Photographer-pyrotechnician Maciek Jasik likes to blow stuff up, but there’s pathos behind his portraits of smoking acorn squash and exploding pumpkins. Though commercial food production has largely homogenized the fruits and veggies available at farm stands and in produce aisles, prior to globalization the origins and uses of edible crops were indelibly connected to mythology, symbolism, and culture.
With his food-focused photo series, The Secret Lives of Fruits and Vegetables, Jasik sought to restore a sense of mysticism to familiar items and to introduce his viewers to more obscure ones. His photos of squashes, green and white pumpkins, pineapples, papayas, bell peppers, and chayote—a member of the gourd family, native to Mesoamerica—are colorful and mesmerizing, but they’re also rooted in research and a deference for ancient Native American and pre-Columbian agriculture.
Of course, stuffing a papaya full of smoke bombs and seeing what happens is pretty damn cool. “I've been using colored smoke in my work for a while now. I like the ephemeral and chaotic nature of it and how it can appear to be different things depending on the light or shape or color. Sometimes it looks like mist or liquid or even completely solid,” Jasik tells The Creators Project.
“I decided to try it for the fruits and vegetables and saw that it could reinvent the objects completely. Sometimes they would look alien or menacing; other times, fanciful or whimsical. The process I use is very systematic. I sometimes have to use fans to get the smoke to dissipate at just the right rate,” he says.
There’s also a personal connection to Jasik’s celebration of unknown or underappreciated produce. “I've been eating a diet of organic, whole foods for many years now. This is strangely a very political decision to make, and many people take this as an implicit criticism of their own diets and decisions. Until the 20th century, there was no other way to eat.” What many see as a 21st century organic food fad is really a return to ancient agricultural roots, he contends.
“What most fascinated me about Native American agriculture was the idea of companion planting, specifically the Three Sisters: winter squash, corn, and climbing, or common, beans,” Jasik says. The symbiotic relationship between these three crops makes efficient use of farmland, regulates moisture and sunlight, and eliminates the need for fertilizers and pesticides. “By retelling stories and performing annual rituals, Native Americans passed down the knowledge of growing, using, and preserving the Three Sisters through generations. This process is beautiful; it creates no waste, and every component is essential.”
Industrial farming operations have largely swept away ancient knowledge and sustainability methods, in the name of efficiency and cost. Decrying these practices as old-fashioned not only destroys a connection the land and to food, it makes the public susceptible to trends promising various health benefits, which then subsequently change, hawking a different set of products.
“For people with a strong food culture, there are no trends,” Jasik says. “You eat what your ancestors ate. You farm like they did, because they developed a wealth of wisdom. We threw away all that wisdom under the guise of progress in the last 150 years. So now we have to work to get it back.”
Check out more of Maciek Jasik's work on his Instagram.