Foodstuff, 2006 – 2010

For the Lebensmittel (Foodstuff) group of works Michael Schmidt did research in Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy and Spain. The scenes of his photographs are sausage, pasta and cheese factories, fish farms, fruit and vegetable plantations, fattening farms and abatoirs, green houses, olive plantations, insect farms and food processing plants.

Schmidt expands the method he first used in Ein-heit / U-ni-ty in uncannily unsettling works that fuse two different halves or feature apparent doublings, repetitions and variations of motifs. In this way, he undermines the belief in the documentary power of photography and in the general validity of isolated shots.

Often it remains unclear what foodstuff is actually being presented. Both failsafe identification that used to be no problem in times gone by and the concept of seasonality have been suspended, and production these days is oriented towards standardization, alienation and globalisation rather than towards individuality, transparency and regional context. Schmidt formulates a critique of the excesses of an economic system that is notorious for its wastefulness. Topical crises make it clear that we have arrived at the limits of agricultural growth. Schmidt’s photographs reflect this insight and a highly sceptical assessment of the idea of permanent growth.

With Lebensmittel Michael Schmidt makes an important contribution to the discussion on what is arguably humanity’s most important resource. For this group of works he was awarded the prestigious Prix Pictet only a few days before his death in 2014.