In 2019 we began working with photographer Marco Kesseler on a new commission which saw him creating new work about the hidden Midlands landscape where our food is produced and the seasonal staff that work tirelessly to harvest it.
Kesseler’s work has been shaped by Brexit politics and how they have provoked many uncertainties within the agricultural industry, revealing the uneasy relationship between the nation’s reliance on seasonal workers, and growing English nationalism that often draws on nostalgia of the English pastoral, but which bears little resemblance to modern life. With 99% of seasonal staff in the UK migrating from Europe he was keen to portray some of the people that sustain an essential industry picking our food at a time of political and ecological flux.
The photographer has visited and working with farming communities across the West Midlands to find out more about some of the rapid changes and challenges faced in the industry. Some of the larger farms have been working collaboratively with researchers and robotics engineers to develop mechanised fruit picking, with some farmers thinking it may be as little as 5 years away before harvesting soft fruit and tomatoes can be automated on a commercial scale.
Kesseler has been looking at representations of agriculture in art through the ages, from ancient depictions to present day, there has been one constant, which has remained unchanged – the human presence and interaction with the landscape, and more specifically the use of our hands in the process from sowing to harvesting. As more and more parts of the agricultural process give way to new technology and machinery, the potential for the future of food to be fully mechanised may not be such a distant concept, the photographer believes that this is an important time to be recording this work and to work with an essential workforce living on the periphery of society.
The images were made from the summer of 2019 at a time where people’s concerns were about freedom of movement, wages and integration with local communities in the wake of Brexit. More recently Coronavirus looks to disrupt an already fragile industry that the nation relies on. In early April ’20 the Government predicted a shortfall of 90,000 workers to harvest the fruit and vegetables, which have already been planted. Concordia, a large scale recruitment firm announced a “Feed The Nation” campaign but with no concrete plan for support from Government, farmers and ordinary people and businesses have taken it into their hands to find solutions. Some farms have now chartered flights for migrant fruit pickers and volunteers have also been recruited following their change of work status due to the pandemic. Since launching in April over 15,000 people have signed up to offer their services to more than 200 participating farms.
Marco Kesseler is a photographer based in the UK, with an interest in the role of narrative, studying both fact and fiction, as a reference point in representing contemporary social stories. Working with communities over an extended period of time, previous works have documented the socio-political effects of the Ukrainian revolution; living in hiding with Albanian families persecuted in the age old traditions of blood feuds, as well as celebratory traditions in Greece.
Past exhibited works have been included in The Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, Paris Photo, PhotoIreland Festival, The Renaissance Photography Prize and The Sony World Photography Awards and clients include The FT Weekend Magazine, The New York Times, TIME and The British Journal of Photography.