The global award in photography and sustainability

Mishka Henner

In this series, large-scale photographic prints depict landscapes carved by industries meeting extraordinary levels of consumer demand for two of North America’s most precious commodities: beef and oil. Seen from the perspective of satellites orbiting Earth, these landscapes represent a systematic intent to maximise production and yield in order to satisfy extraordinary levels of human consumption. The result is a natural landscape transformed into something not too dissimilar from the circuit boards that drive the logistical operations of these industries, and ultimately, feed consumers’ appetites for these resources.

Feedlots

In the beef industry, feedlots are cattle-feeding operations used in factory farming to ‘finish off’ livestock. Almost all the beef consumed in the United States will have been finished on a feedlot: a vast empire of pens and troughs where up to 100,000 steers at a time spend the last three to six months of their short lives gaining up to 4 pounds a day on a diet of corn, protein supplements, and antibiotics. Everything on these farms is calculated to maximise the meat yield from each cow; from the mixture in cattle’s feed, to the size of run-off channels carrying the animal’s waste into giant toxic lagoons.

Oil Fields

In certain parts of the USA, the country’s unquenchable thirst for oil has altered the landscape beyond recognition. Natural features are supplanted by man-made marks and structures reflecting the complex infrastructural logic of oil exploration, extraction and distribution. Resembling the bold brush strokes of abstract expressionists, these marks are produced by the hand of an industry striving to satisfy a national and international compulsion.

On the link between the feedlot and the oil industry, the author Michael Pollan has written:

“The feedlot’s ecosystem […] revolves around corn. But its food chain doesn’t end there, because the corn itself grows somewhere else, where it is implicated in a whole other set of ecological relationships. Growing the vast quantities of corn used to feed livestock in this country takes vast quantities of chemical fertiliser, which in turn takes vast quantities of oil […] So the modern feedlot is really a city floating on a sea of oil.”

Mishka Henner