Joan Fontcuberta: Hemograms

Soon after Louis Daguerre’s photographic advances were made public in 1839, Alfred Francois Donné (1801-1878), who taught at the Medical Faculty of Paris, grasped how the new photographic technology, linked with microscopy, could be of great educational use. Donné’s textbook and medical atlas, Cours de Microscopie Complementaire des Etudes Medicales (1845) featured engravings of bodily fluids, including blood, that were based upon the pioneering microphotographic images he made. In 1998, the artist Joan Fontcuberta, long-fascinated with the production and meaning of scientific imaging, began to produce large scale works he called Hemograms. “The idea was to invite friends and people close to me to provide a sample of their blood… [on] a piece of transparent film…. Immediately afterward, I make an enlargement on photographic paper using the blood as a negative….” The resulting Cibachrome prints—each titled with donor’s initials and dates—are strikingly abstract, viscerally powerful, and are as evocative as they are documentary. Seemingly forensic, they trigger associations ranging from the evidential to the romantic, reference the laboratory and the battlefield, and boldly visualize a symbol of both life and loss.