OpenWalls Arles 2020: The hidden landscapes where our food is produced

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As part of OpenWalls Arles 2020, we are highlighting photographers whose work is connected to this year’s theme: Growth. Find out how your work could be exhibited alongside Les Rencontres d’Arles 2020 at

Many people have seen polytunnels, but few have witnessed the vast manmade landscapes that are engineered within their polythene walls. In a new series shot across the UK –  entitled Polytunnel – Marco Kesseler ventures inside these structures and quietly contemplates the hidden spaces in which our food is produced.

“Nature always vies for its own control, dominance and space,” says Kesseler reflecting on the work, which explores the relationship between chaos and control in the natural environment. “Farmers seek to control that space, which creates an interesting balance.” In the series, photographs show wild shrubs clawing against the outside of the polytunnel plastic, or fallen leaves settled on the structure juxtaposed with streams of artificial sunlight that are projected onto the material inside.

Newly planted Asparagus is left to establish. © Marco Kesseler, Polytunnel

Beneath the polythene skin, seasons are stretched and softened, and minute changes compound over time to transform the landscape. Shot over the course of a year, Kesseler was interested in the changing of the seasons within this controlled space, and the different stages throughout the annual cycle of planting, growing and harvesting. “If you were there on a daily basis, you might not notice the subtle changes,” says Kesseler. “But seeing it as the seasons evolve, you see clearly how the spaces change.” In the background, nature remains unmuted as it fights to establish itself, occupying space in the form of layers of algae, and animal nests that are exposed as crops are harvested.

© Marco Kesseler, Polytunnel

The peacefulness of the work reflects the quietness of the polytunnels. “A lot of the time, these spaces are unattended,” Kesseler explains. “They are left for the plants and trees to grow, so I wanted the work to be consciously void of people.” The photographs themselves are notably still –many alluding to the presence of workers; an abandoned glove or a pair of gardening shears – yet there is never a physical human presence. This was also intentional, says Kesseler, as he plans to focus on the polytunnel workers in his next installment of the series: “At the moment, 99 percent of seasonal workers in the UK are European staff that come here on a seasonal basis,” explains the photographer. “Since Brexit, there has been a 20 percent shortfall of staff.”

For this year’s OpenWalls award, we are looking for work that responds to the theme Growth. We are calling for images that convey a sense of change or transition, which can draw either on personal growth, or the changes that one witnesses in everyday life.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to exhibit your work during Les Rencontres d’Arles. Apply to OpenWalls, your invitation to Arles.

A self seeded Ash pieces through the membrane of an old tunnel. © Marco Kesseler, Polytunnel
Brambles climb up the walls of the polytunnel. © Marco Kesseler, Polytunnel
Netted Nasturtiums grown for salads. © Marco Kesseler, Polytunnel
Winter Purslane growing under netting. © Marco Kesseler, Polytunnel
© Marco Kesseler, Polytunnel
Summer in the polytunnel is a dense jungle of beans, peas and sunflowers to attract pollinators. © Marco Kesseler, Polytunnel