Universal archive. The condition of the document and the modern photographic utopia

This guide has been published on the occasion of the exhibition Universal Archive. The condition of the document and the modern photographic utopia (2008-09) that analyses the idea of a document in the history of photography on the basis of the study and staging of a number of debates about the genre during the 20th century. With the aim of assessing various hypotheses about the meanings and mechanisms of the documentary, it traces a historical itinerary that gets under way with the beginning of the hegemony of photography in the illustrated press in the first third of the 20th century, before arriving at the purported crisis of photographic realism in the digital era at the end of the century. For all that, the exhibition is not a history of the genre, nor does it exhaust its possible definitions, but instead attempts to study how the photographic document has been constituted — in a consistently ambivalent and polemical way — in certain historical contexts.

The exhibition is organised in two major parts, which are respectively subdivided into various sections.

The Condition of the Document and the Modern Photographic Utopia

The beginning of the exhibition, explains the appearance of the documentary genre in photography and film, linked to the representation of the working classes. Lewis Hine’s work for the National Child Labor Committee, set up in 1907, may be considered the precursor of a type of artistico-political documentary, reformist in kind, which emerges as a genre of indictment. In that sense, the genre is historically constituted in order to represent the underprivileged, thus instauring a “tradition of the victim.”

The Photographic Construction of Barcelona

The second part of the exhibition begins with photographic representations of Barcelona from the period of the Universal Exposition of 1888 to the Universal Forum of Cultures 2004.

2007. Metropolitan Images of the New Barcelona

The exhibition ends with the presentation of the photo-assignments undertaken during 2007, which constitute a diagnosis of today’s city and of its areas of innovation for the 21st century.

Direction of the project: Bartomeu Marí
Curator: Jorge Ribalta
Survey Concept 2007: Jorge Ribalta and Joan Roca
Production: Exhibition organized by Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona and coproduced with Museu Colecçâo Berardo-Arte Moderna e Contemporânea, Lisboa

Technical details

Publication date:

Design by Factordos

Cat 978-84-89771-69-7
Spa 978-84-89771-68-0
Eng 978-84-89771-70-3




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