Spanish photographer Joan Fontcuberta uses a computer program (originally developed for military purposes) to produce his Orogenesis series. The program is designed to take topographical maps and render them as 3-dimensional views of the terrain – the idea being that one could use the program to get an idea of what a region would look like in the first person without actually being there to photograph it.
Fontcuberta subverts this by inserting his own self-referential “noise” into the process. Instead of feeding a map into the program, he inputs a photographic landscape – he has archly chosen Stieglitz, Atget, and other masters as his source material. The program reads these photos as if they were topographical maps and generates its first-person representation of the landscape as programmed—a line of black may become a river, a patch of silvery sky in the photo is read as a gentle hillside by the program.
The fruit of this mischief are these postcard-perfect renderings of triumphant mountains and romantic sunsets. They are compelling, realistic, and picturesque – and they are fictitious. What is interesting about these fictions, however, is that they are neither the imagination of the artist nor the imagination of the machine at work – if you can imagine a computer having an imagination – a military computer, at that! They are causally connected to some actual landscape – but they do not represent that landscape. And because they are the work of a process rather than an imagination, it is questionable whether the word “fiction” applies – any more than it might apply to the landscapes Weston produced when he began his mechanical processes of representation, with the click of a shutter.
Joan Fontcuberta was born in 1955 in Barcelona, where he continues to live and work. He has exhibited extensively at museums and galleries in the US, Europe, and Japan, and has been associated with Zabriskie Gallery since 1981. His work is in numerous institutions, including the New York Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.