with flat lay
Meticulous Flat Lays of Vintage Toys and Miniatures Celebrate the History of Play and Design
“There’s a feeling I remember which has to do with the seriousness of play, when you were completely absorbed in playing a game with your toys and fully believed in the world you’d created, and it really mattered,” Jane Housham says. “I look longingly back at that imaginative space.”
A writer, artist, and self-described accumulator, Housham continually returns to the engrossing joys of childhood through a vast collection of found objects. Stickers and plastic doll hands, a pantry of non-perishable goods, and a menagerie of animals on wheels are the catalysts for her flat lays. Precisely categorized by color, shape, or theme, each composition highlights the varied styles, functions, and contexts of similar items and becomes a useful and approachable entry into the history of design. “If I’ve acquired a new (to me) little object, that often nudges me to revisit the category it belongs to—a new tiny seahorse or radio will subtly alter the pre-existing set, and the arrangement is always fresh in any case. Seahorses and radios are particular favourites of mine,” she says.
Housham’s mother was a dollhouse enthusiast and passed on her love of miniatures, which inspired the artist to keep a box of treasures as a child that she would frequently sort and arrange. That early experience is the root of her current practice, which is the result of rummaging through massive stores—she estimates there are thousands of objects in her possession at the moment—of vintage toys and tiny items.
Because many of the pieces in her collection are antiques and sourced secondhand, sometimes they’re rusty, scratched, or broken, and a considerable number are made from plastic. Housham adds:
I’m not really interested in new plastic things as I don’t want to encourage the continued spewing out of unnecessary plastic bits and pieces, but I like to save old plastic toys and other secondhand bits and bobs and to celebrate their colours and the ingenuity of their design. Although it’s now understood to be so bad for the world, plastic was a beautiful material in its heyday.
Housham shares a trove of miniature finds and color-coded compositions on her Instagram, Found and Chosen, and sells prints of the flat lays on Etsy. As she amasses more objects and engages with the childhood curiosity and imagination she so deeply values, she does find herself asking one recurring question: “Where will all this collecting end, I wonder?”
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Art Food Photography
Ubiquitous Items Are Organized Into Intricate and Colorful Compositions by Adam Hillman
Everyday objects are puzzled into meticulously organized compositions in the work of Adam Hillman, who has a knack for arranging items like coins, fruits and vegetables, toothpicks, and keys into vibrant flat-lays. Inspired by textures, color, and gradients, the artist responds to the tactile qualities of each material to form intricately woven straws, stacked pennies, and breakfast cereal into geometric forms. You can find more of Hillman’s work on Instagram, and purchase prints at Society6.
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In ‘The Cultivar Series,’ Uli Westphal Gets to the Root of Crop Diversity and Agricultural Modification
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.”
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.
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)
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A Precisely Color-Coded Flat Lay Organizes 94 Gloves Lost by Their Owners
A new print from Thomas Scott and Jim Golden satisfies our human urge to organize. The color-coded flat lay arranges dozens of gloves Scott picked up from sidewalks and roadsides while cycling within the first few months of 2022 into a precise gradient. Containing everything from knit mitts and dishwashing essentials to protective workwear, the piece falls into the endlessly fascinating design category of “Things Organized Neatly”—we covered curator Austin Radcliffe’s book on the topic a few years back—and offers some hope that all those gloves we’ve lost throughout the years have found an equally beautiful home. The pair is offering prints in Golden’s shop, which is a visual trove for those looking for more impeccably tidy collections. (via This Isn’t Happiness)
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Design Food Photography
Everyday Objects Are Organized into Perfect Geometric Shapes in Kristen Meyer’s Flat Lays
Kristen Meyer (previously) pinpoints the unique crossroads of organization and art in her meticulous flat lays. Influenced by interior decorating, prop styling, and floristry, the New Haven-based designer constructs precise geometric shapes and network-esque compositions from humble materials like eggshell shards, office supplies, candy, and disassembled bouquets. At once streamlined in material and rich in depth and texture, the dazzling works use implied outlines and negative space to construct interesting categorizations within squares and perfectly round circles.
Each work is a product of collaboration with Meyer’s husband Colin, who shoots all of the final images. You can explore an archive of her work on Instagram, and browse prints in her shop.
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Design Food Photography
Flat Lay Photographs Created From Found Household Materials by Kristen Meyer
Connecticut-based designer Kristen Meyer (previously) creates flat lay photographs on pastel backgrounds with precisely arranged vegetables, crackers, and other organic materials like rocks and leaves. The works are geometrically minded, like a recent design which created an isometric grid from sliced melon and kiwi or sliced cheese rounds that were transformed into a field of interlocking circles on top of equally sized crackers. All of her arrangements are shot in her house where she keeps a studio, however she often travels to whichever room of the house as best light. On the way she picks up various materials for her photographs, pulling inspiration from found objects.
“As far as how I find materials to experiment with, it varies a lot,” she tells Colossal. “I generally work with what I can find around the house, inside or out. It begins as a scavenger hunt of sorts, and then a challenge as I begin to build.”
In the fall Meyer will begin a set decorating project with photographer Adrien Broom. You can follow her style arrangements on Instagram, and buy select prints of her photographs on her website.
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