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February 11, 2019

Produce Project

Tomatoes

From Atlas Obscura:

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"Those were just drops of honey, they were so incredibly sweet," says German artist Uli Westphal. "Those were really magnificent. And they were tiny, like the red currant berry."

The tiny fruit in question isn't a ripe raspberry or cranberry: it's a tomato.

The red currant tomato, to be precise, a wild counterpart of the larger, more commonly cultivated Roma and beefsteak varieties sold in supermarkets.

The dainty red currant is one of the many unique cultivars featured in the Lycopersicum series, Westphal's sequence of collages of tomatoes arranged from bright-green to red-black, from multi-lobed to currant-tiny, all photographed against a stark white background (top).

Tiny tomatoes aren’t the only unique produce Westphal has photographed over the years.

A Berlin-based artist dedicated to using his camera to document agricultural biodiversity, Westphal has been discovering, photographing, and tasting unique produce since 2006.

In 2010, he began The Cultivar Series, a constantly-expanding collection of collages featuring stunning rainbows of produce, from pears (below) to corn, arranged painstakingly according to species.

Pears

Almost taxonomic in their precision, Westphal's images aren't just beautiful.

They're also documentation of the vast diversity of cultivated crops that critics of industrial agriculture feel monoculture, or the standardized cultivation of one variety of a plant, has left behind.

Concern about food security is a central motivation of Westphal's work.

He also worries that declining biodiversity limits people’s visual and taste experiences of food, and threatens valuable cultural knowledge.

Developed over millennia of careful breeding, cultivars are a living record of human beings' relationship with the environment.

"Especially in agriculture, there has been some sort of coevolution between humans, plants, and animals that has happened over thousands of years," says Westphal. "Everything we eat, it's still a biological organism, but it's also something that we have cared for and that we have shaped."

This passion for produce inspired Westphal to begin photographing fruits and vegetables (below, beans) in 2006.

Beans

Intended to document the unique, sometimes otherworldly diversity of produce shapes, Westphal's Mutatoes series celebrated the "ugly" fruits and vegetables unlikely to be sold at supermarkets.

Soon, Westphal became interested not just in unusually shaped produce, but in the vast diversity of cultivars that yield it.

Now, Westphal scours seed banks and farmers’ markets in search of unique cultivars.

When he spots a new specimen, he photographs it at precisely the same angle, with exactly the same lighting and white background, as the others in his collection.

He then digitally adds the image to a collage of similar fruits or vegetables in a hypnotic and ever-expanding visual record of human agricultural achievement.

His collection thus far includes corn, tomatoes, beans, cabbage, sweet potatoes, and peppers, among others.

Westphal doesn't just photograph this produce.

When he can, he takes a sample and cooks with it, or collects and plants its seeds.

Cucumbers

At one point, his greenhouse held over 60 distinct varieties of cucumbers (above).

February 11, 2019 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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