08 May 2014 . By Tristan Hooper
Joan Fontcuberta’s most recent book looks and feels like it was published in a past era. With a soft, deep green cover and a fire-coloured serpent running up the spine, the book seems to incorporate many of the decorative features so often forgotten in today’s publications.
The Photography of Nature & The Nature of Photography is a composite comprised of six well known series – produced in conjunction with the Hasselblad award and presented to Fontcuberta in 2013. The book, published by MACK, is quite a triumph. The binding, sequencing and presentation are considered and engaging. The independent projects are brought together in unison and sit comfortably alongside one another. The publication exhibits the feel of an exploratory journal – something autobiographical; an ambitious record compiled through extensive studies and findings sourced from apparently far reaching locations. Flipping through the pages, it’s difficult not to become nostalgic; reflecting on childhood days spent peering at encyclopaedias of the weird and wonderful.
Over a career spanning some 20 years, Fontcuberta has established a reputation as an intelligent and witty artist through his works that examine photography’s rather tenuous relationship with the concepts of truth and objectivity. This book charts Fontcuberta’s career and in doing so traverses an ambitious range of topics, including flora and fauna, the natural landscape and even astronomy.
At first glance, the book appears to be a treasure trove of interesting facts – intriguing and informative couplings of pictures and text. However, viewers should be careful not to take everything they see on face value – instead they would be best advised to pay very close attention because nothing is quite as it seems with Fontcuberta’s work – and it is only through closer consideration that the true nature and depth of his practice comes to light.
The history of photography is strewn with hoaxes and prevarication. Right from its invention up to the modern day – as technology has developed, so has the deception and the level of sophistication behind the trickery. Fontcuberta’s projects allude to this particular evolution; his work simultaneously addresses the concept of photography’s reliability and the development and trends inherent in the medium.
The book opens rather quietly. An early project, Herbarium, features images that would be at home in a botanical study of some kind. Various weird and wonderful plant specimens are photographed in a clear, clinical manner – black and white, against a plain backdrop. As viewers, we are invited to scrutinise even the minutest details. The pictures are even accompanied by denotative captions – providing the Latin name for each species. These studies, however, are not quite what they appear to be. They are in fact intricate, near flawless imitations of plant forms, achieved through the meticulous construction of various materials – ranging from household items to common domestic rubbish. The pictures are incredibly convincing and as viewers we are left with the distinct and somewhat unnerving confirmation of photography’s uncanny ability to show us something that purports to be one thing but is in fact something entirely different. Herbarium provides an appropriate introduction to the book and indeed Fontcuberta’s modus operandi.
What follows is a journey of startling ambition and scope that leads us not only through the career of a photographer, but through a multi-faceted exploration of science. As the title implies, this book is as much concerned with photography as it is with nature. As Fontcuberta’s gaze shifts from subject to subject, his photographic approach changes also. Over the course of the book, we see Fontcuberta make use of the picture essay, the archive and ‘found’ photograph, digital imagery and more primitive methods such as the photogram.
His work pulls into sharp focus the significant role that context plays in the presentation and reception of photographs. For example, it is easy to draw parallels between Sirens and the type of article made famous by magazines such as the prestigious National Geographic. Through the conventions of reportage photography, Fontcuberta weaves a tale of startling discovery where the subject, certain fossilized findings, hint at the very stuff of myth and legend – mermaids and mermen. Despite the rather dubious subject matter, the coupling of pictures and text is very persuasive. The register of the language and the ‘straight’ manner in which the pictures are composed work together to build an overall air of authenticity. It wouldn’t be difficult to concede that someone could be ‘duped’ by such a story. However, as in many of Fontcuberta’s pieces, if one looks a little closer then it’s easy to notice various humorous statements imbedded into the work, hinting at its farcical nature.
Fauna draws upon the archive and found image. In a fictitious account, Fontcuberta details the discovery of a treasure trove of extraordinary species and findings, including field drawings and notes, photographs and even specimens stored in formaldehyde. The fact that these items are apparently ‘found’ affords Fontcuberta a certain distance from the material, the authorship is transferred away and he instead becomes more of a guide – leading us objectively through a myriad of bizarre findings. Through the accompanying text, we learn of the German doctor, Peter Ameisenhaufen, and his incredible encounters with a multitude of intriguing creatures, including a serpent like species with eight legs, a monkey with wings and a two legged fur ball with the head of a tortoise. Do these creatures belong to a hidden link in the evolutionary chain? Looking at the photographs and eyewitness accounts, you could almost be forgiven for thinking so.
A written account detailing various mountain expeditions introduces the next project Orogenesis – the most recent example of Fontcuberta’s work included in the book. The imagery presented in this portion of the book is breathtaking, but attention should be paid to the use of the term imagery as opposed to photography. Here, Fontcuberta makes use of the digital terrain modelling software Terragen. The program interprets data, producing detailed images that mimic natural landscape forms. Interestingly, these ‘landscapes’ seem to adhere to visions of an idealised landscape – beautifully lit scenes that depict epic terrain, void of human presence. They are beautiful and idyllic enough that you almost find yourself wanting to believe them.
The Star-Catcher directs our gaze towards the heavens, or so it would seem. Each full-bleed image depicts the blackness and sporadic, speckled lights associated with pictures of the night sky. Some images seem to show light trails – which we naturally assume to be the result of the long exposure times required to capture the stars. Short captions offer coordinates and classifications for the ‘star systems’ or ‘constellations’ that we are being shown. Of course, these pictures are not showing us space, they aren’t even made using a camera. They are in fact the products of one of the oldest techniques in photography. Fontcuberta made the images by placing photographic sheet film onto the soiled windscreen of his car and shining a light through the glass, exposing it and creating a photogram. The epic constellations depicted are in fact splattered insects and other debris. This project is perhaps most successful in the fact that it exploits or makes apparent, photography’s uncanny ability to show the apparently insignificant, unnoticed or even grotesque, as something different, something quite beautiful.
In what is surely a continuation of the thematic sequencing that really seems to underpin the book, the next project is entitled Sputnik. Here, Fontcuberta creates a fictitious account of a little known Russian space mission, undertaken by a man and a dog. The astronaut, Ivan Istochnikov, is depicted at different stages of his life and career – again in using a number of ‘acquired’ photographs, a certain sense of credibility is created. In addition to these found images, the piece incorporates more examples of the trends associated with contemporary photographic practice, including the staged image, the manipulated image and even, in a sense, the self- portrait – Fontcuberta does indeed appear to be playing the part of Istochnikov.
Many of the photographs are quite reminiscent of cold war propaganda – a proud countryman in full uniform, surrounded by adoring citizens, faces full of admiration. Sputnik seems to operate with acute historical and thematic relevance. The space race has long been the subject of scepticism and even outright disbelief – one need only browse the Internet to find a wealth of conspiracy theories relating to the first moon landings for example.
Looking at the book, it’s difficult not to simply feel impressed by Fontcuberta’s achievements – the breadth of his practice and the inherent complexities, the questions raised and the messages therein. The Photography of Nature & The Nature of Photography perhaps really comes into its own when viewed by an audience with no prior exposure to, or knowledge of, the man who is Fontcuberta. One isn’t sure what to believe. You could easily forgive someone for taking everything they see as plain fact – in the past; many have reportedly been guilty of this.
To flick through this book is to waste it. In order to fully appreciate the content, one should pore over the photographs and text, affording equal attention to both. Fontcuberta’s work is satirical, multilayered and above all, playful. A wonderful compendium of falsities.
27 March 2014 . Post by João Bento
Words by Ricardo Cases extracted from an email exchange about the project ‘La Caza Del Lobo Congelado’:
“Working on ‘La Caza Del Lobo Congelado’ was an emotional cocktail. Until then all my work had been made in urban areas. It was the first time that I photographed in a natural setting. It was interesting and encouraging to see how the photographs looked in this new environment, the colours were crazy! It was also an exotic experience because I had never been on a hunt and I did not know what the role was of dogs in this game.”
“Maybe this photograph, out of all of them from the project has been the one that has raised the most interest from the people who have viewed it, because it’s hard to determine if there is a problem with the animal or not. The dog looks happy but his face is covered in blood. I always think about this photograph when I question my role in this context.”
“I love my dog Quatre, I spend all day with him. I often take him to work but I don’t consider him a working dog, rather a hedonistic dog! Jokes aside, I think the relationship with dogs changes substantially when you’re with a working dog. This can be understood by their more independent character.”
To see more photographs from ‘La Caza Del Lobo Congelado’ please visit Ricardo Cases’ website on www.ricardocases.es
19 March 2014
Marta Giaccone’s website: martagiaccone.com
01 March 2014 . Post by João Bento
Words by Laura Parker extracted from an email exchange about her work:
– ‘Canyon Suite’ is a single piece of work composed of four separate photographs printed from negatives, all floating on different planes (each photograph is mounted on aluminium and the whole is held together by a hidden substructure). In addition to being photographic, the work is sculptural, as it has physical depth.
– I have been hiking at a place called Eaton Canyon for most of my life, (I love hiking and the local mountains I grew up with; my husband and I actually just recently moved to the canyon’s edge!), so I titled the piece ‘Canyon Suite’, as it is very much about this particular place that has been so important to me; a sort of refuge from the rest of Los Angeles. Also, both a canyon and a knife have an edge, no matter how blunted, and I am indeed interested in the dangers of the everyday.
– The knife reflections was an accidental discovery made during a breakfast I was having outdoors. I saw the oak tree above reflected in my knife and forgot about breakfast! It created an interesting perceptual rift due to the double plane of focus: the knife-on-the-table itself, and the reflection coming from far away.
– A significant amount of my work has originated in and around the use of household objects: from the burners of a stove, to pot bottoms, to all sorts of cast-off domestic materials. I would say I am interested in the dangers (knives, burners, electrical appliances) and subversions of domesticity… (I really resonate with some of Mona Hatoum’s sculptural installations) but I am also interested in having something utterly mundane trigger a transcendent experience.
– I am interested in working with issues of perception and exploring ‘thresholds of visual legibility’. The writer Buzz Spector once wrote that I had “conjured up a kind of photogrammar that encourages viewers to read the process through the image. So everything from my ‘Rubbings’ to ‘Knife Reflections’ (going all the way back to ‘Prime’, 1992) plays with ways that a photograph can become a highly ambiguous object. It’s both about the nature of surface and the push/pull between two and three dimensionality.
– Also, there is an undercurrent of being obsessed with the elements of nature in all of my work. It affords us a more primal reference point that challenges the linearity of language and other human constructs.
Laura Parker lives and works in California. Laura’s career spans more than three decades and her work has been widely exhibited. To see more work made by Laura Parker please visit her website: lauraparker.com
15 February 2014
Please visit Julie Fischer’s website: www.juliefischer.fr
01 February 2014 . By Tristan Hooper
The Congo has long been in the public eye. For many years, the mainstream media has spread images of genocide, famine and human rights violations to audiences the world over. Yet, despite the extent of reportage, the situation in the Congo endures as being somewhat enigmatic.
Driven to explore some of its hidden mysteries, Irish photographer Richard Mosse took the opportunity to make a number of trips to the country. Over a three-year period he captured the Congolese and the vast landscape that they inhabit. But whilst Mosse’s pictures could certainly be described as war photographs, they are rather unlike what one usually sees in contemporary conflict photography.
Mosse elected to make use of a discontinued form of infrared film for his work in Infra. Originally designed for use in aerial surveillance by the military, this specialised film was made to render camouflage useless. Natural vegetation and foliage – normally visible to the human eye in various shades of luscious green – are instead depicted in tones of magenta, verging on the psychedelic. The overall effect is quite startling; the images are both striking and curious.
These large-scale landscape photographs depict the region in a way that one feels to be looking upon some kind of alien terrain. A facile interpretation could perhaps relate the colour to that of a landscape stained with the bloodshed resulting from years of conflict. But perhaps we should look beyond the obvious and consider the more subtle possibilities inherent in Mosse’s Infra.
His decision to use this particular film is of real interest – not only because of its unique effect, but also because of its original intended purpose: designed to make the invisible visible, to show what is normally obscured and hidden from view. In employing this military technology, Mosse is perhaps attempting to peel away some of the ambiguity surrounding the region and its troubled history – in turn helping us to view the Congo differently.
The strange colour palette coerces the viewer into pondering the natural landscape – it places emphasis on the topography and fertile nature of the country. An interesting perspective as the Congo is home to an incredible glut of precious natural resources, attributes arguably at the root of the country’s problems. Despite the vast quantities of uranium, rubber and copper present in the region – providing the possibility of establishing the Congo as one of the world’s wealthiest nations – these reserves have only contributed to the state of unbalance.
Another captivating aspect is how many of the photographs depicting people within the landscape seem to perpetuate a divide between the inhabitants and the land. Often the Congolese appear at odds with the landscape, almost as if superimposed upon it.
Infra represents a potent and pronounced departure from the norms of photography concerned with war. It has often been commented that war photographs have contributed to what is known as ‘compassion fatigue’. Pictures depicting the horrors of conflict are so readily available that people have ceased to be affected by them. We are all only too familiar with the black and white reportage spawned from the Vietnam War, and more recent colour photographs from the Gulf and Afghanistan.
Mosse’s photographs demand attention; they show us something new, something to arouse our curiosity.
02 July 2013
“The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea
From the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating
Another boy was sliding up the hallway
He merged perfectly with the hallway,
He merged perfectly, the mirror in the hallway
The boy looked at Johnny, Johnny wanted to run,
but the movie kept moving as planned
The boy took Johnny, he pushed him against the locker,
He drove it in, he drove it home, he drove it deep in Johnny
The boy disappeared, Johnny fell on his knees,
started crashing his head against the locker,
started crashing his head against the locker,
started laughing hysterically
When suddenly Johnny gets the feeling he’s being surrounded by
horses, horses, horses, horses
coming in in all directions
white shining silver studs with their nose in flames,
He saw horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses.
Do you know how to pony like bony maroney
Do you know how to twist, well it goes like this, it goes like this
Baby mash potato, do the alligator, do the alligator
And you twist the twister like your baby sister
I want your baby sister, give me your baby sister, dig your baby sister
Rise up on her knees, do the sweet pea, do the sweet pee pee,
Roll down on her back, got to lose control, got to lose control,
Got to lose control and then you take control,
Then you’re rolled down on your back and you like it like that,
Like it like that, like it like that, like it like that,
Then you do the watusi, yeah do the watusi
Life is filled with holes, Johnny’s laying there, his sperm coffin
Angel looks down at him and says, “Oh, pretty boy,
Can’t you show me nothing but surrender ?”
Johnny gets up, takes off his leather jacket,
Taped to his chest there’s the answer,
You got pen knives and jack knives and
Switchblades preferred, switchblades preferred
Then he cries, then he screams, saying
Life is full of pain, I’m cruisin’ through my brain
And I fill my nose with snow and go Rimbaud,
Go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud,
And go Johnny go, and do the watusi, oh do the watusi
There’s a little place, a place called space
It’s a pretty little place, it’s across the tracks,
Across the tracks and the name of the place is you like it like that,
You like it like that, you like it like that, you like it like that,
And the name of the band is the
Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes,
Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes
Baby calm down, better calm down,
In the night, in the eye of the forest
There’s a mare black and shining with yellow hair,
I put my fingers through her silken hair and found a stair,
I didn’t waste time, I just walked right up and saw that
up there — there is a sea
up there — there is a sea
up there — there is a sea
the sea’s the possibility
There is no land but the land
(up there is just a sea of possibilities)
There is no sea but the sea
(up there is a wall of possibilities)
There is no keeper but the key
(up there there are several walls of possibilities)
Except for one who seizes possibilities, one who seizes possibilities.
I seize the first possibility, is the sea around me
I was standing there with my legs spread like a sailor
(in a sea of possibilities) I felt his hand on my knee
(on the screen)
And I looked at Johnny and handed him a branch of cold flame
(in the heart of man)
The waves were coming in like Arabian stallions
Gradually lapping into sea horses
He picked up the blade and he pressed it against his smooth throat
And let it deep in
Dip in to the sea, to the sea of possibilities
It started hardening
Dip in to the sea, to the sea of possibilities
It started hardening in my hand
And I felt the arrows of desire
I put my hand inside his cranium, oh we had such a brainiac-amour
But no more, no more, I gotta move from my mind to the area
(go Rimbaud go Rimbaud go Rimbaud)
And go Johnny go and do the watusi,
Yeah do the watusi, do the watusi …
Shined open coiled snakes white and shiny twirling and encircling
Our lives are now entwined, we will fall yes we’re together twining
Your nerves, your mane of the black shining horse
And my fingers all entwined through the air,
I could feel it, it was the hair going through my fingers,
(I feel it I feel it I feel it I feel it)
The hairs were like wires going through my body
I I that’s how I
that’s how I
(at that Tower of Babel they knew what they were after)
(they knew what they were after)
[Everything on the current] moved up
I tried to stop it, but it was too warm, too unbelievably smooth,
Like playing in the sea, in the sea of possibility, the possibility
Was a blade, a shiny blade, I hold the key to the sea of possibilities
There’s no land but the land
looked at my hands, and there’s a red stream
that went streaming through the sands like fingers,
like arteries, like fingers
(how much fits between the eyes of a horse?)
He lay, pressing it against his throat (your eyes)
He opened his throat (your eyes)
His vocal chords started shooting like (of a horse) mad pituitary glands
The scream he made (and my heart) was so high (my heart) pitched that nobody heard,
No one heard that cry,
No one heard (Johnny) the butterfly flapping in his throat,
Nobody heard, he was on that bed, it was like a sea of jelly,
And so he seized the first
(his vocal chords shot up)
(like mad pituitary glands)
It was a black tube, he felt himself disintegrate
(there is nothing happening at all)
and go inside the black tube, so when he looked out into the steep
saw this sweet young thing (Fender one)
Humping on the parking meter, leaning on the parking meter
In the sheets
there was a man
to the simple
Rock & roll
Lyrics from the song ‘Horses’ written by Patty Smith, from the album ‘Horses’ (1975).
To see more photographs by German artist Alexandra Vogt please visit her website: www.alexandravogt.de
24 June 2013
I photographed ‘Tohoku’ between 2009 and 2012.
At the same time I photographed ‘Kuragari’.
I stayed at a friend’s home.
He lives in Tohoku, in the Iwate prefecture, in Kamaishi.
One day after dinner,
He asked me,
“Have you ever seen a deer at night?”
After that we ran around the mountain by car.
But we couldn’t see them.
He said “time to call it a night and go home”.
We saw two deer watching us in the dark.
And they walked way, just like that.
I know that this darkness hasn’t changed since ancient times.
(Tatsuki Masaru, 2013)
You can also see ‘Tohoku’ on Tatsuki Masaru’s website: tatsukimasaru.com/tohoku/
15 May 2013
The Portuguese music duo Will and Dia-Sim have written a new song, ‘Old Paper Print’ to celebrate the 1st anniversary of Fauna & Flora. We are very happy and proud of this collaboration. Last summer we saw Will and Dia-Sim playing live in Vila Ruiva, in an intimate venue, and we were amazed by their music. We can’t wait for their first tour in the UK!
Lyrics: Will / Dia-Sim
Performed by: Dia-Sim
The sun is in debt to the rain
My camera collects too much grain
At night there’s no moon
It’s all foggy and dark
I sink in my room and I open my ark
And I watch one by one
My old trees my old sun
My old pictures in old celluloid
And old paper print holding time
Holding seas holding tides
Holding birds dropping food in their nests
Old paper print holding skies
Holding dust holding clouds
And the cat rolling out on the grass
I hang all these prints on the walls
(sort them by spring, winter, summer and fall)
from the floor to the ceiling I cover them all
and it feels like I’m surrounded by nature’s grand show/ old paper print holding…
02 May 2013
On the 23rd of October 2012, fine art photographer Jo Longhurst (winner of The Grange Prize 2012) gave a talk at the Manchester Museum. Her talk was called ‘What a Dog Might Tell Us: On Photography, Perfectibility, and the Aesthetics of Breed’. It was part of a bigger event, the exhibition ‘Breed: The British & their Dogs’ which also took place at the museum. Jo Longhurst’s presentation was introduced by writer and art historian Carol Mavor.
Fauna & Flora went to Manchester and filmed Jo’s exceptional presentation.