Since the mid-1980s, Joan Fontcuberta has used photography — and all of its contextual trappings — to sow strong doubt and distrust about the authority and veracity of photography itself and the multitude of media that rely on it.

What makes Fontcuberta (a life-long iconoclast) so effective and so engaging, is his sharp wit, biting humor, stinging intelligence, and seamless technique, with which he infuses all of his elaborate provocations.

He co-opts all forms of media and public communication. In essence, he creates modern-day Trojan-horse-type bodies of work and presents them, deadpan, in scholarly journals, hard-bound “scientific” books, large-scale legitimate museum exhibitions, and as newsworthy “discoveries” that fool even the most professional of experts, journalists, and their readers.

Nothing is sacred, and everything is target for his scathing investigations. He undermines mass media (in all of its guises), scientific investigations, technological breakthroughs, annotated academia, the art world, religion and miracles, medicine, and of course, political and governmental propaganda.

It is difficult to simply characterize his work, because he continues to amaze and confound and amuse with an ever-evolving array of techniques and approaches.

He is a university professor, an author, artist, photographer, curator, lecturer and all-round provocateur. His tireless energy and prolific output amaze anyone who has come into contact with him and/or his work.

We are delighted to present an exclusive 20-minute in-depth audio interview with Joan Fontcuberta, recorded in late 2005 in Paris. In person, he is every bit as engaging and articulate as his writing, and this interview offers some valuable insight into his motivations and approaches.

We are able to present a retrospective sampling of his work here as well, thanks to the generosity of the artist. The 34 pieces here represent just eight series: Miracles & Co. (documenting the miraculous powers of a secluded religious sect); Orogenesis (which "tricks" military satellite terrain-imaging software to create images derived from paintings and photographs rather than satellite imagery); Herbarium and Fauna (botanical and biological findings of previously undiscovered bizarre plants and animals); Sputnik (mythical story of a Russian cosmonaut who is still lost in space), Pin Zhuang (when a US spy plane crashed in China, the Chinese re-assembled the pieces into a variety of working spacecraft); Hemograms (exploring identity through blood and its self-expression as abstract art); and a series of photomosaics using photo-imaging freeware and Google’s image search engine to re-create popular media images (as usual, the supporting text often contains the “real” message).

He is the author/creator of more than 20 books, most of which are, unfortunately, out-of-print. My personal favorites include The Artist and the Photograph, which “proves” that Picasso, Dali, Miro and other famous painters actually used photographs as the original source material for some of their greatest masterpieces. That work created a real shock and backlash from the art world, because so many people believed it was true. (Serious museums joined in the joke and presented the "original" photos side by side with the actual paintings, and even experts in their fields got duped — and then angry).

His latest book, "Landscapes without Memory", is published by Aperture.


—Jim Casper