30 May Potato Photographer of the Year & Potato Photography
You might have just read the title and wondered if I’ve made some kind of serious typo. Potato Photographer of the Year? Am I really serious? But the answer is yes, someone has started a potato photographer of the year contest and I’m writing this post to encourage you to enter!
It might sound silly, but the contest has a serious cause. Many of us are riding out this lockdown quite comfortably, but that’s not the case for everybody. So many people are forced to turn to food banks just to survive, and the entry fees for this contest are going to The Trussel Trust whose aim is to end hunger and poverty in the UK.
So I would absolutely love you to join me in shooting an artistic image of potatoes and entering this contest. You’v got a month left to plan your photograph, because they close for entries on the 30th June. Let the potato photography begin!
Does potato photography have a history?
I’ll forgive you for thinking that the history of potato photography is uninteresting. But as with anything, there’s always something interesting to be found in the depths of art history.
There are many paintings featuring potatoes. Food has always been a subject that is interesting to artists, and you won’t have to go far to find a Dutch still life with a few potatoes. But I’m going to instead highlight two beautiful and relatively unknown paintings by Vincent van Gogh that might inspire you with your Potato Photographer of the Year entry.
Many people don’t realist that Vincent van Gogh didn’t always paint in a post-impressionist style. It was in 1886, a year after he painted these potatoes, that his style morphed into the post-impressionist style that we more regularly associate with him. But these early paintings use a dark and melancholy colour palette that reflects his subjects of the time; farm labourers, miners, and the everyday life that surrounded them. In this work, you can see the influence of Japanese prints. The dark black outlines surrounding the potatoes reflecting the dark black outlines of Japanese block printing.
You could approach your Potato Photographer of the Year as a human portrait instead of a still life. It’s hard to go out and shoot right now for competitions like this, but if you were lucky enough to live on a farm then I think it would be incredible to show a farmer at work in their potato fields. I remember the potato fields near where I grew up; they always looked so neat and regulated with their long rows of mounded earth. It would be a great image to submit if you already had one in your archive!
Martin Parr’s potato legacy
One of the judges for this contest is Martin Parr, the inimitable photographer of British life. In 2016 Martin Parr published a book called ‘Real Food’. A compilation of the food photography shot throughout his career.
“I am showing food as it really is because we are surrounded by images in magazines, where you see food looking glorious and beautiful, and we know that most people don’t surround themselves with food like that. It is like the propaganda of food sales.”Martin Parr, 2016
You might be forgiven, if you’re a fan of Martin Parr, to think that the British are obsessed with chips. And in fact, I think we probably are. I feel like there are not many things more British in our cuisine than a good plate of fish and chips. Or even a takeaway container full of microwaved cheesy chips after a long night out on the town.
And so photographing a cooked potato might be an alternative way to think about shooting for the Potato Photographer of the Year contest. Taking inspiration from one of the judges own photographic work can never hurt your chances, can it?
What about that $1 million potato photograph?
2016 was clearly a good year for potato photography. Aside from Martin Parr’s Real Food being released, photographer Kevin Abosch, an Irish conceptual artist sold a photograph of a potato for over $1,000,000.
A million dollars for a potato photograph? Sure, why not? There is history – Abosch’s black background portrait photographs are somewhat of a status items amongst the top tier of entertainment and tech elite. His portrait sittings can start at $150,000, and rise to half a million once you include commercial licensing to use the images. Abosch is a world-renowned portrait photographer with a serious client book.
Interestingly, he’s actually a former biologist, and never studied art formally. He’s worked in tech, founded an app, but likes to shoot potatoes in his spare time. The photograph above is, apparently, one of his favourites.
Talking about the value and worth of fine art photography is always complicated. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to the value of art. But ultimately it comes down to the fact that the more desirable a photograph is, the more money you can get paid for it. And desirability usually is related to your reputation and fame as a photographer.
Will you be crowned Potato Photographer of the Year?
It’s time to get out there, shoot, and enter this competition. Each image that you want to enter will cost you £5, and you can enter a maximum of eight images. With the proceeds going to charity, there’s no reason not to enter lots of pictures if you can afford it.
If you’d like some inspiration, have a look at these articles I’ve written in the past:
- Behind the Image #16: Fresh Produce Still Life
- Still Life on a Budget
- AYWMC: Window Light Still Life Photography
The important thing here is to enter Potato Photographer of the Year and raise money for charity. And by thinking about your entry and the dozens of ways you could photograph the humble potato you’ll improve your skills. You might even fall in love with a new genre of photography. Don’t forget to tag me in the images you shoot. And I’d love to hear how highly you place once the results are out! Good luck!
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