What do you think about genetic interference and agricultural technology? Daniel Szalai wants to give a voice to this question and dilemma. His series ‘Novogen’ visualises a story about technology and man’s relation to nature. It will be shown at the next edition of BredaPhoto Festival with the theme “To Infinity and Beyond”, which opens in September.
Can you tell us something more about your series?
''I created my project as a participant of BredaPhoto International Talent Program the international Talent Program of Breda Photo 2018. We were invited to reflect on the theme of this year’s festival, To Infinity and Beyond, which is about the possibilities and impact of ongoing progress in technology and science. I was lucky enough to find a subject, the chicken, that not only fits this theme but which continued to inspire me throughout the year. This resulted in a large-scale project consisting of three main parts. The primary element is a 12 metre by 3,5-metre installation comprising 162 portraits of individual chickens. Supplementing this installation there is a series of photographs documenting the phases of vaccine production and environment of the production facility; where the chickens are held and where the eggs are produced. The final part is a selection of texts that have been extracted from the Novogen chicken’s management guide and the marketing material of the company which produces them.''
So, you investigated the industrialized farming of the Novogen White Light chicken. Why did you choose chickens over, let’s say, cows and why this breed?
''It’s funny that you are asking this because actually I like cows quite a lot so at some point I was wondering about making a series about them. I chose to use a chicken as my main subject because the chicken we know today is an almost entirely man manipulated creature which, as a result of genetic interference, the development of biochemistry and of agricultural technology, has been significantly developed over the last 60 years. Thus, the chickens I photographed are at least as technologically based as they are natural and so can be understood as biological carriers of our technological achievements, which poses questions about our concepts of what is natural or of nature. The fact that I shot Novogen White Light chickens instead of other breeds is a crucial part of the project. This chicken was developed by a French company so as to use their eggs in the production of pharmaceutical products such as medicines and vaccines. So, these chickens are not meant to be eaten and because their eggs are used in the medicine industry they are kept under very strictly controlled technological conditions which I found very interesting.''
What inspired you to tell this story?
''At first, I started to think about making a project about chickens because I was interested in the questions of cloning and individuality. But after starting to research, I found out that chickens have a truly exciting history that is deeply connected with the shifts and changes in our society and economy. After World War II they were turned from a rarely eaten backyard bird into a technological miracle that now feeds the world. I think that, as in all designs, today’s chickens can tell us a lot about their creators, about us humans.''
© Daniel Szalai
So, what do they tell us about the human race?
''First of all, I believe that the way we instrumentalize these creatures, even if in this case it might be questionable whose creatures they are, reflects a general attitude towards our environment. I decided to include corporate texts relating to Novogen chickens because I find their language truly expressive. I think that the severe objectivity of the management guide and the optimism of the marketing materials can attain a new meaning in artistic context and give a new, thought-provoking dimension to the images. By extension, I think that their pragmatism also resonates with how people are thought of within certain situations, such as in the political sphere, or in the job market, or when defining the marketing strategies of large companies. In the strategy of photographing the chickens, it was an important conceptual point to pay individual attention to each of them, but also to take a large number of portraits at the same time. This not only reflects the scale of mass production but also brings up the question of individuality. The fact that people may believe or, at first glance, suspect that all the portraits were taken using one chicken is telling about thoughts concerning these animals. They are treated and conceptualized as being mass-produced, identical products, each functioning as a small, individual factory unit, producing the final product, the egg.''
© Daniel Szalai
Besides photography, you studied Art and Design. Why did you choose to focus on photography? And do you think that your background in design influences your images?
''I was exposed to image making from a very early age and by the time I was 16 I was sure that I would like to be a photographer. Thus, during high school, I enrolled at an advanced photo school, which turned out to be a decisive experience. As opposed to the classical, black-and-white analogue photography I was used to, at this school I was introduced to a critical, conceptual and narrative photographic paradigm that turned my interest towards art theory and eventually led me to apply to the Institute for Theoretical Studies at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest, where I studied art and design theory alongside photography. After graduating from my BA, I worked as a location scout and manager, and production coordinator in international film and photo productions for five years, which was highly influential and helped me to gain various skills that I can use in my artistic practice. When I started my MA in photography this September, I was already dreaming of making a complex, photographic-based project in which I could make use of both my interest in art theory and my experience in production. I believe that with Novogen, I have realised this desire and I feel that I have found an artistic approach that fits me.''
BredaPhoto Festival Early Bird
Scoor snel je Early Bird ticket ! Je betaalt € 22,25 in plaats van € 44,50 en kunt dan zeven weken lang alle tentoonstellingen én het randprogramma bezoeken. Bij aankoop van een 'passe-partout onbeperkt' ontvang je bij invulling van de kortingscode BP-EARLYBIRD 50% korting op het passe-partout.
BredaPhoto Festival is te bezoeken van 5 september tot en met 21 oktober 2018.