The Miracle of Dolphin-Surfing, Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta from Karelia, Miracles & Co, 2002
Cercophitecus Icarocornu from the Fauna series by Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera, 1985 © Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera
Scientists recently found fossil evidence of a species closely resembling the mermaid; known as the Hydropithecus, or “water monkey,” the creature is estimated to have lived approximately 18 million years ago. This, of course, is a lie, birthed from the imagination of Catalan photographer Joan Fontcuberta, who over the course of his decades’ long career, has fabricated photographic evidence of fictional animals, plants, landscapes, constellations, and religious practices.
Growing up under Spanish dictator Francisco Franco Bahamonde, Fontcuberta was struck by the tenacity of propagandist imagery in influencing the masses, and his early career in advertising further revealed to him the ways in which we accept photographs as unadulterated proof of that which we cannot see face-to-face. As a means of exposing the subjective—and potentially deceitful— nature of the photograph, the poker-faced artist has exhibited in museums and published journals and hard-covered science textbooks under the guise of being a wildlife photographer.
In Sirens, the artist manufactures mermaid fossils, and in Constellations, he presents photograms taken of a dirty windshield as exquisite starscapes. For Orogenesis, he enters misinformation into landscape imaging software, and for Herbarium and Fauna, he constructs sculptures of make-believe animals and plants. Karelia: Miracles & Co documents an imaginary undercover journey to a Finnish monastery where monks learn to perform miracles. In each of these impressive visual exercises, Fontcuberta makes obvious the dangers of photography and our unfaltering faith in the medium. Many people have exited exhibitions of his wholeheartedly believing that he had discovered the lost journals of a dead German zoologist.
Despite the warnings of the work, there is an unabashed glee that wells beneath the earnest, sober-seeming silver gelatin prints. Seeing these mythical organisms, fossilized in imagined terrain, we want desperately to believe that such creatures roamed the earth before the conception of mankind. Perhaps it is a wistful, naive desire that compels us to engage so fully with the lie, to allow ourselves to be so taken with the products of human fancy.
Alopex Stultus from the Fauna series by Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera, 1987 © Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera
Centaurus Neandertalensis from the Fauna series by Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera, 1987 © Joan Fontcuberta and Pere Formiguera
Giliandria Escoliforcia from the Herbarium series by Joan Fontcuberta, 1984 © Joan Fontcuberta
Mullerpolis Plunfis from the Herbarium series by Joan Fontcuberta, 1983 © Joan Fontcuberta
Braohypoda Frustrata from the Herbarium series by Joan Fontcuberta, 1984 © Joan Fontcuberta
Hydropithecus of Cerro de San Vicente, 2006 from the Sirens series by Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta
Hydropithecus of Sanary, 2012 from the Sirens series by Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta
The Miracle of Levitation, 2002, Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta
Orogenesis: Watkins, 2004 from the Orogenesis series by Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta
Bodyscape (Heel), 2004 from the Orogenesis series by Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta
MN 27 Vulpecula (NGC 6853), 1993 from the Constellations series by Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta
Mu Draconis (Mags 5.7/5.7), 1993 from the Constellations series by Joan Fontcuberta © Joan Fontcuberta
Images © Joan Fontcuberta 2014