The photographer William Mullan remembers the first time he tasted an Egremont Russet. He was at a grocer’s in southeast England when he spotted the apple for the first time; to his eyes, it looked like a potato that had been spray-painted a shimmering gold. He took a bite on the way home, his mouth filling with memories of warm cider and roasted chestnuts. As he writes in his extraordinary book Odd Apples, this was the moment when his relationship with apples “got serious.”
Odd Apples (Hatje Cantz), a collaboration between Mullan and the designer A.A. Trabucco-Campos, is the culmination of four years spent researching, finding, tasting, and photographing rare apples that, to the artist, resemble everything from frogs to stars. Along with the elegant studio portraits, Mullan also shares the story of many of the apples, anchoring them within the context of a rich (and often interconnected) history.
Every apple looks and tastes different; to hear Mullan tell it, the Blue Pearmain recalls the flavors of concord grape and melon, while Calville Blanc d’Hiver is lemony and custard-like. The Westfield Seek-no-Further tastes of elderflower and cucumber, Karmijn de Sonnaville of orange marmalade and pineapple upside-down cake. He says pale gala apples taste like sweet water chestnuts, the Etter Tree like tart raspberry crumble. When sliced, the Cornish Gilliflower smells like cloves, and the Centennial Crab tastes like Starburst candy.
Some of the apples reminded Mullan of songs; others recalled films. He’d sometimes see a color while biting into one. All of these impressions helped guide his approach in the studio. Mullan knows he isn’t the first person to fall for apples, citing a legacy that dates back to ancient Greek mythology, through European folklore, the Christian bible, and countless fairytales. Of course, apples have also featured in art for centuries, from Raphael to Paul Cézanne to René Magritte. But Mullan’s loving tribute to the fruit feels fresh and surprising, like biting into an Egremont Russet for the very first time.
Odd Apples by William Mullan and A.A. Trabucco-Campos is published by Hatje Cantz. The book is currently available in two versions, including a large format Special Edition that comes with an individual, original print of William Mullan’s Hidden Rose.
All images © William Mullan, courtesy Hatje Cantz