miércoles, 28 de enero de 2015


Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Today Friday January 28th, 2015 has taken place the premiere of the Gastropoda picture exhibition by Joan Fontcuberta at La Fábrica bookshop gallery in Madrid (Spain) in an act which started at 20:15 h and was attended by the author Joan Fontcuberta himself, Robert Pledge (director of the prestigious photographic agency Contact Press and one of the most important picture editors in history) and Alberto Anaut (director of La Fábrica Editorial, director of PhotoEspaña and editor of Matador magazine), along with an abundant presence of public who overcrowded the place and relished an unforgettable event.

After the presentation speeches by Alberto Anaut

and Robert Pledge,

it came to Joan Fontcuberta to speak, and his address featuring great significance and weight was attentively listened to by every attendee.

First and foremost, Joan Fontcuberta explained that he has never been a critic of documentary photography or an attacker of the testimonial function of photography, because from a diachronic viewpoint photography has mostly been documentary and the biggest image heritage is documentary.

Following it, the author elaborated on the meaning of documentary, referring to ´ eye at a distance ´, that´s to say, to send a photojournalist with a camera and this one will make us (being thousands of kilometers away) know through his sight the events he is photographing.

But now and then that eye at a distance needs an ophthalmologist revising that sight, that vision.

He states that his labour and trajectory as a photographer wouldn´t have a raison d´être if there hadn´t been 175 years of photography yielding remarkable documentary works, and that he hasn´t put forward the subject of photography death, but the death of the death.

Photography must die to be able to resurrect a third day. Id est, photography needs to regenerate itself and that´s what is happening. He doesn´t reject the whole photographic past at all, but claims that instead of raising opposites we should incorporate and add, and the post-photography, the works that are currently being made are enriching the already existing photographic heritage.

One of the attendees to the presentation of Gastropoda exhibition at La Fábrica watches two of the pictures by Joan Fontcuberta.

It was then when Joan Fontcuberta began setting forth a broad outline of his Gastropoda project, which was born from an anecdote and personal experience, since he lives in a house located in a rural area in the outskirts of Barcelona, surrounded by nature and with a high level of humidity, so the postman leaves the correspondence inside a letter box located in the outer zone of the railing, and when he is out because of travels and is late in picking it up, the wild snails flock in and eat the paper of the museums and galleries invitation cards he is sent.

Those invitation cards often bear impressed on them famous photographs or pictures of works of art that the snails voracity turn into more or less recognizable remnants.

It was then when after pondering over what was happening, he decided to use a Zen strategy (taking advantage of the enemy´s force to transform it into creative potential on his own benefit) and opted for not collecting the mail quickly but letting it mature, that the snails did their digestion and that a certain dialectic was posed between the leftover image and the original one.

Therefore, what we have here is a subtractive dynamics of creation, unlike a drawer, a painter or a photographer who create through addition, starting with a blank sheet of paper to which brushstrokes are progressively added, or by means of an unexposed negative being exposed by the light striking on the silver halides or a digital sensor capturing photons.

But in Gastropoda the point of departure is an original image, whose different zones are eaten by the voracious snails, until reaching a moment in which Fontcuberta deliberately interrupts their ingestion and there´s still a degree of abstraction, identification and recognition of the initial image.

Alberto Anaut talking to Pilar Citoler, one of the most important collectors of contemporary art and photography in Europe, who also attended the premiere of Joan Fontcuberta´s Gastropoda exhibition.

And that´s precisely what Fontcuberta states to be interested in, to tackle that kind of balance between deterioration and what´s still a documentary testimony of the original stuff, for the obtention of such type of results in autonomus oeuvres making dialogue with the audiences. And the interaction between spectator and image is something fairly interesting and valuable.

But as a creator, visual artist and photographer, the author stresses that he needs a certain working methodology useful for him as a guideline to follow, as a roadmap, and one of his major keynotes has been considering images as living beings, as biological entities and hence subject to a metabolism.

That´s to say, images are begotten, are born, develop, grow up, reach their youth, mature, age, go into decline and die, to restart the life cycle.

And as an instance of it he puts a picture made by Henri Cartier-Bresson appearing reproduced on the exhibition invitation card arriving at his mailbox, that image being subsequently eaten by the snails. It´s a way to show how more than being based on a real experience of nature, images are nowadays supported on precedent images belonging to our visual culture, on which we rest our knowledge, the information we have, etc.

The interaction between observers and the assortment of sixteen photographs (painstakingly made digital prints in 75 x 100 cm on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308 grammes) by Joan Fontcuberta constituting the Gastropoda exhibition inaugurated today at la Fábrica was an unremitting constant, such as usually happens with the works of this photographer (Prize Octavius Hill of the Fotografisches Akademie GDL of Germany in 1988, Chevalier de L´Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of the French Ministry of Culture 1994, National Prize of Photography of Spain in 1998 and Hasselblad International Prize of Photography 2013) whose oeuvres never leave anybody indifferent, as well as being an outstanding humanist, communicator, philosopher and think tank in himself, but always without an electron of haughtiness and with a huge level of self-commitment.

Fontcuberta articulates his criterion that metaphorically it could be said that what snails do is to prove us that presently images have to do above all with other images, more than with reality, that Plato wasn´t wrong and that reality is out there, but there are some shadows in between.

On the other hand, there´s a further side in the aforementioned roadmap he wishes to highlight: the way in which within the frame of this post photographic stage, one of the most compelling questions to reconsider or critically revise is the notion of authorship.

Id est, Who is the author of the images? The snails, the man, both of them at the same time, nobody?

Joan Fontcuberta in a lively chat with the numerous attendance after finishing his address

Likewise, he lays out a redefinition of the essence of being an artist, creator and author, in which the making of the image is sidelined and the important thing is to get the meaning prevail, a context in which the author wouldn´t be the one begetting the images, but that one conferring meaning to them.

Furthermore, he admits that somehow he takes advantage of the snails, exploiting them to yield this kind of works, albeit it is he who with his gesture vindicates that result which is pure rubbish, pure waste, pure shredded paper, giving it a visibility, a certain consistency and a meaning through the adoption of some images.

Needless to say that Joan Fontcuberta, with his refined and sharp-witted sense of humor at times truly devastating but including frequent backgrounds of reality, proclaims to Cosmos that Gastropoda exhibition is an ode to Slow Food, as opposite to Fast Food, celerity and urgency as defining traits of our time, in which it seems that everything must be immediate, even the food, so watching the calmness of these quiet snails eating and getting the most out of these pictures is something very interesting and a role model.

Besides, during his speech, the author revealed a little known side of his Gastropoda exhibitions: the climax of some of them was a performance ingesting the photofagi snails.

One of the attendees to the inauguration of Gastropoda exhibition at La Fábrica walks by a large LCD screen where steadily appeared gasteropods being the main characters of the display, which once again reflected the visual universe of the work of this photographer in which the concepts of truth and fiction are always intertwined.

To wrap up, Joan Fontcuberta expressed his conviction that images are something very serious, since they don´t only represent a world but make up world and thereupon they affect us, in such a way that to know how to think the images, analyze which is the effect they bring about in us is not a merely aesthetic question, but an epistemological one, because our life depends on images.

Thus, to devote time, energy and intelligence to do and think of images is something highly significant, because currently all of us are photographers and create images, but many of us keep on being illiterate as to images, and this is an unfinished business.

© Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza