|SIMON DENISON IMAGE & TEXT|
MONSANTO: A PHOTOGRAPHIC INVESTIGATION
Verlag Kettler, 2017
ISBN 978-3-86206-657-5 Hb
The charges presented here against the US chemicals giant Monsanto include: environmental poisoning of swathes of land around three of its factories, severely damaging local people’s health; manufacture of the notorious defoliant Agent Orange, bequeathing gross genetic deformities to future generations both in Vietnam and the US; and alleged abuses of its control of the GM seed supply within US farming, through heavy-handed treatment of farmers and unintended side-effects on plant ecosystems.
As an indictment of the potential hazards of the misuse of chemicals by those with the power to do so – corporations and governments alike – the case is forceful. Most telling is the contrast between the breezy optimism of much of the 20th century for the social benefits of the chemical industry, represented here by examples of Monsanto’s product advertising, and the consequences of industry negligence today. Screenshots from a 1957 video of ‘The House of the Future’, based on a Monsanto-sponsored installation at Disneyland in California, are juxtaposed here with an image of a derelict house, of similar design to the one in the video, now abandoned because of its location near a Monsanto plant on chemically poisoned land.
Asselin’s pictures – landscapes, portraits, objects connected with Monsanto and the investigation – are well-made in the detached Shorean tradition of colour documentary. The book is a highly aesthetic object. Emerald-green cover boards 4mm thick enclose an elaborately designed interior, with inserts, colour straps, images converted to monochrome and ‘colourised’. This seems problematic given the gravity of the subject matter, almost calling the book’s motivation into question, as well as its impact. Is the content an alibi for an exercise in photobook craft? If the book is mainly seen by a small market of art connoisseurs, what’s the gain? As mass-circulation outlets for serious photojournalism disappear, perhaps this is what we are brought to. It is a mixed blessing.