Fancy a bite to eat? You may well think twice after seeing these photographs by Berlin-born photographer Michael Schmidt. His latest series of images takes a closer look at industrial production methods for food in Europe - like these "funny face" popsicles for kids. They're made from a mixture of water, sugar, emulsifiers, stabilizers and a host of artificial colorings and flavorings.
Between 2006 and 2010, Schmidt photographed everything from fish farms in Norway and industrial bakeries in Germany to apple processing plants in Italy. The result is a series of 177 clinical and unfamiliar images of popular foods, like this shot of an almost plastic-looking, perfectly formed bell pepper.
An internationally acclaimed contemporary photographer who taught super-snapper Andreas Gursky, Schmidt is best known for his social critiques delivered in the form of lengthy and emotive black-and-white photographic series. His "Lebensmittel" ("Foodstuffs") project is Schmidt's first foray into color photography, capturing the synthetic color palette of manufactured foods.
Unlike in previous series, the images are clinical and detached. While referencing the analytical style of the "New Objectivity" photographers of the Weimar period, Schmidt's works lack the optimism and faith in industry shared by those earlier image-makers. "I'm interested in what we eat on a day-to-day basis, but it's also a few forward steps through the history of photography," Schmidt says.
Schmidt's series is particularly timely. According to the so-called "Meat Atlas" published in Germany this month, an average of seven and a half animals are killed per second in Europe's largest slaughterhouse in Wietze, Germany. The heavily subsidized meat industry is one of the most lucrative in Germany, which produces 17 percent more meat than it actually requires.
Black-and-white photographs of live pigs are positioned alongside clinical images of finished products, like this anaemic looking ham. Meat consumption has risen steadily over the years, with the average European eating 93 kilograms (205 pounds) of it per year. Most animals due for slaughter are pumped with anti-biotics, causing thousands of human deaths due to antibiotic-resistant "super germs."
Beer, oil, or something more sinister? To draw attention to consumers' alienation from the food production process, Schmidt's images are untitled and the locations at which they were taken remain a mystery. Despite numerous campaigns to improve food labeling, it remains difficult for consumers to know where the food on their plates comes from and, worst of all, what's actually in it.
Avoiding shock tactics, repetition and timing play a key role in Schmidt's work. He doesn't believe in single photographs, rather the complexity of ideas generated by multiple images: "One plus one must equal three. An invisible third image has to be created between two. The exhibition "Lebensmittel" runs at Berlin's Martin Gropius Bau through April 1, 2013.
Acclaimed German photographer Michael Schmidt's latest exhibition takes a closer look at food production methods in Europe.