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Food Photography

In ‘The Cultivar Series,’ Uli Westphal Gets to the Root of Crop Diversity and Agricultural Modification

October 11, 2022

Grace Ebert

“Lycopersicum III” (2013). All images © Uli Westphal, shared with permission

Earlier this year, Russia’s war in Ukraine obstructed the global food supply in a way that exposed just how precarious the entire system is. The conflict confined 25 million tons of corn and wheat to the country, making such a crucial stock inaccessible and compounding the effects of an already urgent crisis.

Combined with disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic and the continual issues of the climate crisis, the war helped propel global food insecurity to levels unseen in decades. It’s estimated that approximately 800 million people around the world don’t have enough to eat due to skyrocketing prices caused by increased demand for a reduced supply. These problems are predicted to decimate local economies and prompt widespread unrest in the coming years.

Part of combating such an emergency involves understanding the core of modern production and how growing practices have evolved over time. Back in 2010, artist Uli Westphal took an interest in the ways farming and cultivation were affecting the availability of certain plants after a visit to VERN e.V. The German nonprofit cares for thousands of specimens, makes obscure or rare varieties available to the public, and is also “a regional network of gardeners, farmers, and local garden sites.” “They have a large garden plot in a tiny village two hours north of Berlin, where they grow a kaleidoscope of rare and forgotten crop varieties,” he shares. “I walked into a greenhouse full of tomato plants bearing fruits that I had never seen in my life.”

 

“Cucurbita I” (2014)

This encounter prompted what’s become a years-long project of documenting the planet’s incredible agricultural diversity. Encompassing both the wild and the domestic, Westphal’s “ongoing and endless” Cultivar Series illuminates a vast array of specimens through striking flat-lay photos. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other produce arranged by color capture the breadth of the world’s crops, comparing their shapes, sizes, and molecular makeup—higher levels of chlorophyll promote the verdant pigments of leafy greens, for example, while carotenoids are responsible for bright orange carrots.

From Amsterdam and Potsdam, Germany, to Mexico City and Tucson, the sources of Westphal’s subject matter are broad, with some fare coming fully grown from farmers and others as seeds to be cultivated. “Cucumis sativus I” features fifty cucumber varieties the photographer grew in a greenhouse once connected to his Berlin-based studio from seeds gifted by a Dutch organization, for example, while the pumpkins and peppers in two of his other works were a collaboration with Peaceful Belly Farm in Boise, Idaho.

 

“Zea Mays II” (2022)

Whether depicting potatoes or pears, the images offer a rare glimpse of species that often aren’t available in the grocery store or markets. “Since the industrialization of agriculture, our focus has shifted to only a few modern, high-yielding, robust, ‘good looking,’ uniform, and predictable varieties. This change has led to the displacement of traditional crop varieties,” Westphal writes, noting that when a plant isn’t actively cultivated, it often falls under threat of extinction, and such strains tend to be protected by conservation organizations like the seed banks he’s collaborated with in the past. “A majority of all varieties developed by humans have already become extinct during the last 50 years. With them, we not only lose genetic diversity but also a living cultural and culinary heritage.”

The photos also elicit questions about contemporary domestication practices that are of increasing concern as biodiversity dwindles. Westphal tells Colossal:

Synthetic biology is evolving at a rapid speed, out-pacing public awareness, debate, and regulation and is altering life in ways that are unprecedented. My main concerns about synthetic biology (and genetic engineering) are the havoc that the inevitable release of significantly altered organisms into ecosystems can cause and the increasing consolidation of corporate control over what we grow and eat.

Three photos from The Cultivar Series are on view as part of the group exhibition Food in New York through September 30, 2023, at the Museum of the City of New York, and Westphal is currently working to document the seeds of the world’s edible plants, of which he’s culled a shortlist of 3,000 species. Prints of his flat lays are available on his site, along with similar collections centered on fruits and other consumables, and you can follow his practice on Instagram. (via Present & Correct)

 

“Cucumis sativus I” (2014)

“Pyrus I” (2018)

“Capsicum I” (2016)

“Phaseolus vulgaris I” (2013)

“Brassica oleacea I” (2018)

“Solanum tuberosum II” (2020)

 

 

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Photography

Lush Aerial Photos by Pham Huy Trung Capture the Annual Harvests of Vietnam’s Countryside

May 27, 2022

Grace Ebert

Trang An. All images © Pham Huy Trung, shared with permission

From the foggy limestone mountains of Trang An to grass collection in Bao Loc, the scenic shots by Pham Huy Trung (previously) preserve Vietnam’s heritage. The photographer often works with drones, allowing him to capture aerial views of wooden boats wedged into a harbor and farmers grasping large baskets as they gather tea. Resplendent with vegetation, the images frequently center on industry and annual harvests to create a visual record of everyday activity.

Pham is currently planning a trip abroad—follow his travels on Instagram—and has select prints available on his site.

 

Pink trumpet flowers, Bao Loc

Boats, Trang an, Ninh Binh

Tea harvest, Bao Loc

Lillies, Mekong Delta

Tea harvest, Bao Loc

Grass harvest, Mekong Delta

 

 



Food Photography

Aerial Photos Document the Expansive Greenhouses Covering Spain’s Almería Peninsula

March 25, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images © Tom Hegen, shared with permission

A follow-up to his series focused on the glow of LED-lit greenhouses, Tom Hegen’s new collection peers down on the landscape of Spain’s Almería peninsula. The German photographer is broadly interested in our impact on the earth and gears his practice toward the aerial, offering perspectives that illuminate the immense scale of human activity.

In The Greenhouse Series II, Hegen captures the abstract topographies of the world’s largest agricultural production center of its kind, which stretches across 360-square kilometers of rugged, mountainous terrain in the southern part of the country. The sun-trapping structures house plants like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and watermelons that provide fresh produce to much of Europe year-round.

While 30 times more productive than typical farmland in the region, the facilities also function at a cost to the local ecosystems. “Groundwater is being polluted with fertilisers and pesticides. Some 30,000 tons of plastic waste are created each year,” Hegen tells Colossal, noting that the greenhouses are made almost entirely of plastic foil, which is shredded and discarded nearby once it’s no longer useful. “From there, wind and erosion transport it to the (Mediterranean Sea).”

Hegen will speak about using aerial photography to foster connections with the larger world during a TedX event this May, and you can keep up with his latest projects on Instagram and Behance.

 

 

 



Animation Food

An Emotional Stop-Motion Ad Follows a Family Revitalizing Their Organic Farm

November 17, 2021

Grace Ebert

Ten years after Irish animator and director Johnny Kelly (previously) brought us a charming stop-motion ad for Chipotle about a farmer’s return to organic methods, he’s back with an emotional sequel that revisits the now-aging protagonist. The new short film, titled “A Future Begins,” follows the same mustached rancher as he struggles to maintain his pesticide-free fields and natural techniques amidst weather catastrophes and other struggles. When his son returns from college and a busy life in the city, the reunited family implements a range of sustainable technologies like solar panels, greenhouses, polyculture, and companion planting that make the farm thrive.

Kelly and the team behind the new ad documented their meticulous process in an immersive making-of video, which dives into pre-production digital mockups, techniques for hand-sculpting innumerable trees and the bucolic landscape, and updates to the puppets themselves, which feature magnetic waists that allow them to pivot in various stances. Similar to its award-winning predecessor, “A Future Begins” is paired with a Coldplay cover, with this iteration featuring “Fix You” by Kasey Musgraves.

Find more of Kellly’s animated projects and collaborations on Vimeo.

 

 

 



Art Food

Mammoth Straw Creatures Populate Japanese Farmland in the Annual Wara Art Festival

September 13, 2021

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of Wara Art Festival

If you visit Japan’s Niigata Prefecture during the region’s annual rice harvest, you’re likely to find enormous tarantulas, eagles, and dinosaur-like creatures stalking the bucolic landscape. The towering sculptures are part of the Wara Art Festival, a summertime event that displays massive animals and mythical creations fashioned from the crop’s leftover straw.

Traditionally, the byproduct is used as livestock feed, for compost that revitalizes the soil, and to craft household goods like zori sandals, although farmers increasingly have found themselves with a surplus as agricultural technology and culture changes. This shift prompted a partnership between the people of the former Iwamuro Village, which is now Nishikan Ward, and Tokyo’s Musashino Art University (known colloquially as Musabi) in 2006. At the time, Department of Science of Design professor Shingo Miyajima suggested that the unused straw be used in a collaborative art project between the university and local farmers, resulting in the first Wara Art Festival in 2008.

Today, students design the oversized characters—you can see previous year’s creations in this gallery—and artisans from Nishikan Ward construct the wooden armature and thatched bodies. The monumental figures stand as high as 30 feet, looming over the green landscape in a playful celebration of local culture.

Although the festival paused in 2020 because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s back for its 13th edition at Uwasekigata Park. This year’s motley cast includes insects, animals, and even legendary monsters like the Amabie, all on view through October 31. (via Hyperallergic)

 

 

 



Photography

A Mesmerizing Aerial Timelapse Captures the Undulating Patterns of Sheep Herding Near Haifa

June 28, 2021

Grace Ebert

Haifa-based photographer Lior Patel has spent the last seven months immersed in the daily rhythms of sheep. Hovering above the Peace Valley region of Yokneam, he’s documented a single flock’s grazing process in a captivating timelapse that shows the animals racing across the agricultural landscape and down roadways in robust, heaving masses. Shot with a drone, the accelerated footage attests to the drove’s shape-shifting instincts, which resembles other naturally occurring patterns like a flowing current or mesmerizing starling murmurations.

Vegetable farmer Michael Morgan, who’s referred to as the “king of cabbage,” and South Africa-born herder Keith Markov have managed the flock since 1985, and today it fluctuates between 1,000 and 1,750 individuals. Each year, the sheep migrate up to seven kilometers from the valley to the outskirts of Ramot Menashe with the help of shepherds Mustafa Tabash, Mahmoud Kaabiyah, Eyal Morgan, and Dan Goldfinger and a few border collies, which you can see circling the edges of the flock and rounding up stragglers.

To focus on the sheep’s natural movements, Patel tells Colossal that he captured most scenes from a fixed camera position. Each shot shows between 4-7 minutes of the shepherds corralling the animals en route to their next location. “The first challenge is to understand the elasticity of the herd during the movement, its dispersal during grazing, and how it converges into one tight pack towards exit/return from pasture and crossing roads and paths,” he says.

Patel frequently travels throughout Isreal documenting agricultural practices, barges, and the historic architecture of city centers with a drone, and you can find more of his aerial photos and footage on his site and Instagram.