Every day, thousands of “optically deficient” carrots are mechanically scanned and promptly removed from factory conveyor belts, deemed unfit for consumers. These are the runts of the litter, doomed to the purgatory of animal slop troughs, their dreams of making it into a salad or cake or soup forever thwarted.
But, as British photographer Tim Smyth realized, just because these rejects don’t fit cultural ideals of carrot beauty doesn’t mean they’re not beautiful in their own ways. In Smyth's new book, Defective Carrots, 56 photographs depict vegetables that are grotesquely deformed. "Many people have told me these photographs are erotic," Smyth tells Co.Design.
The carrots here have defects such as “fanging,” “scabbing,” and “crookedness." These terms come straight from the manual of Focus, the machine that evaluates whether a carrot is hot or not. Focus registers each carrot on a conveyer belt live on-screen. If it’s even one degree too crooked, it’s sliced into batons or mixed into animal feed.
"At the time of this project, I was living above a pub, whilst simultaneously working in the pub kitchen below," Smyth says. "In this live-in-work situation, I was constantly immersed in the day-to-day noise, foodstuffs, economy and consumption of the business where I lived. I became interested in consumer perception and what informed people's desires." After contacting the owner of the largest carrot-supplying farm in Britain and then traveling to photograph these ugly duckling vegetables, Smyth says, "I ate some of the carrots and took the rest to the city farm where they were fed to the pigs. The carrots fulfilled their destiny as stock feed, I just intercepted them in order to make this work."
Some vegetables in this book resemble strange phallic abnormalities or diseased fingers. One looks like a pair of daintily crossed orange legs, and another resembles a clawed sea creature. Others are only slightly flawed, highlighting the scanning technology’s extremely discerning eye.
The scanning technology, Focus, solves one of those ultra-specific design problems that most people have probably never even thought about: how do we detect and sort out “defective” vegetables? Smyth’s photographs are mostly just oddly entertaining, but they also point out consumers' many degrees of removal from the processes of farming and growing. In the days of home-grown produce, before technology began censoring abnormalities in this way, people just had to be alright with eating some weird-looking food. Today’s agriculture is so technologically enhanced that even our vegetables are designed. Who knew our produce aisles were so highly curated?
Defective Carrots, published by Bemojake Books, is out now.