Photographer Joan Fontcuberta lectures about revenge in postphotography
A woman is walking on a beach when she discovers a corpse floating along its shore. She screams irrationally for a few seconds, then reaches into her pocket to take out her camera phone. She snaps a few shots, still screaming, throwing in some pieces of idling seaweed to heighten the photographic effect. She then turns the camera around to take a selfie with the corpse. The commercial concludes with a line in Korean: “There are always interesting things to be photographed.”
For Catalan photographer and curator Joan Fontcuberta, this commercial is a brief but unsettling glimpse of the larger function of photography in society. His
lecture, “Postphotography: The Revenge of Images” was given on Feb. 10 as part of the “Speaking of Photography” series staged by Concordia’s faculty of fine arts.
Fontcuberta has built his four-decade career manipulating images to reflect stories and events that never happened. His jarring lecture explored the uses and evolution of a medium that we inherently rely on to present the truth. He believes that photographs don’t merely represent life, but somehow become it. As a result, images can be used as propaganda, a visual weapon, and we as a society should learn to deactivate the power.
The commercial, he believes, outlines three important aspects of today’s “photographic process”: the documentary approach, the attempt to improve and make the image more subjective, and the selfie—the act of inscribing onself into a scene.
“Images are not innocent, they are tricks,” Fontcuberta said, outlining what he calls the “mastication” of photography—where the use of techniques like collage and distortion aggress the image and complicate the perception of reality.
Fontcuberta also touched on the evolution of the documentary urge. In modern society, people use photography as autobiography and a sharing of experience. He states that society is becoming scopic, where we are interested in the gesture of photographing more than the result. Using a number of inane selfies—which Fontcuberta claims are an anthropological fascination—taken at Auschwitz, he states that we are no longer interested in the past, but in the nostalgia of the present.
“Images were treasures—now they’re banal,” he said. This inundation of images and proliferation of digital media has established us as a voyeuristic society: one with so many pictures available for viewing that no time to view them.
Fontcuberta believes that the examination of photography has unavoidably become an intersection between the aesthetics of excess and the aesthetics of access.