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Tuesday, 16 September 2014
Joan Fontcuberta: Is he real?
I interviewed Joan Fontcuberta for the BJP this summer. It was one of my favourite interviews of all time because by the time it was finished I didn't know which way was up and which way was down. The fact that guys in white kept on walking behind Fontcuberta during the Skype interview probably helped as well. I thought he was in some kind of Dojo somewhere running through his killer moves, but he wasn't... But he might have been.
The basic gist of Fontcuberta's work is 'don't trust the packaging'. And because the 'packaging' takes up at least 90% of all photographic work, it ends up as don't trust anything you see. But the problem is we do believe the things that we see, even though we should know better. This is what Fontcuberta said;
“We may not believe images in our conscious minds, but in our unconscious minds we do believe them. In both our individual unconscious and the collective unconscious.” This collective consciousness influences how narratives are presented to people and how we read them and it is these that Fontcuberta seeks to undermine. “I’m interested in fakes and fictions. I think there are 3 levels of fictions; criticism, parody and pastiche. I use fiction to create a critical discourse of how information is transmitted and filtered through academic and cultural institutions.”
Those academic and cultural filters are what make photography a fiction in other words. Or maybe it's non-fiction in which the packaging and the filters (galleries, museums, books, archives, magazines, blogs...) that are contained in the means of production, presentation and dissemination are the plane where reality strikes.
Anyway, if you want to get a taste of Fontcuberta's work The Nature of Photography contains extracts and the introductory essays on key works; it is a fantastic introduction into how photography works and how and and why we believe it in particular situations.
“I like to consider my work a vaccine where you inoculate the world with a very weak virus so it will protect you against the big virus. My mission is just to warn people about the possibility that photography can be doctored, that people need to be critically sceptical of images that format our behaviour and our way of thinking.”
You can also see Fontcuberta's exhibition Stranger than Fiction at The Science Museum in London. Most of his great projects are on show here (Fauna, Herbarium, Miracles...) but Sputnik (Fontcuberta's fictional project on a Russian cosmonaut - those are his images above) is missing, supposedly because the Museum thought that it would clash with an upcoming exhibition on Russian cosmonauts, but maybe because, as Fontcuberta told Source Magazine, "Yuri Gagarin’s daughter – an important officer at Hermitage Museum – disliked deeply my Sputnik series."