The Photocaptionist is an editorial and curatorial platform that explores the relationship between photography & fictions, images & words, operating both on and offline. Authors of the past, contemporary and emerging writers, critics and image makers ‘meet’ on photocaptionist.com for a photo-literary feast. Here we also present a selection of projects that we have curated in the physical world.
The platform 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 old bloke whose job title was precisely ‘Photocaptionist’, and whose task was to 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 artist and letterer 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.
Our editorial activities are strongly a-periodic and presented here in two sections: COMPOSITIONS and CORNUCOPIA.
COMPOSITIONS are commissioned photo-literary montages in collaboration with artists, writers and critics. You can enjoy single or multiple photo-text pairings of various nature accompanied by a text at the bottom. When the pairings are multiple, a series of dots appear on the right-had side to facilitate navigation, while the text remains at the bottom.
CORNUCOPIA is our cabinet of photo-text curiosities. Here you will find a wide range of features, including ‘Image-Text PhotoBooks In A Nutshell’ (ITPIAN), a regular column on photo-text books, as well as interviews, essays, anecdotage and a selection of our favourite portfolios of work inspired by literature or that incorporate text in an innovative way.
As part of our main offline activities we conceive and produce exhibitions, collaborate for printed matter projects, and organise talks & events, mainly – yet not exclusively – with a focus on images, fictions & words. You can find a selection of our initiatives in our PROJECTS section.
The Photocaptionist is also an itinerant column that embarks on cross-publishing opportunities with other magazines interested in our approach. Contact us to discuss the operation in more detail. We have been delighted to collaborate with Norwegian magazine Objektiv since the very beginning, as well as The British Journal of Photography, where we edited for a year their monthly endframe column (2015), and to have inhabited the pages of Unseen magazine (2015), among others.
We treasure collaborations and would like to thank our cultural partners: David Solo, 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-text extravaganza!
Federica Chiocchetti, founder & director
Based between Paris and Tuscany, Federica is a writer, curator, lecturer and editor specialising in photography and literature. She holds a PhD in ‘Photo-Texts: Critical Intersections in History’ at the University of Westminster, under the supervision of Professor and artist David Bate, partly completed thanks to a residency at the Fondation Jan Michalski for Writing and Literature. She explores the relation between photography, fictions & words through this platform Photocaptionist, collaborating with institutions such as Jeu de Paume, Aperture and Fotomuseum Winterthur. A selection of her exhibitions is presented under the PROJECTS section of this website. She was guest editor of issue 16 of Aperture’s The PhotoBook Review, on ‘photo-text-books’, which was edited while she was writer and curator in residency at the Cité internationale des arts in Paris and launched at Les Rencontres d’Arles’ Temple Books in 2019. She contributed to the 10×10 book How We See: Photobooks by Women (2018) and to The Routledge Companion of Photography and Visual Culture (2018), among others. Previously, she was Art Fund Curatorial Fellow of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she curated the exhibition and symposium P.H. Emerson: Presented by the Author, at Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery (2015-2016). Her book Amore e Piombo (with Roger Hargreaves; AMC Books, 2014) won the Kraszna-Krausz 2015 Best Photography Book Award. Her writings have appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, IMA magazine, Foam, The Eyes, and Photoworks, among others. She lectures internationally on the history and theory of photo-texts at universities such as Lucerne University, Oxford University, ECAL, and Ithaca College (NY). She has been on a number of awards juries (Les Rencontres d’Arles, Paris Photo/Aperture, Kassel Dummy Award) and portfolio reviews (Photo Vogue Festival, Futures, Goa Photo Festival). She has organised and moderated events at international bookstores, such as The Photographers’ Gallery, Le Bal, La Fabrica and the PhotoBook Week at Shakespeare and Company. 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 is a member of the International Association of Word and Image Studies. Previously she worked for two years in the editorial and marketing departments of the Milan-based publishing house Bruno Mondadori on photography and non-fiction books, such as Letizia Battaglia (2010).
Through her alter ego Candida Desideri, a subversive homage to her mother, she writes more experimental stuff such as short stories and prose poems, making her debut in German within the book Nachbilder: Eine Foto Text Anthologie, published by Spector Books, Zurich University of the Arts and Fotomuseum Winterthur (2020).
Kelsey Sucena, managing editor & contributor
Kelsey Sucena (they/them) is a trans*/nonbinary photographer, writer, and park ranger currently residing on Long Island. Their work rests at the intersection of photography and text, often within the bodies of performative slideshows and photo-text-books. It is centered broadly upon the United States as a site for anti-capitalist, queer and critical reflection. Kelsey is a recent MFA graduate from Image Text Ithaca (2020), a former work scholar at Aperture Foundation, and a freelance writer with contributions to Float Photo Magazine, Rocket Science, and 10×10 Photobooks.
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 assists with the curation of our exhibitions. 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. As an artist she is a member of the Rome-based research centre Numero Cromatico.
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
(more on our PRESS section)