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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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