The role of the documentary in the field of contemporary art is one of the most controversial debates to reflect about reality and truth. The assumption that culturally we have offered to documentary material as a testimony of real facts has some of its roots in the political and economical conditions which back up their values of credibility. Those fields bases on charts, surveys and all these sources of information filtered by the spectrum of authentic documents of production, have attracted the attraction of the artists in the recent years.
Joan Fontcuberta in 1997 made a project called Sputnik, with this one he explored and put in doubt many of the principles of the documentary as a representation of the reality. This project is about a soviet cosmonaut who disappears in a mission, so the government covers up this failed mission in order to keep its authority, towards the media and basically its main competitor in the space career the USA.
Fontcuberta in this photographic work explores different aspects of the documentary issues. The first one is the presence of the narrator; Ivan Istochnikov the protagonist of this was launched by the Baikonour aeronautics center, however this mission was deleted from the files of the Soviet Union due this story did not project the appropriate image that Soviet Union wanted to disseminate. Fontcuberta starts associating his photographic series playing the role as a researcher, who wants to unveil the true behind a political complot.
Then it he is uncovering something must be true due it if has already been kept apart from the public domain, makes this story more credible. Here he used documents, papers articles and interviews that were supposedly erased and retouched to keep the massive historical cover-up. Nichols in his text Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary, states how revealing moments that he called “story time” reinforce and establishes the sense of the everyday life. In other words using models that the mass media receptor is used to identify, engages the story with it’s frequently participation with the media. Another element of these photomontages is that in every picture the protagonist appears in public activities where the crowd serves of background. This is other observation that Nichols has highlighted in his text the presence of the camera “on the scene” this works as a testimony of the story, the observes that were there in the place at the same time that occurred the action, this argument adds a value of reality, the researcher has witnesses, this means that other were involved in this event, the community participation provides a broad view of the facts, their experiences, comments and experiences put emphasis to the social performance that represents for a local community an devastating event.
Another recourse that Fontcuberta employs to showcase his project is the representation of the typicality, the photos are recreating simple actions such as photos of the astronaut before setting off his journey, shaking hands with his colleagues, receiving a medal from his local council and other activities that we could not imagine been faked or simulated as they are part of our everyday life.
Doubting in documentary representation of course this is nothing new as sais Hito Steyerl, but what I wanted to pint out in this post is how the photographic practice can be displayed in another way, using the conceptual ground, to construct a discourse outside of its own territory. In a world surrounded by thousands of millions of photos and the digital possibilities or the digital era, photographic problems might be discussed through the thoughts of other structures, in this point philosophy and theoretical stuff is a source to renew this technological platform that is facing the same dilemmas that previously painting has experimented. A way of reinvent the notion and the path of its exercise.