[Image: Orogenesis: Man Ray/Duchamp, 2006, by Joan Fontcuberta. Courtesy of Zabriskie Gallery, via the ICP].
“Rather than venturing out into nature,” the International Center of Photography explains, Spanish photographer Joan Fontcuberta “creates plausible, even spectacular landscapes using Terragen, a computer program originally created for military and scientific uses that turns maps into images of three-dimensional terrain.”
Fontcuberta’s work was featured in the ICP’s show Ecotopia, alongside work by David Maisel and Simon Norfolk.
The above image features “a disorienting mass of fog-bound outcroppings,” generated from a photograph of Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass, taken by Man Ray.
If the inputs can be that random, however, I have only to point out that the imaginative – and technical – possibilites are literally endless. Whole world-surfaces could be generated from tourist snapshots; photos of Manhattan turned into the undersea canyons of a distant sea; Fontcuberta’s work itself used to produce even more landscapes, three or four times removed from their source material.
Even more intriguingly, though, if you could reverse-engineer Fontcuberta’s photographs to find the original image by Man Ray mathematically encoded somewhere deep inside all that repetitive geometry of detail, what would happen if you applied the same analysis to, say, your family photo album…? Only to discover, lurking there, within those dusty prints, something monstrous and ill-formed, some original hidden mystery from which you and your loved ones derived.
Leading me to speculate, on a fairly unrelated note, that the great conspiracy plot of the future – filmmakers take note! – will involve some guy in an apartment building spending all this time reverse-engineering political photographs and news reels – presidents and heads of state and ambassadors and kings – only to realize, as the camera pulls away revealing his shaking hands, that deep beneath all those images is a…