To Belgian artist Mishka Henner, the most telling perspectives on our planet are shot from the stratosphere. “Satellite images allow us to make sense of vast infrastructures that are otherwise hidden by their scale,” he says. “They are the elephant in the room.”
For his project Feedlots, a photographic series on the large-scale livestock industry in Texas, Henner combed through images from Google Earth and stitched hundreds of screen grabs together to create the final images. While the project emerged in 2013, the photos have continued to mesmerize the art world: They currently appear in Aerial Imagery in Print, an exhibition at MoMA that closes on September 11, and in The Edge of the Earth: Climate Change in Photography, a forthcoming show at Ryerson University, in Canada.
In Henner’s photographs, we get a rarely seen glimpse of the realities of meat and dairy production in the United States. Though it’s not immediately apparent what the subject matter is, upon close inspection, thousands of cows come into focus and we recognize the black and brown grids in the landscape as swathes of manure, which pose environmental risks such as air pollution and seepage of bacteria, nitrogen, and phosphorous into the water supply. Seeing the feedlot runoff collect into crimson and acid-green pools is enough to make you go vegan.
Henner’s photos are a remarkably potent animal rights statement–one that arguably sparks more thought than the slaughterhouse photos we typically associate with the movement. They have a beautiful hook, that quickly turns horrific. “All art is a form of personal activism,” Henner says.