Fontcuberta and the difficult light

Fifteen Twelve

Fifteen Twelve

Fifteen Twelve

Fifteen Twelve

“All photography is a fiction that presents itself as true”. This quotation, attributed to Joan Fontcuberta in an essay by Andrea Soto Calderon and Rainer Guldin “To document something which does not exist” is troubling. First of all I haven’t read the work that Fontcuberta has written – it is from a work called “El beso de Judas” which is only available in Spanish – I have asked the artist (through his assistant, Mar) whether there is a english translation, but unfortunately there isn’t. I shan’t be funding a translation. I instinctively know that this quotation and others seem to find an echo with the work I am investigating with light. It is difficult to allow myself to develop this theme without trying to predict where it will travel to, I find this artist’s work influencing how I approach the topic.

Lavandula angustifolia 1984, reproduced with the kind permission of the artist Joan Fontcuberta

Lavandula angustifolia 1984, reproduced with the kind permission of the artist Joan Fontcuberta

Fontcuberta tells of a time in an art museum in Houston where the curator was discussing with the artist Eugene Smith’s archive, which is resident there and how Fontcuberta had spotted some ‘work’ done on the negatives. The curator acknowledged that Smith had indeed ‘doctored’ some negatives of the ‘Spanish Village’ series, but the essential truth still exists of course. Smith’s work has been held up as an exemplar of the sort of Documentary work that seeks to ‘expose the truth’ with the Spanish Village and Minamata and so on. And whilst Smith’s work is still, rightfully held up, almost as a beacon, the notion that it might be constructively ‘untrue’ is a thought worth considering. In the same Spanish text Fontcuberta states “…photography always lies, lies instinctively, lies because its nature does not permit it to do anything else.”

Lavandula angustifolia, appears to be a brassica, the stem, the large leaves and the firm head of the vegetable, all visual clues. Of course it isn’t a vegetable at all, let alone a member of the cabbage family; it is an image of one, perhaps more than that it is a simulacra of an image; it is, maybe, a monochromatic image of an image of something, that we think we might recognise but we aren’t quite sure. When we fix that the head of the ‘plant’ to be that of a tortoise from underneath things start to fall into place. Fontcuberta has made a series of these images, at once an homage to Blossfeld with his close-up monochrome images of flora, but equally a subversion of that same work. These interpretations have at it’s core the notion of truth. This is a ‘true’ image, as true as any image that Blossfeld made; that Fontcuberta presents his image as only an image – this visual construct seems to me to be a direct reference to the notion that all photographs are constructions – something that Fontcuberta speaks about in the audio file in this post. But once the ‘game’ is up, the fiction is very clear – it’s obviousness a fundamental part of the construct; none of this image has ever truly existed. It is a lie.

Dendrita Victoriosa 1982, reproduced with the kind permission of the artist Joan Fontcuberta

Dendrita Victoriosa 1982, reproduced with the kind permission of the artist Joan Fontcuberta

It is a fictive narrative, having only vestigial connection to a reality, whether born on or beneath the soil. The fiction invites the viewer to construct their own version of a ‘truth’ given the available information: monochrome (no colour misfitting), sombre setting, very reminiscent of Blossfeld’s curios. These are reverential settings, amplified by their projection against a blank background allowing nothing to ‘upstage’ the reading. The ‘latinised’ caption with date reference implying a scientific, almost ‘Linnaeus’ schema – but not quite; just as the flora’s title isn’t quite the real thing, neither is the image – all adding up to a multiple subversion strategy to test the gaze of the viewer. It has been suggested that the ‘Victoriosa’ is a reference to the two digits, I like to think of them as ‘two fingers’, slightly more than ‘cocking a snoop’ at the Blossfeldian tradition of mimicking, and perhaps trying to upstage the scientific indexical properties of photography.

Fontcuberta invites us to scrutinise these images and I think he challenges the viewer to accept them for what they are, a means by which the artist wants to communicate, though the communication isn’t prescribed, it will be whatever it turns out to be. Where this informs my own work is both simple and difficult to explain. Simple in that I want to construct fictions with the use of an emotional response to a place which is likely to be physically close to me by documenting the instances and how they invoke fictional constructs. At Fifteen Twelve this fiction presented itself as a self evident truth, I can no longer test the veracity of it’s previous existence, it is no longer there, was never there to begin with, so cannot return to that place for which it has no memory.

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3 thoughts on “Fontcuberta and the difficult light

  1. Pingback: All the artist can do is devise various facts and test them against the hypotheses (apologies JG Ballard) | Body of Work

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