The Cultivar Series

Since the dawn of agriculture we have shaped and transformed a broad number of organisms towards our needs, while at the same time promoting their survival and geographic range. Through breeding and artificial selection we have developed a seemingly infinite diversity of shapes and colors from the wild ancestors of today's domesticated plants. However, since the industrialization of agriculture our focus has shifted to only a few modern, high yielding, robust, 'good looking', uniform and predictable varieties. This change has led to the displacement of traditional crop varieties. A vast majority of all varieties developed by humans have already become extinct during the last 50 years. With them we not only loose genetic diversity, but also a living cultural and culinary heritage. Without growing, using and eating them, the remaining varieties may only survive in seed vaults, through the work of dedicated farmers or in our own backyards and gardens. Yet, the genetic plasticity and adaptability of these plants are of critical importance for the sustainability and security of our global future food supply.
The Cultivar Series is a continuously growing collection of photographs that reveal the mind boggling diversity of crop cultivars.


2010 - Present | photographs


Zea mays I - Native Seeds/SEARCH, Tucson, USA

2018 | 224cm x 112cm

Special thanks to Liz Fairchild, Nicholas Garber and Sheryl Joy.


Zea mays I focuses on the diversity of maize cultivars grown before the age of industrial monocultures. For this work I collaborated with seed banks in Tucson, Arizona and Texcoco, Mexico, visiting their locations and documenting hundreds of specimens.

The collection of Native Seeds/SEARCH (image above) has a focus on cultivars from the Southern US and Northern Mexico, while CIMMYT's collection (image below) contains samples of maize from around the globe.

Thousands of years of selection by humans have yielded dramatic changes to corn, including non-shattering ears, more kernels, bigger cobs, more rows of kernels and greater edibility. Each region has developed its own shapes, colors, flavors, culinary and cultural uses.

Zea mays I was commissioned for the exhibition Biodesign - From Inspiration to Integration at Woods Gerry Gallery, Providence, USA, curated by William Meyers and RISD Nature Lab (2018).

Hang on, I'm working on adding pictures, names and stories of the individual cultivars depicted here.

Zea mays I - CIMMYT, Texcoco, Mexico

2018 | 224cm x 112cm

Special thanks to Dr. Denise Costich, Dr. Martha Willcox and Dennis Baldwin.



Lycopersicum III


2013 | 120cm x 240cm

+ view cultivar index +



Cucumis sativus I


2014 | 120cm x 240cm

+ view cultivar index +



Capsicum I


2016 | 120cm x 240cm

+ view cultivar index +



Phaseolus vulgaris I


2013 | 120cm x 240cm

+ view cultivar index +



Brassica oleracea I


2018 | 120cm x 240cm




Phaseolus vulgaris II

- work in progress -




Cucurbita I

- work in progress -




Solanum tuberosum I

- work in progress -





Many thanks to Peaceful Belly Farm, Boise, Idaho, VERN - Verein zur Erhaltung und Rekultivierung von Nutzpflanzen e.V., in Brandenburg, Germany, the genebank of IPK in Gatersleben, Germany, the Dutch genebank for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture in Wageningen, the Netherlands, Native Seeds/SEARCH, Tucson, USA, the genebank of CIMMYT, Texcoco, Mexico and all the individuals who have provided me with advise, cultivars and seeds for this project.



All content © Uli Westphal. Please respect the copyright.