_IMG01: encoded replication
ANA TERESA VICENTE
CIEBA, Faculdade de Belas Artes da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal
Mishka Henner, _IMG01 Australian-troops-passing-014.jpg, 2014. Courtesy of Mishka Henner.
Mishka Henner is a UK-based artist, who has been developing his interdisciplinary work encompassing appropriation, the internet as a vast source of images, the use of satellite and aerial imagery, or more recently, the use of artificial intelligence in order to expose the inner workings of the photographic medium. Henner’s practice, often provocative and humorous, goes beyond the surface and material presence of images, questioning the very nature of photography and examining through different processes what a digital image actually is.
_IMG is a series of limited edition books, whose pages contain the binary code of historical photographs selected by Henner. Each volume also contains a photographic print of the chosen image enclosed in a protective sleeve. The series resides precisely in the gap between the tangible body of the print and the abstract code of its digital twin.
In _IMG01's particular case, Mishka Henner presents the binary digital code of a historical photograph, "Australian troops passing", by James Francis (Frank) Hurley, taken on October 29, 1917. The code is printed in book format, occupying almost all of its 740 pages. The artist also includes a silver gelatin print, the positive of the original photograph (glass matrix). This association between image, matrix, photochemical reproduction and encoded replication determines a set of relationships between different temporalities and means concerning images, and Henner directly confronts two different outputs of the same image in this work.
The photograph exhibits members of "a field artillery brigade, passing along a duckboard track over mud and water among gaunt bare tree trunks in the devastated Chateau Wood, a portion of one of the battlegrounds in the Ypres salient" (Henner, s/d). We can see a walkway over the shallow mass of water, its surface reflecting the grey, foggy sky intersected by bare trees.
Staging images was a current practice in Frank Hurley's work, and the desolate picture chosen by Henner echoes Robert Fenton's photograph "The Valley of the Shadow of Death" (1855). This eerie image is believed to be the earliest example of a staged news photograph: one version presents us with a landscape dotted with spherical bombs, the second version shows the bombs removed to both sides of the road, following the topology of the valley's path.
Using a two-dimensional representation scheme already obeys a code that presupposes the interpretation of certain established rules that take into account the phenomenon of the human visual system and the way our brains decode visual information. Digital images have a very distinct "body" from that of photochemical images, they are composed of code. This "body" requires decoding; if a display or device is not accessible, it renders us "blind": we may be able to visualize the code that composes the image, but our gelatinous eyes are useless to decipher it, to transform this encoded “replicant” back into an image.