I would just like to discuss Mishka Henner’s recent project Collected Portraits. This piece of work fascinates me, not least because Mishka is a friend but also as I consider myself primarily as a portrait photographer and I believe it tackles some interesting topics within the genre and photography itself.

Thirty two Mann's

Mishka’s statement: “Collected Portraits presents twenty-four faces representing the collapsed portrait archives of twenty-four photographers whose work spans the history of the medium. The resulting series of ghostly portraits hints at each photographer’s consistent choice of subject, as well as offering a record of the photographer’s character as recorded in the accumulated expressions on their subjects’ faces”

So what we have here is a collection of 24 portraits of portraits. There is much to be said about the area of appropriation and recontextualization within photography and more than I will be able to convey here on my digital soap box. However what I will say is that this work does more than offer the viewer an alternative way to look at the particular photographers work. Following what some would describe as a Düsseldorfer Kunstakademie tradition of a photograph commenting on itself  Collective portraits, is not a photographic project about an external subject. It is not a document of some tragic or fascinating event, to me, it comments on the pit falls and the beauty of the medium as a whole. The end result is clearly an aesthetically pleasing one, these spectral portraits are are reminiscent of daguerreotypes which -intentional or not- sparks a starting point for the viewer to set off on a journey through the history of photography.

Out and out however this work is a nod to many things photographic. There is the obvious reference to the photographers who originally produced the each set of portraits; Sally Mann, August Sander etc, but this reference holds a subtle side tone. Within the photographic community and the art world as a whole there is a competitive aspect based on knowledge, this knowledge is often displayed as a game of who’s who, in which participants recount various artist throughout history until one fails to recount the others. Combined portraits -in my opinion- is playing with that idea, as we scroll down the images we begin a game of can I tell who the photographer is, failing to do so results in instant disappointment. This playful jibe at the photographic world is not the least of the project references to photography/photographic art, art (or what ever it wishes to be called). There is a nod to those who have shunned conventional methods in favour of appropriation. Both the aesthetic qualities and the chosen title are an acknowledgment to Doug Keyes and his excellent work Collective Memory. Keyes examination of the Bechers water towers -for example- is in itself an affirmation of the work and photo art, therefore Mishka Henner’s affirmation of Keyes in some respects completes a circle of photographic representation.

Becher-Water Towers 1997

Regardless of your stand point on photography, on art or on appropriation this work and work like it creates debate on the inner workings of the medium and the direction it is taking. If we are ever to progress from post modernity the sort of questions created here are vital.