© Paolo Patrizi, from the series Migration

This week, I wrote two pieces for Raw File on Google Street View.

The first was a gallery of the various projects spawned by GSV, and the second was a piece about authorship and the repetition of nine scenes in two of the most well known GSV projects (Jon Rafman’s Nine Eyes and Michael Wolf’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and FY.)

Anecdotally, the photo-thinkers out there are converging on Doug Rickard’s A New American Picture as the most robust work. A close contender though is the relatively new No Man’s Land by Mishka Henner.

© Mishka Henner

No Man’s Land (more images here) is a disturbingly large selection of GSV screen-grabs of (presumably) prostitutes awaiting customers on the back roads of Italy. Henner says:

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.

But for traditionalists, No Man’s Land is a long way from the spirit of documentary photography. Of Henner’s work and of all GSV series generally, the ever-outspoken Alan Chin says:

“Google Street Views is a navigational tool, an educational resource, and sure, it can reveal a lot about a place and a scene at a given moment in time. But if you, the artist, are really so interested, then go there and take some pictures yourself. This is about as interesting as cutting out adverts from magazines that have some connection and then presenting your edit as a work of art. Post-modern post-structuralist post-whatever denizens of of the art world and academia love this shit. Which is well and good for the university-press industry. But it has little to do with actual reporting and actual documentary work in the field.”

Well, just last week, I came across Paolo Patrizi documentary photographer that actually took himself to those byways.

For Migration, Patrizi has keenly researched where these women have come from and where, if anywhere, they may be going. From the project statement:

“The phenomenon of foreign women, who line the roadsides of Italy, has become a notorious fact of Italian life. These women work in sub-human conditions; they are sent out without any hope of regularizing their legal status and can be easily transferred into criminal networks. [...] For nearly twenty years the women of Benin City, a town in the state of Edo in the south-central part of Nigeria, have been going to Italy to work in the sex trade and every year successful ones have been recruiting younger girls to follow them. [...] Most migrant women, including those who end up in the sex industry, have made a clear decision to leave home and take their chances overseas. [...] Working abroad is therefore often seen as the best strategy for escaping poverty. The success of many Italos, as these women are called, is evident in Edo. For many girls prostitution in Italy has become an entirely acceptable trade and the legend of their success makes the fight against sex traffickers all the more difficult.”

Patrizi is interviewed on the Dead Porcupine blog and talks about the unchanging situation, the pain experienced by the women, their reactions to him, and the destruction of woodland by authorities in attempts to literally expose the illicit encounters. It’s a must read.

The images in Migrations are inescapably bleak; therein lies their power.

© Paolo Patrizi

© Paolo Patrizi

© Paolo Patrizi

© Paolo Patrizi

Patrizi’s Migration induces a visceral shock; images of the littered make-shift sex-camps turn the stomach. When human fluids are dumped, it is not usual that humans continue to function in and around them. These workstead pits of dirt, tarps and abuse are shrines to the shortcomings of globalisation and the social safety net.

By contrast, Henner’s work allows us to keep a safe distance. He even saves us the trouble of finding these scenes on our own computer screens; we’re detached one step beyond. We are cheap consumers.

Patrizi’s photography with its clear evidence of his boots on the ground don’t allow us to share Henner and Google’s amoral and disinterested eye.

On Henner’s virtual tour, we cruise, at 50mph. We don’t stop, we don’t get out the car and we don’t get too close. We might as well be in another country … which of course we are. Patrizi’s work walks us by hand to the edge of the soiled mattresses and piles of discarded condoms.

Patrizi’s images counter the washed out colours, the flattening effect of wide-angle lenses, and the perpendicular viewpoint of GSV. Instead, they involve texture, depth, legitimate colour, details and different focal points along different sight-lines. In other words, Patrizi’s Migration engages the senses and the basics of human experience. Patrizi’s photographs return us to the shocking fact that that these women are human and not just bit-parts in the difficult social narratives of contemporary society. Works full of threat, fear, flesh and blood.

By comparison, Henner’s screen-grabs are anaemic.

Via del Ponte Pisano, Rome, Italy. © Mishka Henner

© Mishka Henner

Carretera de Gand­a, Oliva, Spain. © Mishka Henner

© Mishka Henner
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