Source-to-table food project takes Prix Pictet photography prize

Michael Schmidt wins prize that rewards photographers working on environmental and sustainability issues

A five-year project to photograph how food gets to the table – with images that include farm pigs, crinkle-cut chip production lines and apple washing plants – on Wednesday was named winner of the internationally prestigious Prix Pictet photography prize.

Michael Schmidt was named winner of a prize that since 2008 has been rewarding photographers whose work addresses environmental and sustainability issues.

This year the theme of the prize was consumption. Eleven shortlisted photographers or their representatives gathered at the V&A to hear former UN secretary general Kofi Annan name Schmidt, born in Berlin in 1945, the £67,000 winner.

The prize's director Michael Benson said the jury faced "an immensely difficult task" choosing between artists "all at the top of their game … it is a fantastically diverse and very rich group of artists".

Schmidt's monumental work Lebensmittel (food stuff) was displayed as a kind of giant collage – 60 photographs taken between 2006-10 which the artist said were taken "everywhere" telling a story of how our food gets to us, to our table or to our fast food restaurant. The shortlist included photographers from countries including Ukraine, China, Japan, Colombia and the US, and included Laurie Simmons, mother of the creator and star of Girls, Lena Dunham.

Benson said the jury debate had been intense and went on much longer than planned – "we spent hours deliberating on how it could come down from 11 to one".

The chair of judges Sir David King, the UK's special representative for climate change, said: "We were privileged to review work by 11 truly outstanding photographers. There were many potential winners but, after much debate, we finally agreed to award the Prix Pictet to Michael Schmidt whose Lebensmittel is an epic and hugely topical investigation into the ways in which we feed ourselves." Schmidt was not able to make the presentation because of ill health. The Nigerian photographer Abraham Oghobase was also absent – because the British government refused him a visa. "I don't think it's good enough frankly," said Benson. "I would like to apologise to him publicly."

Martin Barnes, the V&A's senior curator of photographs who was also on the jury, said the museum was an ideal place to host Prix Pictet given it was the first museum in the world to stage a photography exhibition, in 1858.

"The Prix Pictet is a very important prize which raises pertinent issues, not just about the theme of consumption and sustainability, but also about the nature of photography – where we are and how it is used by contemporary artists." The Prix Pictet, a Swiss prize, has been won in previous years by Benoît Aquin, Nadav Kander, Mitch Epstein and Luc Delahaye. Prix Pictet at the V&A 22 May – 14 June


Mark Brown, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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