Other Investigations: Juan Fernandez

In this investigation I take a look at previously featured artist Juan Fernandez. Juan’s images of architecture are cold and subtly confusing; the buildings sit uninviting while the photographs draw you in through a keen sense of formal elements. For myself, two words come to mind when dealing with Juan’s work, truth and representation. These two words are deeply entangled in the web of photographic theory which Juan uses as a conceptual foundation. Perhaps the actual architecture stands as a signifier of a modern perception, a universal truth. The photographs deconstruct this universal truth through manipulating the viewers perception. This manipulation serves as truth; truth through individual perception and experience. Finding this truth is as easy as finding an entrance into one of Juan’s buildings.

Juan, your photography can be described as illustrating seemingly banal moments of architecture with certain oddities that arise out of time spent with each image. What are your thoughts on the connection between banality and perfection in your photographs?

Perfection is a tricky word. The banality in which the images refer, is not so much attempting to present perfection in as much as it is providing a quiet photographic moment. I believe the banality of the situation creates a relationship between the photograph and the everyday moments that the viewer may experience. The images are “cleansed” of small distractions, not to demonstrate perfection, but to emphasize the imperfections.

You mention that the architectural environments that you capture exist within culturally understood aesthetics. By selecting a single building and manipulating the image are you heightening the sense of architecture to a type of cultural signifier that exists now in,
perhaps, a hyperreality?

Yes, definitely. By concentrating on vernacular or common architecture, the images refer to places that we see everyday. The materials used to make the buildings (brick, corrugated steel, aluminum siding, concrete, wood) allow for a that connection between the structures and the viewers. The inundation of images provides everyone with a visual index that is possibly never ending. Facade capitalizes on the universality of the perception of the mundane.

Is there an understanding that these buildings could exist anywhere or are the photographs heavily connected to the actual place you shot them?

The actual place is inconsequential. The buildings operate as reference to a reality, but only truly exist within the photograph and the viewer’s interpretation. I strive to reduce elements of time and place. I am not eliminating all of these signs, but I do control them by only photographing in overcast skies or leaving small signs of reality, a piece of trash, leaves, cracks, or stains. I want you to question not only the space, but the truthfulness of the photographic document.

You make some apparent aesthetic choices in the neutral grey sky, mostly trimmed lawns, and black top that is patched or threatened by cracks. Where do these aesthetic choices come from?

I am basing those choices on misconceptions. The misconception is that the images are presented as neutral documents of a place and time, similar to traditional documentary practices. The aesthetic choices are references to those images and ideals. I do not believe any photograph is neutral, the intention of the artist must always be questioned.

I understand Facade has been a body of work that you have been investigating for quite some time. How have the images, concept, and process changed over time?

The evolution of the work is at the forefront of my mind every time I make a picture. The concept started as an investigation of our cultural landscape, it still has that thread, but it has also been concerned with ideas of the representation of reality. My process has become extremely efficient over the years. Shooting large format sheet film is a very time consuming meditative process. A big part of my image making method involves the pre-visualization of the final image; digital manipulation and all. I love that part of the process.

Could you discuss a bit about your studio practice?

I believe that it is critical for me to always work on different projects. Most of them are just investigations, though they always lead to a more in-depth understanding of myself and my work. Facade has allowed me to build a body of work that can always evolve, but that evolution is based on making a lot of different work. Most of which, never makes it to the final portfolio.

Are you working on any other bodies of work other than Façade?

I always have a few things in-progress, but I have recently started to formulate a group of images into a new project. It is tentatively titled Distance. This work is more subjective than Facade, and is derived more directly from moments within my daily existence. I think of them as meditative, just making pictures in a more personal reflective way. It seems quite opposite from the rigidity of the buildings, but it helps me to be challenged in as many ways as possible. I have been exploring some pieces that are more sculptural and installation based. However, as of now, they function more as a bridge to new ways of thinking.

Lastly, do you have any exhibitions coming up that we should look out for?

I am in a few group shows somewhat local to Chicago. Currently, I have work at Las Manos Gallery in Andersonville through the end of the March, and starting in April I will have more work for a new show called Dystopia. I am also fortunate to be included to the Lens 2012 show at Perspective Gallery in Evanston, which will be up through March. My work was also selected to be in Photography Now 2012 currently showing at the Center for Photography at Woodstock in Woodstock, New York. And finally, two of my pieces will be included to the Rockford Midwestern Biennial at the Rockford Art Museum from May to September.