At first glance, British artist Mishka Henner’s aerial photographs of large feedlots--features of industrial beef farming--don’t look like shots of land at all.

Tacosa Feedyard's waste lagoon, Texas (2013).

Henner, who was researching satellite photographs of oil fields when he discovered the images, didn’t even realize what they depicted at first.

A waste lagoon at Coronado Feeders, Dalhart, Texas (2013).

“We have factory farming in England, but we don’t have it on that scale. I was just absolutely blown away," Henner says.

Randall County Feedyard, Amarillo, Texas (2013)

Henner used open source satellite imagery to capture shots of the feedlots, which spared him the legal risk of photographing the feedlots himself in person or in the air.

This is an oilfield in Hockley County, Texas.

Mishka Henner's satellite-inspired art will be exhibited in Montreal's month of photography series, from September through October, and in Raleigh's Contemporary Art Museum from October through January 2014.

2013-08-20

Co.Exist

These Horrifying Photos Show A Destroyed American Landscape That Agriculture Giants Don't Want You To See

These aerial images of industrial beef farming operations look less like shots of land and more like a post-apocalyptic nightmare.

At first glance, British artist Mishka Henner’s aerial photographs of large feedlots—features of industrial beef farming—don’t look like shots of land at all. The massive waste lagoons, which waft up dangerous hydrogen sulfide fumes and can contaminate groundwater with nitrates and antibiotics, first resemble open, infected wounds. Henner, who was researching satellite photographs of oil fields when he discovered the images, didn’t even realize what they depicted at first.

"While I was working on that series I was looking intensely at the American landscape, and that’s when I came across these really strange-looking structures, like a big lagoon, or all these dots that look like microbes," Henner says. "We have factory farming in England, but we don’t have it on that scale. I was just absolutely blown away."

Henner first used open source satellite imagery to capture shots of overt and covert U.S. military outposts, which he published as a book in 2010. For the feedlots, he used the same technique, which spared him the legal risk of photographing the feedlots himself in person or in the air.

Not everyone trying to document feedlots has been so lucky. Just last month, National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz was arrested for misdemeanor criminal trespassing when trying to take photos of a Kansas feedlot from a paraglider. A couple of weeks later, journalists and activists filed the first lawsuit against "ag-gag" bills rapidly proliferating across the United States. As model legislation drummed up by the American Legislative Council (ALEC), ag gag bills seek to make entering animal farms and taking photos or recording video illegal. Such laws have passed in Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa, and Missouri, with more states considering them.

"To me, as somebody in the U.K., looking at something [like] the feedlots I was shocked on a very personal level," Henner says. "I think what the feedlots represent is a certain logic about how culture and society have evolved. On one level it’s absolutely terrifying, that this is what we’ve become. They’re not just feedlots. They’re how we are."

Before Henner started looking into satellite imagery of oilfields and military sites, he took photos of post-industrial towns and cities in northern England. It frustrated him, he says, to document environmental decay locally, but miss capturing industrial abuses on a larger scale. With satellite imagery from Google Earth, "I felt suddenly able to deal with really big themes that were important to me," Henner says. "I’m equipped with the lenses of orbiting satellites and roving Street View cars, suddenly able to see things that I would never be able to see walking around on the ground with the camera."

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8 Comments

  • Lawrence Adams

    All You have to do is get lots of money,and buy the feedlots and turn them into parks. Then You can raise little bunny rabbits,or whatever makes You happy. Meat for the tables of those who don't follow your ideas of a world where butterflies and bunny rabbits run around gleefully is a wonderful thing. Leather boots for people who do more than sit in their Birkenstocks and text their like-minded friends are also produced there. Soap from the tallow rendered from the fat,and fertilizer from the bones[what did You think"organic"means] is used to raise your arugula and watercress. Get rid of the feedlot and you'll be looking for something to wear on your feet and to fertilize your "organic" food.

  • Marina Organ

    Don't be so silly. Plenty of other ways of farming large amounts of beef exist, all over the world. Those feedlots are primitive, wasteful, badly designed techniques that should embarrass America. Your all-or-nothing, weirdly emotive approach does nothing for progress. Come up with systems that increases quality for consumers AND animals AND uses waste as a precious resource, instead of this idiotic sneering. Supply consumers with the grass-fed beef they want - market it to them and they'll pay a premium. Other countries do it.

  • gophomaxx

    Growing water hyacinths in the lagoons absorbs the nitrogen. It can then be disposed of by feeding or as fertilizer.

  • kdms232

    I agree it looks like a mess, but it is very likely on private land. However the corporations need to realize this just gives them a very black eye and they should be doing something. To me that something is to process these lagoons into viable fertilizer that can be sold or given to neighboring farms for the cost of processing. I am hoping this is nothing but a snapshot in time that only shows what is going on right after a large slaughter before the processing to fertilizer began, but I doubt it. The size tells a different story. I know there are rules about dealing with large feed lot manure issues, These corporations need to get out in front of this with what they are doing, not just react to it. Doing what is right "might" eat into profit, but a bad public perception could be worse issue to explain.

  • jring281

    Sydney's hysterical adjectives and adverbs qualify as "systemic abuse of this public space." 
    None of the photos depict any 'commons' only private land. 
    Perhaps she and Ms. Henner could show us some of the farmland that is enriched by the manure that is sourced from these feed lots.

  • Rudolph Gartner

    One cruel irony that one can deduce from this situation is that as drone usage by public authorities becomes commonplace, imposing even more on people's privacy and private property, the giant-agricultural companies will see to it that more gag and trespassing laws are passed to keep concerned citizens from documenting the horrific conditions at their feedlots and processing plants. How's that for American democracy, huh??