Universal Archive

Universal Archive
Temporary exhibition
09/03/2009
- 03/05/2009
Floor: 
-1
Curator: 
Jorge Ribalta
Universal Archive
Temporary exhibition
09/03/2009
- 03/05/2009
Floor: 
-1
Curator: 
Jorge Ribalta
Body: 

This exhibition 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. 


Ever since John Grierson, founder of the British documentary movement at the end of the 1920s, defined the documentary genre as “the creative treatment of actuality,” this has become the crux of discourses about realism in photography and film. All the same, the concepts of document and documentary have acquired variable meanings during the course of the 20th century. The complexity of their definition derives from the fact that these concepts are inscribed within the philosophy of positivism, which subtends Western scientific knowledge, and are imbricated in such different discursive, as well as artistic, fields as the social and natural sciences, law and historiography.

The beginning of the exhibition, Politics of the Victim, 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 artistic-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 instituting a “tradition of the victim.” It will have its greatest exposure in the illustrated magazines that proliferate during the 1930s and which constitute the public photographic discursive space par excellence until the 1950s. [...]


A second area, Public Photographic Spaces, traces the trajectory of the exhibitions designed according to an “expanded” conception of space based on the use of photography. The photo exhibitions designed by El Lissitsky between 1928 and 1930 established a new model growing out of the epistemological breaks and the ideas of a “new vision” of the era of the Soviet revolution. This paradigm was to extend to Western Europe through the designers and architects of the Bauhaus and be absorbed by the totalitarian aesthetics of the new fascist regimes of Italy and Germany in the 1930s. Its arrival in the United States via Herbert Bayer in the propagandistic context of the Second World War and the Cold War will be reflected in various MoMA, in New York, exhibitions, culminating in The Family of Man in 1955. The trajectory is thereby described of a utopian architectonic-photographic space involving a new kind of spectator, from revolutionary Russia to Cold War America.


In the third instance, the exhibition explores the notion of photography as an instrument for the social sciences and for the creation of image archives in historical projects. From the Mission Héliographique of 1851 to the DATAR mission of the 1980s, these campaigns or photographic missions involve the formalization of what we may consider as the project or the utopia of photography in modern culture: the converting of the infinite variety of the world into a rational order via the archive. With it, a collection of classified and universally accessible images is constituted. To do so, this section explores various specific cases. [...]

 

Jorge Ribalta, curator