When this project initially began I thought that the push behind it was based in a Socialist wish of equality for everyone. I had just left a job working for a corporation selling natural foods and witnessed for years first hand the division of the have’s and have not’s. It always made me feel strange that had I not worked in that business I would never be able to afford to shop there, denied access to a commodity that clearly enhanced my quality of life. This discrepancy was on display every day as bored housewives drifted through the aisles filling up shopping carts while truly hungry looking people shuffled to the cash register with a solitary apple in hand.
I started out wanting to say something with my photographs about how unfair that disparity seemed, but over the past year the series began revealing something deeper to me. My parents brought me into the world and raised me in rural Wisconsin, a hamlet in the middle of fertile farmland. The town was the kind of place that reminds you of those fairy tale locations described in television programs such as the bucolic Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. Without a doubt that sort of childhood environment influenced me as a person, the kind of place that has the potential to instill modesty and humility in a person. I grew up working hard in my parents’ gardens all those humid Midwest summers, understanding that the bounty from them would provide us food for most of the year until next planting season. It was a way of life, and everyone around me just did it without a second thought.
When I left my small home town for college I rejected that past, most people I met grew up in the big city and were exposed to far more sophisticated culture. I was deluded into believing there was shame in my humble upbringing, for some reason it was not deemed “cool” to have farming roots. As I grew older and began developing into my own person I drifted back to gardening as a form of meditation and a way to supplement my food deficiencies. Then all of a sudden I began to notice farmers markets springing up all over the place, and unexpectedly gardening was in vogue and generally a “hip” thing to do. What had changed? I believe the realities of nutrition and an awareness in environmental concerns opened people’s eyes. To me this is fantastic; we should be so lucky as a society to bring more attention to food sources and sustainability.
As I started out saying, this photographic series has seeds in my desire to see everyone eat well; nutrition is a key to a satisfactory life. But it has also evolved into a reminiscence about home, and how as we grow and adjust those methods of existence change. New generations are always finding more efficient ways of operating, and it is important to let go of that desire to hold on to nostalgia and embrace the now and all of its potential.
Brett Schenning was born and raised in rural Wisconsin, a quiet small-town upbringing that allowed him ample time to daydream of a world outside his safe little hamlet. At a very young age he was instilled with a deep appreciation for the outdoors and gardening, and a love for books that have sustained and enriched him into his adult life.
Upon graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, he embarked on a journey into the heart of the Southwest where he learned to work with large-format cameras and the revered Platinum-Palladium contact printing method. These discoveries were to forever change him not only as a photographer but, more importantly, shaped him personally. These historic methods and tools forced him to slow down and cultivate patience – just as his childhood had taught him to contemplate everything carefully and empathetically.
Brett is currently an MFA candidate at the Savannah College of Art & Design. His thesis work has focused on farming in the Southeastern United States, a study that has brought him back to the essence of his childhood home.