LebbensmittelMichael Schmidt(Snoeck, 2012)
Few industries have so powerfully manipulated our idyllic and confused perceptions of their practices like the international conglomerates that control Western food production. Chickens inquisitively scratching the soil of a farmyard or content cows grazing an endless vista of wildflower-lush pastures are representations that have been hijacked by food processing and packing companies to effectively camouflage reality. Somewhere far removed from this romanticized bucolic idyll lays the European food system that Michael Schmidt documents in his latest photographic epic, Lebensmittel (Foodstuffs).
Although industrialized farming relies heavily on a cheap (often migrant) workforce, those who toil in this system are rarely evident in Schmidt’s frame. Agriculture is portrayed as a machine, an industrialized process, and any evidence of humanity is a fleeting reference. Context is ripped from the frame; location has no relevance to the economics of this system – an international and unaccountable process built purely on economics.
Michael Schmidt embraces various photographic techniques to seemingly document every detail of modern European food production. The early landscapes of warehouse structures act as an introduction to the journey, but offer no insight to their use; they are followed by close-up images of cow udders, trampled crops or processed meat—a visual index of the system’s components documented with a relentless objectivity.
Lebensmittel is a wonderfully thoughtful title, driven by clarity and an eclectic, almost surreal narrative. The viewer is forced to search, to desperately clarify the connections and potential patterns, amongst the ox tongues, fishing nets, and anonymous landscapes. Rhythms build temporarily in the sequencing, only to be redirected and when an occasional color image appears, it hits like a thunderbolt that fragments and recharges the narrative. Lebensmittel is a very special book that will age gracefully and reward with every visit.