The Photocaptionist is an editorial and curatorial platform that promotes the practice of concubinage between photography and literature, images 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 a couple of years back 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 photography and literature, texts and images.
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 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 engage with a photobook that presents a photographic body of work inspired by a literary text or where images and words share equal dignity 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 our favourite portfolios submitted by contemporary photographers whose work is fictional, or loosely inspired by literature or incorporates text. There we also share news, projects and anecdotage on all things photographic and literary.
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. Our 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.
As part of our main offline activities we direct and produce curatorial projects: exhibitions, books, talks and events where words and images are in dialogue. 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’. 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 awards.
Last but not least, we are delighted to have among our Cultural Partners: Adobe, Akina Books, The Archive of Modern Conflict, The British Journal of Photography, Der Greif, Encontros da Imagem, FORMAT, Objektiv, PhotoIreland, Photoworks, Self Publish Be Happy, Unseen, Yet, 1000 Words.
Without the graphic pirouettes of Good Caesar, this website would not have seen the light.
Enjoy the photo-literary feast!
Federica Chiocchetti & Candida Desideri, founder & director
Based between London and Tuscany, Federica is a photography critic, curator and editor. Currently working on her PhD in photo-textualities and photographic fictions at the University of Westminster, under the supervision of Professor and photo-artist David Bate, she explores the intersections between images and words through exhibitions and books. She has recently co-curated the 2017 edition of the Jaipur Photo Festival in India. Her past exhibitions include Feminine Masculine: On the Struggle and Fascination of Dealing with the Other Sex, for Photo50 at the London Art Fair (2016), P.H. Emerson: Presented by the Author, at Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, in partnership with the V&A and the Art Fund (2015-2016), Amateur Unconcern: A Photo-Literary Fantasia, as part of FORMAT Festival 2015, Tommaso Tanini’s H. said he loved us, at the Kunsthalle Budapest (2014) and Amore e Piombo [Love and Lead]: the Photography of Extremes in 1970s Italy, co-curated and co-edited with Roger Hargreaves for the Archive of Modern Conflict at the Brighton Photo Biennial and winner of the Kraszna Krausz 2015 Best Photography Book Award (2014). Her writings have appeared in 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. Candida is a writer who tries to subvert Federica.
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 as editorial assistant at The Burlington Magazine, a monthly academic journal devoted to the fine and decorative arts. She is German and meticulous.
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 and uses photography as an excuse to explore her inquisitive curiosity. She co-edits the Instagram account of the Photocaptionist and she assists with the curation of our exhibitions. Recently she worked 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.
Roger Hargreaves, press photography editor-at-large
Roger curates the press collection of the Archive of Modern Conflict. A lecturer, writer and curator, past awards include the J Dudley Johnston Medal, the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation Book Award and the Maine Golden Light Award for writing on photography. His recent projects include the exhibition Cutline: The Photography Archives of The Globe and Mail, the first exhibition of Canadian Photography Institute that launched at Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival in May 2016 and the exhibition and book Amore e Piombo [Love and Lead]: the Photography of Extremes in 1970s Italy, co-curated and co-edited with Federica Chiocchetti for the Archive of Modern Conflict, which explored the ‘viscous mystery’ of the so-called ‘Years of Lead’ in Italy. In another life he would have enjoyed being a paparazzo in Fellini’s Rome.
Sean Mark, contributor & translator
Sean is a PhD researcher in Comparative Literature at the universities of Bergamo, Tübingen and Brown. He also works as a translator, plays football and writes poetry. He grew up between London and Milan, and has forever been somewhere between the two, like a Ryanair flight attendant selling scratchcards somewhere over Metz.
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