorn she tattooed on her back.

What, if anything, was she interested in communicating when she agreed to be part of your story?

Vittoria was in denial about her condition for a long time and just lately she reconciled with it. Just think to the fact that she works with the clothes on and that, according to her words, I’m the first man seeing her naked in ten years. So, to work with me was her way to say: “pay attention to what you do, silicone can be dangerous”. She never wanted to see the pictures, she’s ok with the project but it’s still too much for her to see her naked body in a picture.

Would you consider this project a collaboration with Vittoria? Does she help select the drawings or dolls you’ve included in this series? What is her reaction to these photographs and the way you’ve edited them together?

It was a collaboration in the sense that she let me to do what I wanted, everything except for the moments when she is with her clients. To let a photographer with his camera in to your life and in the place you live is the most collaborative act of all. I simply took pictures of her and her environment. Clearly I spent a lot of time with her, that’s for sure. I spent time with her without a camera too, doing things like going to the hospital, shopping, dinners etc. There is one picture in the sequence, a blurry one, where you can see two arms taking away old band-aids from her bottom, to put on the new ones. One arm is clearly Vittoria, the other one is my girlfriend, during that period they became friends, and we still are.

The selection was a pain, it took months. I love to edit and I think it is half of the work. Additionally I live in the same city where I have my agency (Prospekt) and I really live in the office. So it was a collaborative effort to make this edit, and I have to thank a lot all of the people there at Prospekt. But, by the other side, it was a sort of “controversial” process; it was like every person looking at it for the first time had a different idea than the one before and so on, much more than the other works I edited before. So I had to put a stop at one point.

Does this story fit in to any larger body of work you are working on?

It was originally intended as part of a bigger project to be done with the ALA organization about transgendered people in the city of Milan, but at the moment nothing is going on so I think it will stay as a work on it’s own. I’ve got no plans. I’d like to see it published somewhere as I’d like to expose this subject, but I understand it’s not simple.

Where do you come from? What is your background as a photographer?

I’ve done workshops with Lorenzo Castore, Antoine D’Agata and Anders Petersen, and except for that I’m self-taught. My father was a really good photographer in his youth and taught me how to use a camera and some darkroom techniques but I learned looking at books of photographers I liked. My parents have both a degree in philosophy and I studied philosophy too; photography became a practical way to apply it in life.

When I was going back through your project I saw one particular image – the picture of Vittoria with an umbrella by the side of the road – which immediately reminded me of Mishka Henner’s project No Man’s Land.

It caused a stir amongst photographers and critics I know, about evenly split on positive or negative, with some of the debate focused on the use of Street View and others on his treatment of the subject itself. I think your project could be considered a much more personal and journalistic response to the scenes and individuals involved in Henner’s distant photographs. Do you have any thoughts about that project or how your work relates?

About “No Man’s Land”, it is interesting how the 70% of the work is done with images “taken” in Italy, hah. Anyway, I have nothing against this kind of work, but I think it would be correct to present it as a research work based on archive material. It’s a conceptual work. This kind of approach is really used in contemporary art. For example, my friend Diego Marcon works mainly in this way. He takes family tape archives and he re-organizes it in to something new: Marcon’s SPOOL project.

So, to be clear, I don’t think Mishka Henner’s work is photography, it is something else, really interesting and worth a look but not photography, it’s 90% project idea and 10% framing on a computer screen using someone else pictures.

To me photography still requires just one simple condition, to be present at the moment of the click.

What has the response been to Doll Flesh, have you been able to publish this project?

Heh, I started to share it in October 2011 and here on dvafoto is the first publication. I think it’s a difficult project to place, reactions vary a lot from one person to another and I understand perfectly that some pictures are a bit harsh. Anyway, it was a great experience for me and that’s what matters.

Worth a Look: “No Man’s Land” by Mishka Henner

Mishka Henner has a new project on the Panos Pictures website, made with Google Street View, called No Man’s Land. It purports to be a series of pictures of women who “appear to be soliciting sex”. We knew there were going to be a lot more of these Google-based projects coming, following the controversial World Press Photo award given this year to Michael Wolf. But this one impresses me a lot, though in pushing more boundaries raises a new set of questions.

About his project Henner says,

No Man’s Land explores the margins of our urban and rural European environment as experienced by what appear to be women soliciting sex in liminal, post-industrial and rural settings, captured by Google Street View cameras.

Occupying liminal spaces in post-industrial and rural settings, the focus on these women also casts a critical eye on the Street View project itself and on photography’s indelible link to voyeurism and surveillance.

The Street View project heralds a new age of street-level cartography that offers a vast, regularly updated archive waiting to be mined by documentarians seeking to make sense of our contemporary condition. …

I think the project is terrific, especially in the visuals, and it is interesting to hear how Henner contextualizes the issues of using Google Street View immediately in the introduction to the work. I’m still working through some of the implications of the work, and I’m curious about your reactions. For example, these blurred faces imposed by Google itself… I’m sure there are legal implications for displaying peoples’ likenesses but in this context of possible illegal activity, it adds something else. It draws some parallels, in that fine line of documenting accusations, with Donald Weber’s project Interrogations, and many of the same issues of consent and imposition.

Overall I’m struck by the consistency of this project, photographically and conceptually: 64 images (on Panos’ site) with remarkably similar compositions. An amazing, consistent collaboration between Google’s ‘unseeing eye’ and Henner’s curation. The banality of the scenes is so strongly undermined by the repetition, the ubiquity and the scope of these images across Europe. I’m also struck that it would be nearly impossible for a photographer on his or her own to create such a project. Can we really imagine someone driving around and capturing as many scenes, as consistently, on their own?

Henner is showing me that sexual trafficking (as he implies, or maybe just a phenomenon of women sitting by rural roads) has a particular pattern consuming Europe; I am not accustomed to seeing anything like this with my full eyes nor before in an arts project. That is useful I think. This is perhaps journalism in a new form, it is informing us about something after investigation and we can likely rely upon it. Screw the medium, this is showing us something new in our communities and in an eloquent and democratic manner.

Passing this link to some friends I heard some very interesting, and critical responses. Ranging from the idea that a photographer should really just go out and make their own pictures (ideally, sure, but I think that it is clever to use the mass resources of Google photographing more places in less time than an individual could) to the very serious issue of Henner painting all of these women near the streets as street-walkers. Does he have any evidence to make such an accusation? Is this project interesting only because it is voyeuristic and speculative? I don’t have the answer, and Henner does not really give any firm answers in his own words about the project .. so again, I suppose we’re just asking questions but not coming to any conclusions. Interesting questions, but still troubling.

(via photojournalismlinks. You can also see a PDF/book presentation of the project on Panos’ blog)