Joan Fontcuberta : Stranger than Fiction

Exhibition at the Media Space, Science Museum visited 8th November 2014 

Joan Fontcuberta was supposed to be attending the Day Symposium Fiction and Photography : Imagining Reality that I wrote about here. Unfortunately he couldn’t make it, so thank goodness I managed to get to explore his Exhibition during lunchtime.

There’s a review by Lewis Bush here so I don’t intend to go into a lengthy description. In fact, reading about his work just isn’t the same as being amongst it although his website shows the extent and variety of his creativity. I’m fascinated by him – mystic, magician, funster, wise fool, shape-shifter. His work is full of whimsy and yet transfused with a methodical scholarly approach to its creation.

I looked round the Exhibition with Penny and John who later emailed a link to a You Tube video where he talks about his work. It’s a lengthy video so I’m not embedding here. Here’s the link though and, to me, his personality shines through together with his deep immersion and enjoyment in creating his projects. As the Exhibition pamphlet states,

His works inflate truth to its bursting point and, by approaching his imagined subjects with sincerity and humanity, he sets up a tug-of-war between our beliefs and scepticism. Yet while his work tenaciously interrogates the power of the photograph as evidence, it also compels us to suspend our beliefs and join him on his remarkable journeys into his fictional worlds.

It‘s that suspension of disbelief that’s important – think how we might even be drawn into cartoon films that portray universal themes – I’m thinking of those such as Bambi and Toy Story. Also the film Avatar. I would love to think that somewhere in the world there is a goat (or is it a sheep?) with wings – referencing the unicorn I guess.


or a flying elephant (Dumbo maybe?). What also impressed me was the amount of detail and research that must have gone into installations such as Fauna (1987) the fictive archive of Professor Peter Ameisenhaufen where Fontcuberta has created creatures (displayed in cabinets ; aged photographs; old/aged diaries; letters; ink drawings and watercolours. Similarly with Sirens (2000) and their ‘fossilised” remains; the resin cast of the Font Chaude Hydropitheque


and photographs of the ‘remains in situ’. With Herbarium (1984) he created and named new plant species from plant materials and various man-made materials and then photographed them, most convincingly, in the style of Karl Blossfeldt. I had some correspondence with my tutor about the Exhibition and. In the context of Fontcuberta’s work, he posited that it might echo/take inspiration from the Archaeopteryx debate fuelled by Sir Fred Hoyle in BJP in 1987 as here.

In his review (see above) Lewis Bush ends with a comment “Stranger than Fiction is a great exhibition, which does a wonderful job of diagnosing one of photography’s major afflictions but which, in the end, offers us no convincing remedy for it.” The affliction being so many suspect photographs in daily life. However, I did notice the presence of ‘clues’ as I walked around indicating some of the fakery perhaps, such as an obvious join on a wolf-like creature with a tail or the web-footed squirrel like creature with a snake-headed tail – something that I just couldn’t quite believe in!


Implications for my own work

Well I would certainly love to be able to create work like that of Fontcuberta – something multi-dimensional and complex. I had some brief email contact with an artist whose work I admired at Farnham UCA Degree Show a few years ago – Jose Nieves who created an installation Fallax and Jose confirmed considering Fontcuberta in creating the show. I’ve looked for other such work referencing him but haven’t been successful so far, so other links welcome.

Unfortunately I don’t have a variety of artistic skills, only my camera; imagination and an urge to combine images with text. Even so, I can still be inspired by work such as that by Fontcuberta.

28th November 2014