Joan Fontcuberta: Stranger Than Fiction
23 July – 9 November 2014
The first major UK exhibition by the award-winning Catalan artist, whose work questions the use of the photographic image as evidence.
Joan Fontcuberta describes photography as 'a tool to negotiate our idea of reality'. He sees it that it is the responsibility of photographers 'to contribute not with anaesthetic images but rather to provide images that shake consciousness'.
Growing up in Barcelona under the Franco dictatorship, Fontcuberta developed a skeptical approach to the truthfulness of photographic images, which were used in propaganda for the regime. An early career in advertising furthered his understanding that photography was not a form of documentary, but an important storytelling tool.
Now an artist, teacher and writer, Fontcuberta's work combines reality with fiction in order to challenge the authority of photography. He argues that, like any other image, a photograph has been constructed by its creator and his playful experiments teach us that we shouldn't always just accept what we see. He has received a host of prestigious accolades for these projects; including the Hasselblad International Award in Photography.
The artist has co-curated the exhibition alongside the National Media Museum's Greg Hobson, and it features some of his best-known works, including photographs, film, dioramas, scientific reports and related ephemera.
On display are photographs from Foncuberta's infamous Fauna series, created in collaboration with the writer and photographer Pere Formiguera. The series claimed to be the rediscovered long-lost archives of German zoologist Dr. Peter Ameisenhaufen, who disappeared mysteriously in 1955 – but was in fact a hoax.
Presented in 1988 at the Museum of Modern Art, the Doctor's archives appeared to contain a number of unusual animals; for example a monkey with a unicorn-like horn on its head and wings and a snake with 12 feet. Evidence included photographs of the animals both in their natural habitats and in laboratory situations; detailed field notes, both in the original German and English translations; skeletal X-rays and dissection drawings; tapes of the animals' cries, and in one case, an actual stuffed specimen.
The exhibition was shown in England, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Canada and the United States, with fake animals varying according to local legends, traditions, and superstitions. The artists dropped subtle clues as to the inauthenticity of these images, such as were that the name of Ameisenhaufen's research assistant, Hans von Kubert sounded remarkable similar to Joan Fontcuberta. Fontcuberta said that responses ranged from 'people who understand that it is a farce and appreciate the satire and the humour of it, to people who understand it's a farce and are angry at you for trying to fool them, to people who believe it and are angry, to people who believe it and are delighted'.