Marco Kesseler’s photo project studies our relationship with agriculture and the man-made
The Polytunnel visually critiques the landscape of food, capturing the crops at different stages throughout the seasons.
- Ayla Angelos
- 19 February 2021
We’re always impressed by the work of Marco Kesseler, a UK-based photographer who specialises in portraiture, as well as the documentation of food and contemporary social issues. A couple of years ago, in fact, he showed us a series lensing an annual tradition in Chios, the fifth largest Greek island and home to a 100-year-old celebration of two church parishes battling with 100,000 rockets. And before this, in 2014, he documented the protests of Ukraine. He’s constantly fascinated by his subjects and likes to take the time to build relationships in the process, which has resulted in a portfolio bursting with personal works that are very much close to his heart.
This intimate nature of his has also equated in an abundance of editorial stories for magazines such as The Financial Times How To Spend It, The Guardian Weekend and Mr Porter, and he’s also been working on a couple of long-term projects looking at the narratives around food and our environment. Not only this, but he’s also shot two books for Hoxton Mini Press and has been working on a commission with Grain and Arts Council England. It’s been a busy couple of years to say the least, and he’s only gone and topped it all off with yet another marvellous project, titled The Polytunnel, which is currently on display at London's Selfridges store located on Oxford Street.
Marco is a photographer who’s always centred his practice around the stories of people, which has lead his work into portraiture territory. He likes to get up close and personal on a project, which is something that he’s long championed ever since he started working in the medium. But recently, he decided to challenge himself a little and ask: “How do you build a narrative if you remove people – the main thing you are familiar with? What happens then?” This resulted in a new turn for Marco, and thus the completion of The Polytunnel – an ongoing series void of any humans and instead focusing entirely on our relationship with agriculture.
The Polytunnel initially started as a project that Marco could dip in and out of between other work, simultaneously evolving within the seasons. The project goes deep into the landscape of food and how it’s produced, analysing the cyclical changes – such as the seasons and growth – and the relationship between our need to control the natural environment. “I was aware that the seasons would dictate when I could make images,” he tells It’s Nice That, further cementing his reasons for starting the series in-between other works. “I liked the fact that these structures are both alien and instantly recognisable, but you rarely see what lies behind the plastic membrane.”
A polytunnel is a large shaped oval used to create a microclimate, which increases temperatures and humidity in order to grow more fruit and vegetables – even when they’re out of season. In Marco’s series, he delved into the concept of the polytunnel, visually critiquing the ways in which humans need to control food production and growth, basically meddling with what nature intended in order to mass produce crops. “I wanted to uncover these hidden landscapes,” he adds, “but as I continued working on the project what really interested me was this balance in relationship between wild and cultivated; the farmers impose one set plan on how things should grow, while nature has its own ideas.”
While sifting through the imagery, there’s a profound mix of subliminally (and naturally) lit shots of juicy plants, healthy as can be with thanks to their own special micro-climate. Housed in these plastic greenhouses, you’ve never seen plants so luscious and so well tamed. Marco particularly likes the image of the self-seeded willows, “pressing against the plastic membrane of the polytunnel in the early morning light,” he says. At first, it looks like a chaotic mess – “a dense tropical canopy” – but on closer inspection, you notice the smaller details and the life that’s growing within. The beads of condensation, for example, “trickling down the stretched plastic frame, and slugs feeding – these scenes become their own microcosms.”
The Polytunnel, as a whole, questions the notion of the relationship between the natural and the manufactured. It’s something that appears everywhere, even in things we mightn’t think about. “It’s just that most of the time we aren’t paying attention to it,” says Marco of his intentions with this work. “I think over the past year, many of us have redefined our experience with nature. Whether you live in the city or countryside, green spaces become a sort of refuge while everything came to a standstill; it was a way to break the monotony of lockdown and mark the shifting series. Hopefully it inspires viewers to take a closer look on their daily walk or commute to work, and find something unexpected.”
Marco's Polytunnel series is currently on show at Selfridges & Co. Oxford Street, London, as part of the exhibition A Return To Nature.
GalleryMarco Kesseler: The Polytunnel (Copyright © Marco Keseler, 2021)
Marco Kesseler: The Polytunnel (Copyright © Marco Keseler, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.