Thierry Ardouin’s exploration of the world of seeds began in 2009 when he was carrying out documentary work on French agriculture for the Tendance Floue collective, which he had helped found in 1991. In the course of his research, he discovered the existence of the Catalogue officiel des espèces et variétés végétales, which inventories all the varieties of vegetables, cereals and fruits grown in France. Surprise: most of the seeds listed in the Catalogue are protected by patents held by large seed companies. In a political context where there’s so much talk of undocumented migrants, the photographer observed that there are seeds that are “patented” and therefore “legal” after a fashion. A question arose in his mind: does a “legal” seed” resemble an “illegal seed”?
As seeds are extremely small, he decided to get up close to each of them. Supported in this initiative by the Olympus brand, which was the collective’s sponsor at the time, Thierry Ardouin found himself provided with scientific equipment: a stereo macroscopic binocular magnifying glass, which looks like a microscope to which a camera (without a lens) can be attached. Preparation is an extremely delicate task, consisting of a ten- to fifteen-minute-long process for each shot. So equipped, the photographer made some extraordinary discoveries. Hence, he learnt that tomato seeds are covered with microscopic hairs and that carrot seeds have hooks that help disseminate them.
Thierry Ardouin was stunned by the beauty of the seeds that he discovered in the collections conserved at the National Museum of Natural History, the Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD) and the Biological Resource Centre (CRB) for straw cereals in Clermont-Ferrand. He created more than 500 portraits in all. Selected, lit and framed with the utmost care, the seeds photographed by Thierry Ardouin disrupt our subjectivity: they become symbols which, far from being generic images, question our relationship with the origin of things.