Who? Born in Barcelona in 1955, Joan Fontcuberta was a youth of the Franco dictatorship. The influence of the authoritarian regime, combined with an early career in advertising, left the Catalan photographer disillusioned with the traditional postulations of photography. What ensued would become his signature: a conceptual interrogation into the veracity of the photographic medium, in which he questioned the perception of images as being accurate or "real". Fontcuberta advocated an anarchy to convention, iterating that: "it is the responsibility of photographers to not contribute with anaesthetic images but rather to provide images that shake consciousness. My work tries to implement a pedagogy for critical doubt."
What? Part of the Catalan Tercentenary programme – in which four inspiring creatives are celebrated across Europe – Stranger Than Fiction is the first major UK exhibition of Joan Fontcuberta. Collating and presenting six independent narratives from the photographer's fantastical portfolio, including dioramas, photographs, film, and related ephemera, the exhibition also marks what will be the second show in the Science Museum's Media Space gallery. In conjunction with the exhibition, Fontcuberta's acclaimed series of essays, Pandora's Camera, are set to be translated and published in English for the first time.
Why? On the surface, Fontcuberta's work is whimsical and humorous, entertaining his observer with curious subjects and preposterous scenarios. Yet, its origins are grounded in a visceral cynicism towards the believability and manipulation of the photographic image. Speaking of Fontcuberta, co-curator Greg Hobson said, "Fontcuberta's work is astonishing. It combines articulate and persuasive storytelling with a deep questioning of photography's role in the understanding of our world." Indeed, his work continues to grow in prevalence, resonating with a contemporary audience who, more than ever before, encounter images tailored to seduce.
Joan Fontcuberta: Stranger Than Fiction is at The Science Museum until November 9.
Text by Abigail Gurney-Read