News Environment Photographer's 'Seed Stories' Tells Close-Up Tales of Resilience and Sovereignty There is power behind these tiny, fragile forms. By Kimberley Mok Kimberley Mok Twitter Writer McGill University Cornell University Kimberley Mok is a former architect who has been covering architecture and the arts for Treehugger since 2007. Learn about our editorial process Published June 22, 2022 01:00PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Thierry Ardouin / Tendance Floue Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive There can be a lot of symbolism that is packed within a tiny seed. As one stage in the plant life cycle, seeds represent growth, and the latent potential that—when planted under the right conditions and nurtured with care—will eventually flourish into something quite different altogether. It's a surprising truth that both gardeners and artists alike who work with seeds would understand. French photographer Thierry Ardouin is one of these artists who are focusing on the beautiful fragility and resilience of seeds, and their pivotal role and impact on human civilization. Ardouin is best known for photographic works that deal with the relationship between humans and the natural landscape, in addition to works that experiment with revived old-school photographic techniques like pinhole cameras and cyanotype. More recently, Ardouin debuted Seed Stories, a series of macro-scaled photographs of various seeds from around the world. Out of the 500 snapshots that Ardouin took for the series, about half will be featured in a book published by Atelier EXB and will be exhibited in an upcoming show in Paris. Thierry Ardouin / Tendance Floue The photographs, which typically feature close-up shots of seeds against stark backgrounds colored in black or white, were prompted by Ardouin's work 10 years ago on a French documentary exploring agriculture in the country. It was during this time that Ardouin found out that it was mostly large, multinational corporations, such as Monsanto, that owned the patents to many seed varieties. As some observers point out, the seed is an increasingly privatized natural resource, with only four multinational corporations controlling more than 60% of the global seed marketplace. Thierry Ardouin / Tendance Floue All of this results in creating precarious legal and financial situations for smaller, independent seed companies, in addition to food insecurity and restricted access to seeds for farmers around the world. Thierry Ardouin / Tendance Floue Paradoxically, it's possible for small-time growers to develop seed varieties that exhibit similar traits to patented varieties, and yet not use any patented genetic material. Plus, the fear of legal prosecution from these deep-pocketed corporate entities can hinder much-needed collaborative work on developing seed varieties that are better adapted to a given locality, or a changing climate. Thierry Ardouin / Tendance Floue As Ardouin explains, this is the very situation that is happening in France, and around the world: "Because he wants to control nature, man has also domesticated seeds to improve yields and food production. The seeds used today must obey standardization rules and be registered in [France's] Official Catalog of Species and Varieties. Farmers are obliged to use these certified seeds and must buy them back each year, because most of them are hybrids and therefore not reproducible." Thierry Ardouin / Tendance Floue But Ardouin also points to a parallel phenomenon that is emerging alongside this increasing privatization of seeds, thus raising ethical questions about the notion of patenting living things: "On the sidelines of this official circuit, various networks and associations refuse to register the seeds they sell, especially those from old varieties, claiming, in a way, the free movement of seeds, as well as the freedom of their reproduction. We are therefore in a frontal opposition, with on one side certified, standardized, legal seeds which produce vegetables of the same shape, of the same size, of similar color. And on the other, seeds of peasant varieties, natural, adapted to their land, freely exchanged and producing vegetables in various forms, de facto illegal." Thierry Ardouin / Tendance Floue Ardouin's interest in focusing on the intricacies of this "seed war" also extends to humans in the recent socio-political debates around who or what is "legal" or "illegal." As he explains on This Is Colossal: In 2009, in a very particular political context regarding undocumented immigrants, I noticed that there were ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ seeds. The question arose : does a 'legal' seed look like an 'illegal' seed? But seeds are tiny and, to see them, I had to get close to them and make portraits of them, as I would do for human beings. Thierry Ardouin / Tendance Floue No matter what shape they may take, seeds ultimately hold the promise of life and sustenance, and we would do well to keep them free. To see more, visit Thierry Ardouin's website, or go see Graines, l'exposition! at CentQuatre Paris, which will feature artworks from Ardouin and other artists and real seeds from the National Museum of Natural History. View Article Sources "Global Seed Industry Changes Since 2013." Philip H. Howard.