Joan Fontcuberta, Through the Looking Glass



Detail of a  projection of 180 images on digital screen, accompanied as a bonus by a framed digital photography.

Installation presented at the 38 WILSON Platform, from May to July 2009, on the occasion of the publication of “Joan Fontcuberta”, by Clément Chéroux, curator at the Centre Pompidou,  Ed. Photopoche, Paris, 2009.

[slideshow]©Joan Fontcuberta


The Dance of Mirrors

Identity and Photographic Flows on the Internet

By Joan Fontcuberta

… Nothing better than a mirror to evoke the photographic act. Oliver Wendell Holmes–doctor, man of letters, and amateur photographer–had the precocious intuition to baptize the daguerreotype as “a mirror with a memory” in an article that appeared in The
Atlantic Monthly
in June of 1859. Since then, the mirror and memory appear as pillars of photographicness: the mirror appeals to the gaze and the image; memory its preservation.

Nonetheless, given that a mirror only takes on meaning when someone looks at himself in one, the history of mirrors is the same as the history of vision, of conscience and of knowledge. Paradoxically, reflecting surfaces have served both to reveal reality as well as to hide it and, in consequence, mirrors have made a place for themselves in religion, folklore, literature, art, magic, and science. Mirrors facilitate empiric observation, but the simultaneously transform into windows of the imagination and the illusory: they translate, in short, the insurmountable contradiction of human nature…. what Barthes later called intermittence, that is to say, the game between what is shown and what is hidden)…

… In his story Animales de los espejos (Animals that Live in Mirrors), Borges recounts that in bygone days the world of men and the world of mirrors were not, as they are now, incommunicado. “One night, the people of the mirror invaded the earth. Their strength was great, but after bloody battles the magical arts of the Yellow Emperor prevailed. He repulsed the invaders, imprisoned them in the mirrors and bade them repeat, as a sort of dream, all the actions of men.” The mirror therefore encapsulated a symmetrical and hidden world, whose access is tempting. Therefore, when Lewis Carroll makes Alice cross the mirror, in the second volume of her adventures, he is making her enter a universe which is even more marvelous than that wonderland already visited in her first forays. Alice doesn’t want to recognize herself in the mirror, she doesn’t want the mirror to show her the truth at all, as in the legend of Snow White and the witch jealous of her beauty: what she wants is to escape into its fiction. In this case, Alice doesn’t reach the magic through a rabbit’s den, but rather by passing through the threshold of the mirror, which transports her to an enigmatic reality where everything, what we believe and what we know, is seen distorted.

… The change of millennium has been accompanied by a techno-scientific and cultural tsunami which has brutally shaken up social behaviors. The agents around which one could bind the change would be (in a reductionist but illuminating summary) on the one hand, the increasingly powerful computing systems and, on the other, the preeminence of the internet as a framework of universal communication.

… This panorama accompanies the emergence of a new graphic genre : in the wake of the tradition of portraits with mirrors, the confluence of the internet and the proliferation of digital cameras (as well as cell phones with integrated cameras) have brought about a tremendously popular modality of images, as evidenced by blogs and internet fora: the ubiquitous self portraits before a mirror made by all types of people, but especially by young people and teens (who without a doubt are the natural users of the internet because they have grown up in a time when the internet was already part of the landscape)… The neologism reflectogram is proposed here as a name for the images which fulfill these particulars… Mirrors and cameras come to define the panoptic and scopic nature of our society: everything is inclined to an absolute vision and everyone is ruled by the pleasure of looking. It would be a case of disproving the myth of Big Brother of its centralized, authoritarian and repressive idiosyncrasy to, on the contrary, open it to a democratic, voluntary, and participative system. We find this frame of interpretation acceptable and continue investigating.

There exist hundreds of thousands (surely millions) of reflectograms circulating on different types of pages which, as containers, determine the nature of the contents… We think of portals such as Facebook, Twitter, Tuenti, Meetic, Badoo, or MySpace, true tools of social interaction, where the traffic in reflectograms abounds, filtered by the codifications inherent to different groups and collectives.
There, to take and share photos forms part of the games of seduction and of the rituals of the youngest tribes: the more photos, the more glamour, the more diversion, the more “life”…

The installation Through the Mirror connects with strategies of accumulation which affect questions of recycling, collection, and
archiving (as, for example, those carried out by Hans-Peter Feldman, Dick Jewell, Joachim Schmid, Patrick McCoy, Erik Kessels, and Penelope Umbrico, among others).

This project, in fact, aspires to go beyond decontextualization and appropriation as radical antiproductive strategies. It establishes a diagnosis of the contemporary conscience in the age of mirrors (the internet is an enormous mirror of the world), and confirms that the most genuine, most coherent, gesture of creation does not consist in making images, but rather in knowing how to give their meaning to those which exist. With which authority (the artistic-ness) is no longer subsidiary to the physical act of production (of images, products, or whatever), but rather in the introduction of the values which they can contain or could receive: values which underlie or which are projected upon them. But this is the toll to pay for trying to extend the rights of the audience-author and the freedom of expression, as for also trying to face our limits of tolerance (for example, in terms of scandal or social alarm) and the current legal framework (for example, in terms of royalties and image rights) with the contradictions that we meet the current development of culture and technology.

Anyway, once upon a time it was the future and in it the history books illustrated their cover with reflectograms. To be continued…


Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, France / Cap-Rouge, Quebec, Canada, June 2010

©Joan Fontcuberta

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