Joan Fontcuberta’s best-known works examine the truthfulness of photography. Fontcuberta describes himself as self-taught in photography, and considers himself a conceptual artist using photography.
He states that the propaganda and dictatorship of Spain under Franco in his first 20 years led him to be sceptical about authority, which is reflected in his work. His background in communications and advertising led him to contemplate the relationship between photography and truth, and Fontcuberta believes that humour is an important component of his work.
Fontcuberta's works are held in the permanent collections of many museums, including Art Institute of Chicago; George Eastman House, Rochester; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Sputnik - The Story
According to Joan Fontcuberta, this extensively researched book details the life of Ivan Istochnikov, a Russian cosmonaut who disappeared during the flight of Soyuz 2 in 1968 and was then removed from history by the Soviet bureaucracy. Photographs of Istochnikov were retouched to remove his likeness, his family was moved to Siberia, and his friends and colleagues were threatened.
On October 25, 1968 the Soyuz 2 was launched from the Baikonur aeronautics center with the cosmonaut-pilot Colonel Ivan Istochnikov on board. The spacecraft was to be the target of a space manoeuvre carried out by the Soyuz 3 which, piloted by the Lieutenant Colonel Giorgi Beregovoi, was going to attempt an orbital docking of the two capsules. In those days, the United States and the USSR were racing against the clock to be the first to reach the Moon. Political pressure prevailed over technical considerations and the space race had already claimed some victims. For example, the flight of the Soyuz 1. Starting off badly, it eventually ended in tragedy when the cosmonaut Komarov crashed on his return due to a malfunction of the parachute. For the next mission, precautions were carried out to the extreme and all signs pointed to a satisfactory result. But it was not to be.
After a failed attempt at space docking, the Soyuz 2 and the Soyuz 3 drifted apart and lost contact with each other. When they found each other the next day, Istochnikov had disappeared and his module showed signs of having been hit by a meteorite. In truth, what had really happened was never known for certain and the enigma inspired a series of conjectures. However, the Soviet authorities were determined not to admit to an another failure. They came up with a solution appropriate to their style by declaring that the Soyuz 2 had been an unmanned flight. Officially, Ivan Istochnikov had never existed and to prevent anyone from contradicting this version, they confined his family, blackmailed his colleagues, manipulated files and retouched photographs. Reality had surpassed the most fantastic science fiction plot. However when fear ended, so did the pact of silence. With Perestroika, the secret documents were declassified and investigators could reconstruct the course of events. With the information currently available, the Sputnik Foundation asked the academic Piotr Muraveinik to curate a touring exhibition which would tell the story of this thrilling and tragic episode in the history of cosmonautics.
Sputnik - The Reality
The story of the Soyuz II is an elaborate hoax, entirely fabricated by Joan Foncuberta. The photographs accompanying this book show the original photographs of Ivan Istochnikov with family and colleagues, and then the apparently retouched versions where Istochnikov has been removed. In fact, the photographs without Istochnikov are the original photographs, in the retouched images Fontcuberta has actually added his own image, as the heroic cosmanaut Istochnikov, to the photograph. Several lines of evidence available since the first exhibition of Sputnik in 1997 in Madrid suggested that the story and artifacts form an elaborate hoax:
· The name ‘Ivan Istochnikov’ is a Russian translation of Joan Fontcuberta's name; in specific, ‘Joan’ and ‘Ivan’ both translate to ‘John’ and Fontcuberta and Istochnikov both mean ‘hidden fountain’.
· The photographs of Istochnikov show Fontcuberta's face.
· The official website for the Sputnik exhibition in Madrid in 1997 relates the story of Ivan Istochnikov and the Soyuz II but has the words ‘PURE FICTION’ in light red on a dark red background at the bottom of the webpage.
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