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Black and white photo of wilted orchid

Joan Fontcuberta on the Implications of Taking Photographs


Fontcuberta explores the nature of photography, focusing on a tricky issue: does photography necessarily reflect an objective reality; that is, facts?

If we pay attention to the history of photography, we find that there is a general belief that the tool most faithful to truth is capturing images of our reality. This interpretation ignores two elements: the subjectivity of photography —together with the interpretation of reality— and the medium through which it is made —which, literally, mediates this ‘original’ reality and that which it documents.

Taking into account these two elements and, contrarily to what has been assumed since it first burgeoned, Fontcuberta postulates that ‘all photography is a fiction that is represented as true’, meaning it is an act in which the quality of the photographer is measured in relation to how good his lie is.

It is clear that we find ourselves before a thinker that feels uncomfortable with the parameters established in the discipline he loves so much and which, for the same reason, questions it. He adopts a skeptical attitude —which is by no means fanatical, not based on ‘beliefs’—that enables him to create the critical distance required to understand that nothing can exist remotely close to the precise representation of reality; at the same time this distance enables him to value his artistic work, the creation of possible worlds, pulsing through photography.

Wall of images of black and white flowers

Proof of this can be found in Fontcuberta’s website, where all his projects are catalogued. You can easily see that half of these have portrayed inexistent beings.

An example of this can be found in Herbarium, where Fontcuberta creates his own floral world, where he tries to show ‘the natural agony of nature.’ He uses his impeccable photographic skills to portray flowers that don’t exist in the real world, and he gives them exotic names like Brahoypoda Frustrata and Lavandula Angustifolia.

Close up of wilted black flower

Simultaneously he demonstrates that it is impossible to classify all species of plants on the planet, so Herbarium confronts the viewer by annihilating photography as proof, as an instrument for scientific observation and as an exhibition of documentary realism.

The artist says:

Photography no longer documents, it metadocuments. Using a camera implies a reflection on the production process of documents and on their ideological implications. For example, the images of Herbarium reference the tacit relations between images and objects, between mirages and vestiges, and not the objects themselves. Perhaps this is the reason why they are the last series of technical images: screens that are inserted between man and the world, and which end up overshadowing both. Dismantling this hallucinatory experience makes us confront the possibility of interacting with the world again, assigning a meaning to things, recovering a sense of adventure and curiosity.

Here he presents us with a photography that is apparently real, a ludic space that is full of possibilities, capable of surpassing the limits of reality. It is possible to find in this transgressed quality, the sinful phase which, according to Fontcuberta, every photographer should assume and, if he doesn’t, he should instead ‘embrace another religion’.

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