From 17 June to 23 October, the Barcelona Photographic Archive presents The City in Front of the Camera. Urban imaginaries in the s. XIX, curated by the art historian Núria F. Rius. The exhibition is made up of more than 100 period originals from the AFB collection, which testify to how the arrival of photography in Barcelona in 1839 coincided with an intense process of urban transformation in the city. From that moment on, photography took part: it promoted motives and points of view that would gradually settle the discourse on the new urban reality of the eighteenth century.
Far from acting like a simple mirror, photography provided a visual entity with a series of discourses about Barcelona that would eventually take root thanks to the circulation of images and their collective sedimentation. To do this, throughout the century, photography has developed various representation strategies: relief, picturesque, monumental, descriptive, aerial or informative, to name a few. Specific possibilities of the camera were mixed with other visual languages that were contemporary: optical views, romantic engravings or informative chronicle drawing, among others. All this makes clear the close relationship that was established between the definition of the new Barcelona, predominantly bourgeois, and its visual representation in the 19th century. Photography played an important role in these processes, which were not merely visual, but above all social, political and cultural.
In the autumn of 1839, on the occasion of the arrival of the new invention of photography in Barcelona, the Royal Academy of Natural Sciences and Arts organized a public demonstration of its operation in the Palau plan. The choice of this place for the first photograph of the city is not accidental. By the end of the 18th century, it had become the heart of bourgeois Barcelona. It enjoyed an urban expansion project and an important monumental complex. For all this, for some years now, it has been a recurring theme in the engravings of foreign artists, as well as students of the Llotja, who practiced the use of the darkroom, drawing and watercolor. Photography, a new technique of representing the city, followed the pattern he found established.
The photographers made views of the monumental complex and the surroundings of the port and the sea wall, but also of the new homes and socialization areas around the Rambla, promoted as a result of the ecclesiastical confiscation. In his images, as in most engravings of the time, open spaces, avenues in perspective and a monumental look marked by order and clarity predominate. Although, in some cases, we find photographs that, repeating the visual motif, propose a representation where the picturesque and narrative features are eliminated and we look, in a closer, descriptive and direct way, features of this urban modernity, such as it was the new architecture of bourgeois housing. Finally, and more exceptionally, 19th-century photographers also set their sights on the military citadel to capture the whole and, over time, dismantle it.
The exhibition is complemented by a digital publication “The city in front of the camera. Urban imaginaries in the 19th century ”which can be consulted on the Photographic Archive website and on the Barcelona City Council publications website.