Mishka Henner’s Controversial Take on Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’

Many consider Robert Frank’s classic photobook “The Americans” (originally published in France as “Les Américains”) to be one of the greatest photobooks of all time. Knowing this, Mishka Henner should have probably thought twice before using it as the subject of one of his forays into digital appropriation and, in this case, erasure.

The product of Henners work — a photobook titled, cheekily enough, Less Américains — is essentially a collection of Frank’s classic works… or at least pieces of them. He took many of the classic photos from the original book and used Photoshop to erase large portions, often leaving only hats, chairs, clothes, and other inanimate objects.

Since the book came out, the British Journal of Photography ran an article calling the work:

The most striking example of his ongoing use of new technologies to illuminate the past and invigorate the present […] It’s a manifesto opposed to the idea of the purity of photography, opposed to the idea that there is one right way of doing things.

Unfortunately (and understandably) not everyone agreed with the BJP. In fact, the book has sparked something of a controversy, prompting people to comment that Henner’s work with digital appropriation is nothing more than theft, accusing him of seriously insulting to one of the greatest photographical works of all time.

Whether or not Henner’s work is indeed insulting is up to you to decide, but Henner isn’t likely to be phased either way. This, after all, is what he does. Even though his roots are in documentary photography, his foray into digital appropriation extends to several projects before this one and will likely continue on from here. Maybe from here on, however, he’ll try and stay away from “appropriating” and changing beloved works of art — as the reaction has been… less than favorable.

Less is More: Mishka Henner’s take on Robert Frank’s classic (via The Guardian)

Image credits: Photographs by Mishka Henner

  • stanimir stoyanov

    That’s an interesting way to make a statement about contemporary Americans.

  • rwboyer

    This is absolute bullshit – the man has no talent and no vision whatsoever. Yet another example of inane, worthless, empty (literal pun – actually double entendre), drivel that is held up as some sort of “art” in the digital world. The true talent of the people that make, promote, and distribute this nonsense is how amazingly full of shit they are. The suckers that buy into this as some sort of valuable, insightful, or even creative endeavor are complete fools.

    Pure garbage.


  • Calgary Photographer

    Tell us what you REALLY think!  ;)

  • Iam12whatsthat

    Yes!  Here here!  How dare he strip down the images to the most elemental pieces!

    This Mishka should be thrown in jail!

    Their highly compelling nature makes me jealous, so I say lots of nonsensical things!

    Also swearing is fun!

    Have a nice weekend!

  • ennuipoet

    This is what we do when inspiration is dead, we take the work of others and lessen it in a literal and metaphorical sense.  When people look back on the dawn of the Digital Age, providing any remains of it not so thoroughly diluted as to be unrecognizable, they will say all that was done was destroy what came before it. 

    Indeed, when someone is lauded not for what they created but for what they removed the utter concept of creativity is fundamentally damaged.

    Or, to parse it down to something easily understood:  If you want to f*ck up your own photographs, that’s your business, leave other people’s work alone!

  • Iam12whatsthat

    Indeed!  I can’t even look at the originals after seeing Mishka’s take on them.  Mishka has destroyed them forever.

    And I agree, people should never be allowed to comment on someone else’s work, whether with words, such as a comments section, or with visuals, like Mishka did.

    Purity must be maintained; especially our precious bodily fluids!

  • ennuipoet

    Fine, then I am going to take the Godfather, strip out the dialog and insert every third word in subtitles, then put it on the market for people to purchase.  There is no “interpretation” here, there is only erasing. 

    If erasing is art then there are lot of Second Graders whose Refrigerator Art need to be hanging in the MoMA.

  • Iam12whatsthat

    You’ll destroy Godfather forever!  You mustn’t!

    Also, second graders shouldn’t even be allowed to make art.  Or to think differently for that matter.

    Conformity is the imperative!  We must not allow people to stray from the path!

    If they won’t maintain the purity of their bodily fluids, we must do it for them!

  • Rob LaRosa

    I was thinking about doing this with Shakespeare. I’ll just remove every fifth word then claim it as my own “original art”.Save yourself some time, Iam12whatsthat. I won’t be checking for replies.

  • ennuipoet

    Repeated tropes, vague allusions to conformity, no real content… Iam12whatsthat, you must be a “digital artist”.

  • R.Mutt

    Wow you people are idiots 

  • rwboyer

    let’s see…

    bullshit, “full of shit”, suckers, and fools – hmmm. Nope no swear words. So wrong on that count.

    Jealous, hmmm. No. Horrified I live in a world of such foolishness – yes.
    Wrong on that count to.

    “Most elemental pieces” – matter of opinion. You know what mine is. I know what your’s is. So I guess you are angry that I lumped you into the category of fool and sucker.


  • rwboyer


  • rwboyer

    funny – I am going with the same concept with Hemingway as I find him far to liberal with the number of words he had to use… ;-P


  • Jason

     Do you mean that everyone that comments on here are idiots, or is it that a subset of the people that comment on here are idiots? You’ll have to be more specific so the appropriate people can be offended.

    Personally, while I’m not outraged, I don’t find the work interesting in the slightest. There you are, onto the next item.

  • Bill Hanley

    Great idea guys, but I think you should start with The Bible!

  • Graham Case

    Liked for your name.


  • Graham Case

    This is:

    a) Fantastic,
    b) Completely legitimate, and
    c) More compelling than a lot of art. And your art. And my art.

    While you’re all in a tizzy, why doesn’t someone ask Robert Frank how he feels about this appropriation, he is still alive after all.

  • ennuipoet

    Well, since you want to be all logical about it.  If Robert Frank is OK with this, then I will kindly STFU about it and fume quietly to myself.  If he isn’t OK with it, we still get to burn the “creator” at the metaphorical stake.

    Actually, let me amend this: If Frank is OK, fine, but it is still just someone erasing another’s inspiration, not working with their own.

  • Jase

    If someone did this to my work and claimed it to be art I would be horrified. This is the  biggest load of shit I’ve ever seen. 

  • Jabba_No_Wanga

    You mean like how you were ok with George Lucas altering the original Star Wars?

  • Panda_Bear

    Have you ever noticed that you only post negative comments?

    Do you need a hug?

  • ennuipoet

     No…I don’t think I will ever get over Macho Grande.

  • James Thomas

    Seems perfectly legitimate to me. Very interesting concept, can be used to say a lot.

    Also think it was important that he use Frank’s images, he’s taking something well known and giving another take on it. I don’t think it would have had the same effect if he had used his own images, they wouldn’t be instantly recognisable.

  • Jake

    Let’s just call this a “photo-remix.”  Plenty of people seem to love that stuff in music, why not here too?  It’s not like he’s the first artist to “destroy” or alter classic art to create something new with a new meaning, and certainly not the most offensive.  I think this is a damn cool idea.

  • derekdj

    Actually, what you described has already been done by video artists and has been exhibited in MoMA and other major contemporary galleries. The problem with contemporary art since the late 80’s have gotten so full of itself and become so self reverential and self important that mediocre efforts like Mishka’s appropriations are lauded as feats of genius. 

    If we want to see what true artists commenting on American society can produce, we only have to look at the likes of Cindy Sherman or Jeff Wall.

  • blickblocks

    Wow, is nobody here familiar with Rauschenberg and De Kooning or what?

  • ChrisBlizzard

    Honestly, the whole idea sound slike something you’d laugh about with your mates down the pub…   “see this book, The Americans…   Wouldn’t it be funny to take all the americans out of it??? ha ha”   Altering someones work is one thing, and to some extent, acceptable if you are providing a commentary on the original work, or are adding your own interpretation to the mix, but this?   A couple of the pictures now look pretty cool, but as a whole, they add nothing of substance, and they no longer speak to me in any way…

  • Wayneelastic

    i couldn’t give  a shite either way!

  • jared

    Art has no definition, and shouldn’t be confined to any standards.  This is appropriation of the work of another, but it’s interesting and it started this conversation.  Were Pollock’s paint splatters art?  Was Warhol’s banana?  What about Duchamp’s urinal Fountain?  Sure, this does use the work of another, but I hardly feels that it relies on it; The pieces are compelling, even if they are more prominent because of the history/popularity of the photographs.

  • newamericanclassic

    just looks like the cover of some hipster notebook at Urban Outfitters–aesthetically pleasing I suppose, but nothing novel.

    I think it would have been worse if he had used images from less-than-famous photographers–I mean the whole point of the deletion is that the photos are already recognizable in and of themselves, right?