From: Battlefields

There is one place in particular where our fingers are performing choreographies that were unknown just a few years ago.
A place where the physical world merges into a virtual world, the reversible into the irreversible, and the controllable into the uncontrollable.
A place that is also a symbol of our compulsive desire to be connected all the time, and of our new internal struggle: How much of our privacy are we willing to sacrifice?
Clicks, taps, pinches and swipes.
Traces of human behaviour... left like a battlefield.

Jos Jansen, 2015

From: Seeds - on the origin of food crops

As a documentary photographer, I examine in this project how new food crops are developed and how this process bears upon the world food problem. My point of departure is ‘seed’, the beginning of all life. What fascinates me is the duality of the process: on the one hand, the romanticism of the earthly and tactile and, on the other hand, the rationality of gene-driven biotechnology, where abstraction, complexity and scale have become key concepts.

I have discovered that Darwin’s natural selection has long been overtaken by high-tech plant breeding, and that there is a strong similarity between the nano level of the digital revolution and the DNA level at which ultramodern biotechnology is taking place.

Fascination, amazement and sometimes confusion dominated my inner experience during the making of Seeds. For instance, early on in the project, I interviewed a plant breeder who told me that his work was essentially accelerating evolution. I was both fascinated and astonished! And then I became utterly confused when I was shown around greenhouses with thousands of diseased and dead plants, whose deeper significance I didn't immediately understand.

Gradually, however, I began to discover the ?why? behind all these diseased and dead plants, and how they link up with the plant breeder’s remark about evolution. In order to be able to select a plant that is resistant to insect plagues in Africa or droughts in China, literally thousands of plants first have to be made sick, until eventually that one healthy plant remains with just that tiny bit of DNA that allows it to be the sole plant to survive – the chosen one.

These insights made me decide to focus the narrative of my documentary on one aspect only – how new food crops are bred that are resistant to pests and diseases, and can therefore contribute significantly to our future food supply. I show the perseverance with which crops – over many years and in numerous repetitive cycles – are crossed, bred, tested and selected again and again, so as to achieve that specific goal.

Behind the images in this project, quintessential questions arise. Who is actually in charge on this planet? Nature? Human beings? A god? Should humans stop interfering with evolution and go back to the authenticity and the idyll of small-scale farms and city farming? Or rather, is it humanity’s duty to steer evolution so that we can create enough food to feed the booming world population? Where do you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable? Between natural and unnatural? And what does ‘natural’ mean anyway?

Jos Jansen, 2014

From: Entering the black box

The mysticism of technology
With this project, I wanted to get to the essence of high-tech research in the context of open innovation. Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve been intrigued by technology. As a child, I made small radio receivers. Later I became fascinated by hifi sets and the advent of colour television, and later still I was absolutely mesmerised by the developments of the digital revolution: compact discs, personal computers, DVDs, car navigation and smart phones. With each next step in the development of technology, I was intrigued by the new, unprecedented possibilities. I wasn’t so much interested in the technical details, but all the more so in the question of how a next generation of technology would be able to enrich my life with mystical and as yet unknown surprises.

High Tech Campus Eindhoven
I carried out my research in 2011 and 2012 at High Tech Campus in Eindhoven. This site accommodates some 100 research institutes and start-ups, employing about 8,000 knowledge workers. It forms part of Brainport Eindhoven, which in 2011 was proclaimed ‘the smartest region on earth’ by the Intelligent Community Forum in the United States. Every year, half of all Dutch patents originate here. High Tech Campus’s ecosystem builds on the thinking of economist Henry Chesbrough, which is largely based on the given that the complexity of groundbreaking, innovative, high-tech research – from micro-electronics to bio-technology – is increasing all the time. As a result, the costs of research are rising faster than its revenues, which encourages research institutes and companies to increasingly work together. For example, they share valuable research conditions, such as laboratories, equipment and skilled staff, or they cooperate in (pre-competitive) research projects. In all this, creating a culture of innovation, which stimulates the exchange of ideas, is crucial. Physical, cognitive and social proximity are important facilitating factors in this respect.

Dark zones
In my pursuit of the essence of groundbreaking high-tech research, the first challenge was to gain access to this ‘open’ but still heavily guarded world of innovation. When I finally succeeded – with the help of many – I was all the more touched by its mysticism. After I had mapped out the buildings, car parks and shared facilities (both above ground and underground), I gradually found my way to the magical atmosphere of the laboratories, getting closer and closer to the researchers and their equipment. Miniaturisation is an important driving force behind modern high-tech research, which increasingly takes place at the nano level and sometimes even at the atomic level. I slowly realised that I had made a transition from the square kilometre that is the size of the High Tech Campus site to a level that can only be made visible by means of scale models and mathematical formulas. This is the area that scientific anthropologist Bruno Latour refers to as ‘the black box’. It is also the place where, in his view, science becomes dark and ever less tangible. How, I asked myself, could I possibly represent something that is largely hidden from sight?

In an attempt to find an answer, I gradually started to see the three aspects of modern high-tech research that to me truly represent its essence: complexity, scale and abstraction. These three elements would form the basis of an associative and fragmentary story of mankind’s quest for high-quality innovative knowledge. For weeks on end, I observed researchers, wandering around in artificial landscapes, while constantly asking myself questions such as ‘What are they doing exactly?’, ‘How does it all come together?’ and ‘What’s the bigger picture?’ The complexity and abstraction were so immense that new questions kept popping up. What seemed to be smaller than small, when zooming in on it, turned out to be the size of galaxies at the nano level. And within these galaxies were, in all likelihood, new galaxies. I noticed how researchers and technology almost amalgamated, and how technology sometimes seemed to take over the position of the human being. My research into the mysticism of high-tech research eventually led me to the essential question about the relationship between technology and mankind: Who controls who?

Jos Jansen, 2012

A representation of open innovation: High Tech Campus in Eindhoven as a crucial intersection in the network of relations and joint ventures between universities, research institutes and high-tech companies in Western Europe. This image was created on the basis of details from Science-Metrix Inc., Canada.