New Book ‘No Man’s Land’ is Google Street View Images of Rural Sex Workers

by Violet Blue on July 27, 2011

The images collected in Manchester UK based photographer Mishka Henner‘s new book No Man’s Land are haunting, to say the least. Henner has compiled candid, incidental shots of rural sex workers as seen through the eyes of Google’s Street View cameras as they drive up and down all the back roads and main streets of countries around the world in its mission to map the planet. In this, Google Street View unintentionally proves that sex workers are, in fact, part of the fabric that makes this map. The images are from Italy, Spain and Romania.

Fullscreen the images when you look through them. I find the images wholly eerie, at the very least because Google Street View is visually unsettling. Google’s Street View cameras are already eerie with what they do to everyday scenes in the way that they blur and smear people like a dream sequence special effect, and it’s true that in horror films one of the most effective lighting techniques used to frighten audiences is natural lighting (Kubrick; The Shining). These photos are accidents. These moments are snapshots of the unseen, and yes, the unheard. The desolate settings are, in my opinion, scary.

You can page through the book in the above embed. You can buy the self-published book No Man’s Land on Blurb for $65. I found this via Courtney Trouble’s Twitter.

Violet Blue

The London Times named Violet Blue "One of the 40 bloggers who really count" and Self Magazine named TinyNibbles one of the “Best Sex Resources for Women.” Blue is an autodidact and pundit on sex and technology, hacking and security, porn for women, privacy and bleeding-edge tech culture. She is a journalist for ZDNet, CBS News, CNET; she's an educator, speaker, crisis counselor, volunteer NGO trainer, and the author and editor of over 40 award-winning books.

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{ 13 comments }

1 Iamcuriousblue August 2, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Then again, I probably should have kept this Frank Zappa quote in mind: “Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.”

2 Iamcuriousblue July 29, 2011 at 9:48 pm

“To make artwork based on that new reality seems appropriate and necessary.”

You flatter yourself if you think you’ve made an artwork. Copying photos off the internet and having them printed and bound does not an artwork make.

3 Mishka Henner July 29, 2011 at 9:33 am

Hi. Thanks for the considered review Violet Blue.

I think of No Man’s Land work as a comment on the internet, street view, and documentary photography. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your viewpoint), we seem to spend most of our lives interacting with the world via the internet. To make artwork based on that new reality seems appropriate and necessary.

Locations in the book were sourced from online communities where people look for sex workers, often in the regions where they live and often using Street View. These people look for these women for various reasons – the obvious voyeurism, sometimes because they want to share information on where they can buy sex, and sometimes because they’re concerned about the areas where they live.

As far as defamation and libel goes, in response to the many legal challenges they faced when Street View was launched, Google developed an algorithm that automatically blurs people’s faces out and therefore conceals their identities. That same blurring is apparent throughout the book.

4 violet blue July 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm

For the record, I posted this because it is controversial. Also because it unsettled me, and I felt it needed to be seen for a variety of reasons. Not that anyone’s asking. Read what I wrote, but don’t read between the lines.

5 Iamcuriousblue July 28, 2011 at 2:22 pm

What Furrygirl and Belle said. This book is not ethical and not OK. I it to “art photography” what Girls Gone Wild is to porn. Glorified peeping tom picks that the subjects don’t have any say in.

And this absolutely sucks as an artistic idea. Basically a bunch of found photos that the author didn’t even have to leave his computer to find. None of them compositionally very interesting. Nor with any larger social point beyond, “Hey, look, hookers!”. But printed out and sold for $65, its “art”! Damn shame this gets recognition, considering I can think of plenty of talented photographers who’s work never gets seen beyond Flickr.

6 Belle de Jour July 28, 2011 at 1:13 pm

(cross posted on FG’s blog, because I am lazy)

Quite apart from how I feel about the book (crap idea, exploitative, didn’t this kind of so-called publishing pretty much play itself out in 2006?) there are some troubling legal angles that have perhaps not been considered either by the ‘author’ or the publisher.

The first is that identifying someone as a sex worker who is not is one of the strongest types of defamation according to UK law. Since the author is British, and the book is available in the UK, this leaves the publisher open – and I mean WIDE open – to having to pay out a huge settlement if one of the women is not a sex worker and decides to take it to the famously libel-happy British courts.

The second is the title being identical to the recent memoir by Ruth Fowler, No Man’s Land (also published as Girl, Undressed). While hers is a nonfiction book about her experiences as a stripper in NY, nevertheless, there is potential scope for confusion. While ‘No Man’s Land’ the phrase is not copyrightable in the most general sense she could very easily demand payment if there is any chance they could be viewed as trading on her reputation. I know this, after all, because I was threatened several times by the estate of Joseph Kessel for appropriating ‘Belle de Jour’. Only I kind of doubt the publisher have the legals and backing to fight it like I did.

I sent them a complaint that also pointed out both these issues but have not, as yet, had a reply.

7 violet blue July 28, 2011 at 1:14 am

Yes, but I think it’s important to note that *one* photo in the entire book is from Eastern Europe (woman at train tracks).

Almost all of these images are from Italy. The rest are form Spain.

8 elrond July 27, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Please also don’t forget that prostitution is illegal in most east European countries and that publicing this is putting these women at risk from the police and other criminals wanting to make a quick buck.

9 Isobel Wren July 27, 2011 at 8:20 pm

The thing that would bother me if I were to find my picture in this book would be that it assumes all the women in it are prostitutes. Sure, they may be, but they just as easily may not be. True, I can’t think of a good reason for a woman to stand by the side of the road in fishnets and a bikini otherwise but some of those women appear to be “normal” women. One of those pages there’s an orchard and the table and chair are clearly in front of it. Perhaps she was selling fruit. There are two girls at a bus shelter in another image. They’re attired normally. Who says they aren’t waiting for the bus?

Page 42 especially, there’s a wrecked car at the split and the woman is looking angrily down the road and wearing all her clothing. Maybe she wrecked her car and is waiting for her friend or the tow truck. All I’m saying is that Miska wasn’t there and doesn’t know how it went down. You’re definitely right, they’re cool photos. It’s also a good racket to charge 65$ for a book that you simply compiled and didn’t have stock in making. Plus I’m guessing a book titled, “A bunch of Google Earth pics of chicks on the side of the road” would make less money than, “Check it out! Hookers!” But still. Dubious.

10 Furry Girl July 27, 2011 at 7:10 pm

I personally know no sex workers from Eastern Europe, where these images originated. You are right in that I cannot know for certain that these women would not want their images put in a hipster art book about rural prostitutes. But is it better to assume that all women *would* want to be featured in the book, whether or not they are prostitutes? When faced with a decision about how to err when you don’t know a person’s wishes, I think it’s best to err on the side of not exploiting them or labeling them as prostitutes. It’s an issue of consent. Lack of saying “no” does not mean “yes.” While Google Streetview also did not ask these women for their permission to photograph them, Google isn’t the one saying that they are probably hookers, either.

11 violet blue July 27, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I see it very differently, but thanks for your constructive criticism. I find all the cultural dilemmas interesting – in addition to seeing it as raising awareness, however you slice it. I’m sure Google isn’t pleased. I think it’s very different than mug shot publishing for a lot of reasons – Smoking Gun, for example. But were they unwilling? I don’t feel comfortable in assuming how these women would feel about anything, let alone their blurred images in this book – fwiw Google did not ask them, either, and these images are globally publicly available. I don’t see labeling someone as a sex worker as being an ‘accusation’ but I am not a sex worker, nor do I see it as a bad thing. I do agree it’s expensive.

12 Furry Girl July 27, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I hope that if any of the women unwillingly appearing in this book find out about it, they sue the shit out of the guy selling it. While some of the images do look more “hookery” than others, I imagine that many of the women in these photos merely happen to be outdoors when the Google car was passing. This is no different than when police publish mugshots of sex workers against their will. Both involve outsiders sensationalizing and preying upon vulnerable and unwilling photo subjects. There’s nothing hip or arty about some dude selling an expensive collection of photos (which he didn’t even take) where he accuses the subjects (whom he has never met) of being sex workers. It’s a collection of stolen material where the author tries to out women as whores. Barf.

13 Etcetera July 27, 2011 at 6:05 pm

It sounds like a great project but the resolution is so bad I can’t make anything out.

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