The Photocaptionist is an editorial and curatorial platform that promotes the practice of concubinage between photography, fiction and words, operating both on-and-offline. Authors of the past, contemporary and emerging writers, critics and photographers ‘meet’ on photocaptionist.com for a photo-literary feast.
The project is loosely inspired by Bertold Brecht’s 1955 Kriegsfibel [War Primer], a unique work of art that introduced a new literary genre, the fotogramm (photo-epigram), where he combined poetry and news photography to unmask the true nature of war in a capitalist society. It is also informed by Walter Benjamin’s 1934 essay ‘The Author as Producer’, where he stressed the importance of the caption to rescue the picture from ‘the ravages of modishness and confer upon it a revolutionary use value’.
The name derives from a dream that our founding director Federica Chiocchetti had in 2012 of a grumpy bloke whose job title was precisely ‘Photocaptionist’, and whose task was to find or produce creative texts to accompany the photographs he was sent by various institutions, artists and random individuals. She forgot about him for a while. One day she came across an empty 1940s photo album in the streets of Derby, UK, with a very peculiar typestyle on the cover. Out of curiosity she commissioned typographer and artist Rob Draper to replicate the typestyle and form the word ‘Photocaptionist’. The imaginary bloke was back, grumpier than ever, working non-stop as a matchmaker between photographs and words.
While the structure of the platform intends to be flexible and fluid, this website is composed of two main sections: COMPOSITIONS and CORNUCOPIA.
A COMPOSITION is a feature where the commissioned artists, writers and critics present what we like to call a ‘photo-literary montage’. These montages comprise different typologies. A critic pairs a photograph with text – usually an excerpt from a novel, or a play, a poem, a short story, or an aphorism etc. – so that the combination becomes a new work in itself, and accompanies the pairing with a critical text to expand a bit more on the association. Alternatively we commission an emerging writer/poet to respond to a photograph with a prose poem or a short story, or we collaborate with artists who are already working at the intersection of photography and writing, either because their photographic body of work is inspired by a literary text or because it consists of images and words that share equal prominence in contributing to the narrative of the artwork. Finally, we feature and discuss carefully selected press photographs, with their captions as a starting point. Exceptions to the above are contemplated every once in a while.
The CORNUCOPIA is the blog section of the platform, where we feature a mixture of articles: commissioned reflections on photo-text relations and works, our very own photo-text books column entitled ‘Image-Text PhotoBooks In A Nutshell’, a selection of interviews, news, projects and anecdotage on all things photo-fictional, photo-literary and photo-text, as well as our favourite portfolios submitted by contemporary photographers whose work is either fictional, or loosely inspired by literature or incorporates text.
The Photocaptionist is also an itinerant column that embarks on cross-publishing opportunities with other online and print magazines interested in the project. Contact us to discuss the operation in more detail. We were beyond thrilled that our very first COMPOSITION, The Jolly Spirit, was published in the pages of Norwegian magazine Objektiv issue 9 Fokus: Arkivkunst, launched at the Oslo Art Weekend, in May 2014. In 2015 we edited for a year the monthly endframe column of The British Journal of Photography, inhabited the pages of Unseen magazine issue 2 and Photoworks issue 22 on Women in Photography.
As part of our main offline activities we conceive and produce curatorial projects: exhibitions, books, talks and events focused on photography, fiction and words, you can find more info on our initiatives in the PROJECTS section of our website. On the occasion of Fotografia Europea 2018, we were extremely honoured to explore and share the irreverent and eccentric archive of the late Lorenzo Tricoli, just over one year after his untimely death. We co-curated the exhibition Invisible Stratum for the 2017 edition of Tokyo Photo Festival in Japan, the 2017 edition of Jaipur Photo Festival in India and the 10-year anniversary Photo50 exhibition within the London Art Fair 2016, presenting a show entitled ‘Feminine Masculine: On the Struggle and Fascination of Dealing with the Other Sex’. In 2016 we edited the artist book The Modern Spirit Is Vivisective, by Francesca Catastini, a witty exploration on the study of Anatomy, winner of the Vienna PhotoBook Award and published by Anzenberger Editions. Our first photo-literary exhibition, Tommaso Tanini, H. said he loved us was presented at Kunsthalle Budapest in 2014-15, as part of the Hungarian Month of Photography. We curated the online exhibition Amateur Unconcern: A Photo-Literary Fantasia, conceived around the theme of the First World War and the archive for the FOCUS section of FORMAT International Photography Festival in 2015. Previously we have worked with our press photography editor-at-large Roger Hargreaves on the exhibition and publication on 1970s Italy Amore e Piombo [Love and Lead] for the Brighton Photo Biennial 2014, at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, which won the Kraszna Krausz 2015 Best Photography Book Award. We organised a number of talks internationally, which will be soon uploaded on our forthcoming tab PROJECTS. Our very first talk and official launch of the platform took place at PhotoIreland Festival, on Truths, Facts, Fictions and Lies, in July 2014 in Dublin. In collaboration with Prof and photo-artist David Bate and the University of Westminster we organised the symposium on Fiction and Photography for the public programme of Joan Fontcuberta’s exhibition Stranger than Fiction at the Media Space of the Science Museum in London, in November 2014.
We regularly offer mentorship at international portfolio reviews, such as Offspring Photo Meet London and Les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles, and we have been jury members of international photography and photobook awards, grants and residencies, such as Headlands Artist in Residence, Les Rencontres d’Arles’ Prix du Livre, Kassel Fotobook Festival Dummy Award and Outset/Unseen Exhibition Fund.
Last but not least, we are delighted to have among our Cultural Partners: Foam, Pro Helvetia, The Eyes, The Archive of Modern Conflict, The British Journal of Photography, FORMAT, Objektiv, PhotoIreland, Photoworks, Unseen, Yet, The Photographers’ Gallery and Fotografia Europea.
Without the graphic pirouettes of Good Caesar, this website would not have seen the light.
Enjoy the photo-literary feast!
Federica Chiocchetti, founder & director
Based between London, Paris and Tuscany, Federica is a writer, curator, lecturer and editor specialising in photography. Currently working on her PhD on the history and theory of phototext works at the University of Westminster, under the supervision of Professor and photo-artist David Bate, she explores the relation between photography, fiction and words through exhibitions and books that she presents under the umbrella of the Photocaptionist. Besides the projects mentioned above, she recently contributed to the 10×10 book How We See: Photobooks by Women (2018) and to the Routledge Companion of Photography and Visual Culture (2018) and she was Art Fund Curatorial Fellow of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum and she curated the exhibition and symposium P.H. Emerson: Presented by the Author, at Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery (2015-2016), Her writings have appeared in IMA, The Eyes, Der Greif, Photoworks, Foam, Objektiv, Unseen magazine, EXTRA, The British Journal of Photography, Krakow Photomonth, The Photographers’ Gallery Blog and MAPP Editions (MACK). She holds an MA in Comparative Literature from the University College of London and a MSc in Book Publishing & Literature from the University of Milan. She teaches a course on Photo-Text Intersections at Paris College of Art and gives lectures on the subject at international universities such as ECAL, LCC, Nottingham Trent University and Image Text Ithaca.
Lisa Stein, managing editor & contributor
Lisa is a London-based writer and researcher specialising in photography. A graduate of MA in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths, University of London, she continues to examine the relationship between thought and the photographic image, taking her point of departure in Georges Bataille’s writing on ‘nonknowledge’. Lisa currently works in the editorial team of The Burlington Magazine, one of the world’s leading monthly publication devoted to the fine and decorative arts.
Sara Cuono, exhibitions & social media
Sara holds a BA in Photographic Arts at the University of Westminster, London. She mainly works with analogue 35 mm and 120 mm cameras. She co-edits the Instagram account of the Photocaptionist and she assists with the curation of our exhibitions. Recently she worked on London’s new photography festival pic.london and with our founding director on Feminine Masculine: On the Struggle and Fascination of Dealing with the Other Sex, as part of Photo 50 within the London Art Fair 2016.
Sean Mark, contributor & translator
With a BA in Italian from the University of Milan and an MA in English from University College London, Sean completed a PhD in comparative literature at the universities of Tübingen, Bergamo and Brown, on a fellowship from the European Commission. He has published on Pound, Pasolini, and Italian Futurism, and his first book, Pound and Pasolini: The Poetics of Crisis, is forthcoming with Palgrave. His poems have appeared in A Packet of Poems for Ezra Pound (Clemson UP, 2017), and he has edited and translated two books by contemporary Italian poets (Chelsea Editions Press, New York), for which he received the Sonia Raiziss Giop Foundation Grant in Translating. His translations have also appeared in the Italian Poetry Review. He lives in Paris and teaches English at Université Paris 12 and Paris-Sorbonne.
Text Versus Images interview with our founding director, Objektiv magazine
Jaipur Photo preview, The British Journal of Photography
Artnet: Our founding director Federica Chiocchetti among the 16 Female Curators Shaking Things Up in 2016
Interview with founding director Federica Chiocchetti, Photomonitor
Amateur Unconcern exhibition review, The Telegraph
Our founding director Federica Chiocchetti interviewed as Art Fund curator of the month
Interview with founding director Federica Chiocchetti, Rai News – punctum (Italian)
H. Said He Loved Us exhibition review, Vogue Italy (English)
Amore e Piombo book review, photo-eye