Joan Fontcuberta workshop April 10th 2019

When this was originally advertised, I thought that the price was too high and that I would rather go to the talk in the evening.

Five days before the event, a reminder came round that there were a few places left. Fontcuberta’s book ‘Camera lucida’ is one that I can read over and over again because it is so dense with ideas, observations and insights. My favourite is ‘The lens has become incidental to the capturing of an image.’ (Fontcuberta p 8). What I mainly love about the man is his humour both in his writing and his ideas – and that is quite rare in photographers. Thinking that I would never have the opportunity to hear and ask questions of him again, I signed up. I left just after 7 o’clock & travelled to Bristol where I joined 3 other OCA students in the morning and a further 3 in the evening talk.

The main points I listed from his workshop were the following:

  1. How we communicate our ideas is crucial to our practice.
  2. We are simultaneously consumers and producers of images which are crucial in all facets of our lives and therefore images are central to all we do.
  3. We have a responsibility to consider that we are adding to the masses of images already out there. Are images in an age of post-photography becoming trivial? Whereas in the age of photography, they had a value , both cultural and economic whereas today, their commercial / commodity value is negligible.
  4. Memory was an obsession vis-a-vis photos but that is no longer the case and images are purely indexical.
  5. Photography can be seen in terms of the dichotomy of writing as opposed to language: writing is in the hands of the experts, whereas language is natural and spontaneous. I am not sure I agree with this view because there are degrees of writing and language: they are both expressive but they also have degrees of expression: is JF saying that complex writing is valued more than complex language? He was saying that the ontological nature of photography today is different from what it was pre-1990.
  6. He compared the life of the photo to a living thing because it has a birth, a maturing period, a dying and a re-starting. It is processed and seen in different places: a PC, a wallet, a book, a building or an album, and it takes on a different role depending on where it is seen, and its significance is determined by the architectural or cultural environment. The same photo in different contexts has different meanings & the final result of each image is determined by the context in which it sits.
  7. Photos never stand alone: the audience finishes / completes the work. The institutional platforms on which they stand also influence their impact. In the 1950s, for example, photography imposed truths – they assumed an inalienable authority.
  8. To JF, failures are more important than successful projects because you learn from them.
  9. Traumatised / damaged photographs: not of traumas but photographs which had sustained trauma – either through environmental or physical damage. To JF it is arrogance to think that we can capture history or a moment in time for an eternity through photographs: photographs are traumatised and therefore no longer capture that moment in time – they undergo changes. Capturing beauty in a traumatised image can be seen as a failure.
  10. Fraud vs Fake: a fake educates people on fraud. JF’s work, Fauna, for example, made up of constructed animals, tests the credulity of people when they see images in certain contexts.

A super romp through his methods and methodology – great fun.

The workshops:

Two sessions on taking an image, applying 5 different narratives to it and adding other images – which we had chosen, to complete the narrative. The second workshop involved taking 2 of his images, adding others to them and devising another narrative.

This was a fun exercise, particularly the second one which saw us paired up with people we did not know & coming up with a story. Our group made up a narrative on transmogrification & the general consensus was that it was a very successful story and combination of ideas.

Showing our work:

We had a chance during the workshops to present our work for JF to comment on. Having just come back from a very concentrated time of reviews in Format, I could not go through it all again, so I made up my own surreal image made up from the flotsam and jetsam I had collected on the beach the previous evening:

Fish dish.

I tried to make it in the style of JF. It made him smile.

Books by JF I would like to access: Herbarium; Fauna. I would also like to investigate the Japanese photographer Araki.

The evening talk:

After having heard the evening talk, I was very glad I had attended the morning’s workshop as the one hour merely gave him the chance to go through 4 fo his projects and there was not much scope for anything else. I was very pleased that I had not made the 4hour trip just to hear that.

The one element I picked up from his talk which I had not done in the morning was his conclusion of how fragile interpretations can be of individual as well as group photographs. How much can influence how we receive images depending on where we are.

Personal reflection on the day:

+ It was great to reconcile the living person with his writing, style and imaginative projects.

+ I loved developing a narrative from the images because I can then apply the thinking to my image making.

-ve: Nothing.

2 thoughts on “A day with Joan Fontcuberta

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