Review: Monsanto, by Matthieu Asselin
In 2017, Monsanto. A Photographic Investigation by Mathieu Asselin won the Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation First Photobook Award. The first edition rapidly sold out and disappeared from the market soon after. This new paperback edition by Actes Sud has lost some of the strength of the 2017 publication , but it has been very well received by fans of photobooks as it is an affordable option for readers to enjoy Asselin’s project.
The book is divided into five parts, each chapter being a story that works by itself but also functions as a concrete argument to support—along with the rest of the chapters—the idea of the malignant effects of Monsanto’s products on health and in the environment.
The plot of the book is the same that we can find in documentaries or news published worldwide for years, however, the story is told in a brightly fresh way. Laia Abril is the first author that comes to mind when confronting the design (by Ricardo Baez) and the rhythm of the book. This might be just an example among many others, but there is something in Asselin’s narrative that resonates with that of Laia: the aperture of the story’s diaphragm constantly changes throughout the pages; the written parts are essential to understand what the author is trying to say; particular cases are the means that feed the general argument with an approach that makes the reader feel as if she was having a conversation with this or that victim of Monsanto’s crimes.
It is especially interesting how Monsanto’s advertisements have been included in the book. They practically open the story after brief introductions from the author and Jim Gerritsen, an organic farmer from Maine. The company’s ads attempt to function in response to all the arguments against the chemicals they produce. However, looking at them together, one understands that we are eating, breathing, drinking and walking on poisonous chemicals.
Putting together a story is the most difficult part of making it work. In Monsanto, Matthieu and Ricardo managed to turn an old story into something new and reach their goal: to make people care, to help spread an understanding of what is wrong with Monsanto’s use of chemicals that have already killed too many people and landscapes.